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Pain lingers 'long after trauma'

18 March 08 02:23 GMT

Most patients recovering from severe injuries are still in pain a year later, researchers have found.

Scientists analysed data from more than 3,000 patients, and concluded that 62% continued to suffer 12 months after their injury.

In the Archives of Surgery journal, the University of Washington team called for more intervention to control pain as swiftly as possible.

UK patients face the same problems, said one specialist physiotherapist.

In the UK, once a trauma patient has left hospital, the responsibility for helping them usually falls to their GP and local pain management services.

A report published in 2004 suggested that the quality of chronic pain management in primary care, and the amount offered to patients, was "highly variable".

Only one in 25 of those primary care trusts which replied said that they were even trying to record how many patients they had suffering from chronic pain.

The US finding clearly sets out the burden of long-term pain on those suffering traumatic injuries.

The patients in their survey were aged between 18 and 84, who had all survived at least one year after their accident.

After 12 months, they were asked to rate their pain on a 10-point scale, and almost two-thirds said they were still in pain, often in more than one part of the body.

The average level of pain was not excruciating, but still severe - a rating of 5.5 on the scale.

Three or more painful areas were reported by 59% of those with injury-related pain.

The researchers wrote: "The presence of pain varied with age, and was more common in women and those who had untreated depression before injury.

"Pain at three months was predictive of both the presence and higher severity of pain at 12 months.

"The findings of this study suggest that interventions to decrease chronic pain in trauma patients are needed."

Striking early

They suggested that more work at the time of the injury to deal with "early pain" might be effective.

Peter Gladwell, a specialist physiotherapist with an interest in pain management, and a member of the Physiotherapy Pain Association, said that research findings were consistent with his experiences with patients.

"Chronic pain can have a devastating effect on patients, on all kinds of areas of their lives.

"It's pretty well understood now that any delay in getting specialist opinion on pain management is unhelpful, and our waiting times are nowhere near as long as they were.

"There is plenty of evidence that early, good quality, pain relief can improve the outcome for patients."

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