HEALTHY LIVING: Positive steps to help beat the pain

Abigail Barragy who runs a support group for people who suffer from chronic pain
Abigail Barragy who runs a support group for people who suffer from chronic pain
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EVERYONE has experienced pain at some point in their lives - but for most, the sensations pass after a brief period.

Sufferers of chronic pain, however, experience agonising pain for long periods, which can last for many years or even decades.

It is estimated that around 10 million people in Britain suffer from chronic pain, but a recent survey suggested many people are soldiering on without help.

The poll found 77 per cent of people with chronic pain had suffered for years, but almost half didn’t seek regular help from their GP. In addition, two-thirds of the 1,000 people surveyed said they had never used a pain clinic or support group.

Abigail Barragry’s struggle with chronic pain started two years ago, when she fell from the balcony of her apartment in Kuala Lumpur while partying on New Year’s Eve.

She broke virtually every bone in her body, and needed 13 operations afterwards, spending four months in hospital.

Abigail expects to experience pain for many years to come, and has set up a support group to help other sufferers cope with the condition.

“The pain was all consuming for quite a while,” said Abigail, aged 30, who lives in Norton Lees.

“There was little space to think about anything else. It was 24 hours a day and sleep was pretty non-existent. Anyone with chronic pain would say your sleeping pattern goes out of the window. Trying to stay positive is the biggest thing. If something happens outside of the pain to make you feel angry, you feel the pain 10 times more because your body tenses up.

“I’m fully recovered now but still have pain in both of my legs, which were broken very badly. I don’t think that will go away.”

She continued: “The main thing that caused the pain initially was having to wear an external fixer on one of my legs - you have to turn the screws to pull the bone apart slowly.

“Usually people have that on for six months but I had it on for 18 months. For 18 months I had these massive rods going into the bone. I couldn’t really walk and could only sleep on my back, so I started getting back pain as well.

“I tried every painkiller under the sun, then moved on to trying to cope with it in different ways, which led me to set up the group.”

Abigail was given physiotherapy treatment at the Northern General Hospital, which she said proved helpful, and also went for hydrotherapy sessions.

“Managing pain is a full-time job,” she said.

“People with chronic pain really find it hard to work. Some days they might be OK and able to do some productive work, but in that time they still need to be doing their relaxation techniques.

“With people that come to our group, they only tend to see people when they’re feeling at their best. Other people start to not realise how much they’re going through when they’re at home. People only see their good side.”

Abigail added: “When I first came back from Malaysia I was looking for a support group myself but I couldn’t find anything except the NHS pain clinic, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I wanted something a bit more about sharing experiences with other people so you don’t feel like you’re the only one suffering.

“I think that’s one of the most important things.”

The group meets twice a month at the Wellforce centre on Wilkinson Street, Broomhall, offering a variety of therapy techniques for chronic pain such as relaxation, breathing control and art therapy. Abigail runs the group along with her friend Frances Cordall, 30, and also hopes to start offering cognitive behavourial therapy soon, to help change how group members think about their pain.

“We’ve had people in their early 20s up to their 60s –there’s a broad range of ages,” said Abigail, who is about to return to work as a therapist assisting special needs children.

“It’s taken me almost two years. Before my accident, I’d just been made company director of a children’s learning centre, which was a dream, and literally two months later my entire body and life was shattered.”

The chronic pain support group meets from 11am to 12.30pm, every other Tuesday. Sessions cost £10 but concessions are available. Call 07807011184 for more details.