By Mike Butler

November 3-9 is National Pain Awareness Week. This is something that I have never heard of until recently, and I feel so fortunate to be able to share everything I have learned about it with you. There’s so many ailments that require our attention and to be able to tell you about this special week is a great privilege.

Virginia McIntyre is an executive member of the Canadian Osteoporosis Patient Network, board member of the People In Pain Network, and facilitator for the Annapolis Valley Pain Self-Management Education and Support group, and I recently had the pleasure of chatting with her about the ups, downs, hows, and whys of National Pain Awareness Week. “When people meet me,” she says, “you would not know I live with pain. I look okay, that is why many do not believe people live with pain and we are often misunderstood. This is why two years ago I mustered up the courage to come out of the shadows and share my story and start a pain support group.”

Ten years ago Virginia’s life came to a screeching halt after a shoulder injury that led to surgery. After the operation, she experienced debilitating, unrelenting pain. She was unable to work and function in daily activities and she became very withdrawn. “My back felt as if it was stuck in a vice grip that was getting tighter and the movement of my clothes on my back felt like sanding paper was rubbing against my skin. I would often look at my back to see if some thing was there. Secretly I was hoping I would see something to remove so the pain would go away. The World Health Organization has just defined pain as a disease in its own right where it’s a disorder of the pain messaging system in the body, a little bit like a fire alarm going off even though there is no fire. This is what happened, my alarm would not stop triggering. Chronic pain is not a weakness, it is a disease.”

Virginia was physically, mentally, and emotionally fatigued and her outlook was bleak as the pain continued to escalate. Almost two years into her journey she was referred to the QEII Pain Management Unit and she was diagnosed with myofascial pain syndrome, alloydnia, and hyperalgesia . This was the beginning of her journey to recovery. The pain physician and pain multidisciplinary self-management clinic team taught Virginia about the science of chronic pain, how to recognize her triggers, how to manage and live with her pain, and much more. Pain treatments and mediation only reduce a person’s pain about 30% (if you are lucky), it does not go away. “I learned about pain and how to manage it,” Virginia says. “with time I ultimately improved my quality of life and was able to return to my career. Maintaining a positive attitude, exercise, and adopting a healthy lifestyle are a few of the tools I use to help me live with pain. I am not pain-free but I live well. Good days require an end of day rest and I schedule these in and carefully plan and prioritize my week to keep my pain low. I don’t panic, I let it ride its course, I remind myself that my pain signals are mixed up and that I will be okay!”

Here in the Annapolis Valley we are fortunate to have NSHA Chronic Pain Services at the WKM Health Centre that operate one day a week to educate people about pain and how to manage it. Chronic pain is complex, so the multidisciplinary approach is, in Virginia’s opinion, the gold standard for pain self management. The question is why do we not have more in Nova Scotia, and why are they not operating more than one day per week?

Virginia dreams of a time when there will be more clinics and physicians to help those with chronic pain. People are suffering and they need to have quality pain support in a timely manner. There are many risks if persistent pain (chronic pain) isn’t treated. These include depression, anxiety, poor sleep habits, and poor diet.

There is a lack of resources for people with pain, so during National Pain Awareness week 2017 Virginia, along with three others, launched a free peer-led chronic pain self-management support group. This now-thriving group is possible because of community support: this extends to health care providers, the public, people with pain, community businesses, and organizations. They allow the group to do all they can to support others with pain and increase awareness. Their mission is to provide hope, education, and improve the lives of people who live with pain. Peer support is a valuable resource and members share practical information and emotional insights from their similar lived experience. The Annapolis Valley Pain Self-Management Education Support group meets the second Wednesday of each month at the WKM Health Centre in Berwick in the Wilson Room from 10:30am-12pm.

To find out more information email at There IS support out there, there IS a way to deal with chronic pain and it’s right here in the Valley.