The Pain Exchange
It was Saint Augustine of Hippo who said ‘the greatest evil is physical pain’, and to many in the modern world this rings true. According to the charity Action on Pain, “several recent surveys point to around 1 in 7 of the UK population having chronic pain.” In response, chartered and state registered physiotherapists, Sharon Morgans and Retha Welding have been for more than a year offering pain management services, based at their church, St Dunstan’s East Acton, in the borough of Ealing.
Together they run The Pain Exchange, which started after the two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance with experience in setting up small charitable projects. Both women have very different backgrounds, with Sharon working in the NHS for 25 years, managing musculoskeletal patients and patients who suffer from chronic pain; while Retha has worked in private practice for 15 years, with a particular interest in clinical pilates.
When talking about the beginnings of the project, Sharon said:
“The management of chronic pain has been a challenge for health care providers and current evidence supports a multidisciplinary approach including the provision of exercise therapy, occupational therapy, psychological support and medical support. We offer an emphasis on the ability to take control and self-manage.”
“Treatment for this condition can be difficult to access on the NHS, and waiting lists are long which may result in a patient becoming isolated and not being able to work or to join in with normal day-to-day community life. This condition can be associated with depression, another factor that contributes to isolation. As a result of this great need, one of the more cost-effective ways to treat patients is with clinical pilates or through small group exercise classes, which is why we started the Pain Exchange.”
Mutually, they run the 12-week management plan which starts with a full assessment, to screen out people who might need further investigation, or who are not suitable for the programme. Where this is the case they write to the GP with the findings and suggestions, and as a result, two patients have had surgical interventions.
Over the following 11-weeks, the duo offers exercise therapy, teaching relaxation techniques, advice on pain management and nutrition, and there are art classes for those who want to explore their pain through art. Together, they offer prayer and onward referral to a food bank or debt counseling services, where appropriate.
Their Christian faith is central to the project, as Retha suggests:
“We are both physiotherapists who are Christians and have a passion for seeing the love of God reach those in pain, whether the root cause is physical or a manifestation of spiritual or mental problems.
“The difference between the Pain Exchange and other chronic pain interventions, is that as well as providing the cognitive behavioural approach, therapy and advice, we offer help, for those who would like it, in terms of Spiritual health prayer. We both have received training in prayer for healing and have links with the Christian Healing Mission.”
The church of St Dunstan’s East Acton (where Sharon is a member of the congregation), has been central to the project, providing the premises rent-free for the first year. There is a paid administrator and other church members have helped make tea and coffee while creating a community who support each other.
Other volunteers from the church come to pray, and an artist and nutritionist have supported it by offering their services. Another physiotherapist from the congregation is hoping to join the team in the near future.
“We see some ripple effects made by a small community that through encouragement, love and care, see themselves and others grow. This happens regardless whether they are the ones giving or receiving treatment.
“We should add that to us this project has been a great faith builder as there have been some difficult times, but God has answered our prayers and provided financial support in various forms, and the volunteers have been amazing and generous in support and prayer.”
More than 60 patients have attended and the team use an outcome measure that is used commonly in chronic pain, and there have been marked improvements in these scores. Moreover, they have had good verbal feedback, donations and written feedback about the service.
Most of those attending treatment live within the local community or nearby, with an age range of 20 to 82. Nearly all coming through word of mouth, and most suffer multiple joint pain combined with a medical condition. Together they have been successful in helping those who are not able to work due to musculoskeletal pain.
The benefits of the service to those attending is enormous including, easier movement, better pain management, and an increase in confidence. The team have seen people become more involved in their local area again and interacting with the church community. Two patients have recently been able to start work after a period of unemployment secondary to their pain.
Summing up about the project Sharon said:
“No doubt running the project from a church has made it easier to introduce prayer, and we use Bible verses for meditation during relaxation sessions; but a different setting could be used for the same purpose, as we are upfront about being a Christian organisation and what we are offering.”
More information can be found by viewing the Pain Exchange Project. There is further information on our noticeboard about the Christian Healing Mission.