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The Key to Effective Treatment in Pain: Developing a Sense of Self

PAINWeek 2021 Scholarship Winning Essay

In my practice as a PT, one question has eluded me: what makes one person more open to adaptability and another individual not? Does it have to do with readiness for change, the types and number of stressors, or the number of adverse childhood events in their upbringing? Perhaps the answer is a combination somewhere in between. I have the privilege and honor of working alongside some the most brilliant minds and sincerest hearts in pain management. And yet, at best, we apply the best evidenced based research to our multidisciplinary care and hope for the best. It seems there is no exact science or foolproof way to ascertain that if we apply all of these interventional procedures plus PT plus psychological support, this patient and their cohort will definitely be able to return to viable work and improve their quality of life with a definite reduction in pain. It’s never an exact science. Sometimes, it's a little bit of faith. Sometimes, it’s a lot of hope. But always, it’s been my experience that there is the element of surprise and a whole lot of good old fashioned faith in the patient I work with that can shift, change, motivate someone to love themselves enough to allow room for their brain to change, with their bodies following suit and subsequently their spirits as well.

As the lead physical therapist in chronic pain for Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California region, it’s my job to practice and embody what I wholeheartedly believe in: that we have everything we need to open ourselves up to our own healing. Sometimes, we need a little nudge. At times, that may come through the words of a clinician, the encouragement of a classmate, or a moment of epiphany through movement. In that moment, the patient feels safety with the modality or movement skill . How do we make the space for the patient to have more of these moments of safety? As a practicing clinician I believe that when practitioners have that felt sense of what effective treatment feels like, they become better equipped to recognize it in their patients. They become primed with the tools to teach these strategies to their patients.

I’ve only had one opportunity to attend PAINWeek several years ago. Truthfully, I had two competing parallel feelings during that week of education. I was awestruck at the vast majority of offerings for psychologists, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, etc. I realized how little I knew about the plethora of treatment perspectives and options existed. I vowed that I would pinch my penny and attend again as soon as I could. My second motivation for returning however hit closer to home. The year I attended, for the first time in PAINWeek history, there was a whopping 13 PTs in attendance. With the knowledge that I gained and continue to gain through immersion and self-motivated learnings, I hope to continue to inspire more PT colleagues to attend, exposing themselves to the valuable knowledge of our colleagues in complimentary disciplines that we are often unaware of. The pandemic not only brought our world to a halt, it also provided us with the opportunity to think outside the box. We ’ve been able to create, develop and implement distance learning for our patients with the same and often better reported outcomes with our virtual classes. As we’ve redesigned our curriculum, I’ve often been frustrated with my lack of knowledge of the practice models of my fellow colleagues. Attending PAINWeek in my role as the lead PT would give me firsthand knowledge of how to better understand the wants, needs and teaching tools for the disciplines I closely work with.

The nature of our practice setting is an eight-week multidisciplinary pain education program consisting of weekly gatherings. Prior to the pandemic, these were in person and because patient driven needs took precedence, these classes are now on a virtual platform. Because the age population is widely variable, from 18 to 80+ year olds, the familiarity with technology has been a unique challenge to navigate. Trying to dispense information and movement skills effectively has pushed my creative self to the max. I teach alongside our psychologist and though the weekly topic may be similar, the movement is taught with through a lens of mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy. The knowledge gained at PAINWeek would only serve to enhance this knowledge base and push the boundaries of effective patient care.

The work of treating persistent pain, building therapeutic alliance with our patients, igniting our patients’ curiosity to the point of internal motivation to change is far from done. In the future, I can only hope that my own curiosity for effective treatment will continue not only with patients but directly with fellow colleagues, and not just physical therapists but with the disciplines I work most closely with, our psychologists, social workers, care managers, pharmacists and pain management physicians. In the end, practicing what we preach is always challenging, but knowing ourselves and recognizing our strengths and areas for improvement are the same skillsets for change we want to see in our patients. That work then, begins within.

Mai Huong Ho-Tran, PT, DPT
Kaiser Permanente SJO

Submit Your Essay to WIN a Scholarship to PAINWeek 2022!

Are you a clinical, legal, or public policy expert who values exemplary continuing education? Have you uncovered relevant knowledge gleaned from managing pain during the pandemic? Submit proposal(s) for a course at PAINWeek 2022! While subject matter relevance is paramount, creativity and enhanced learner engagement are essential and equally important in the review and consideration process.

What Can You Expect as a PAINWeek Faculty Member? Elevation and recognition in your field. An Expert Opinion interview session published on painweek.org. Networking with current and emerging opinion leaders.

We are accepting calls for presentations for the following tracks:

  • Acute Pain Management
  • Advanced Practice Provider
  • Behavioral Pain Management
  • Cannabinoids
  • Chronic Pain Management
  • Geriatric Pain Management
  • Government and
    Public Policy
  • Health Coaching 
  • Interventional Pain Management
  • Integrative Pain Management
  • Medical/Legal Issues
  • Migraine
  • Musculoskeletal Pain
  • Neuropathic Pain
  • Pain and Chemical Dependency
  • Pain Clinical Trials
  • Palliative Care
  • Pediatric Pain Management
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy
  • Regional Pain Syndromes
  • Rheumatology
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Technology
  • Urogenital Pain
  • Women's Health

The deadline for submission is midnight on Saturday, June 18, 2022.

Click here to submit your essay.