Canadians with chronic pain to test app to manage symptoms

Doctor encouraged by how patients better understand their own symptoms
Canadians With Chronic Pain To Test App On Symptoms

Chronic neck, back and shoulder pain have forced Terry McLaughlin to take narcotics in order to function but the 64-year-old says he's loathe to become dependent on opioids.

And so the northern Ontario man says he diligently logs his pain level on a mobile app that can also record sleep habits and activity level.

He says it keeps him from increasing his dosage, and helps him understand what triggers his symptoms and why.

"The more I communicate with the app the better it is for me because I can always go back and see, 'OK, this has helped me. How do I make it better? If [my pain level] is a seven today, let's try to make it a six tomorrow,"' says McLaughlin, adding that sleep quality as well as temperature and humidity can affect whether he has a good day or a bad one.

"You know what you did wrong and you correct it because you don't want to have to take that pill early."

McLaughlin lives in Val Gagne, Ont., about 50 kilometres east of Timmins and 15 kilometres south of Iroquois Falls, where his doctor is based.

He's among 250 patients taking part in a clinical trial testing whether the app can help manage chronic pain, with 84 of those patients drawn from the Iroquois Falls Family Health Team.

Although the project is still gathering data, principal investigator Dr. Atul Prabhu is bullish on early anecdotal evidence the app appears to help some patients control their pain, better communicate their suffering to their doctor, and open up to the idea of tapering medications.

He notes that most patients otherwise recount pain episodes from memory or scattered notes, and that may be further distorted by other factors such as discomfort or exhaustion from their commute if they live far from the doctor's office.

Too often, these accounts only provide a snapshot of how the patient feels during their checkup, says Prabhu, a co-lead of program, which uses the third-party app known as Manage My Pain that anyone can download.

"We have no idea about how the patients are feeling at home, how are the patients' trajectory on a day-to-day basis," says Prabhu, deputy anesthetist-in-chief at Toronto Western Hospital.

"If they woke up at 2 o'clock in the morning in pain, they could punch that into the app and it would record so when they came to speak to one of my colleagues, they could say, 'Here's the proof, I was actually having pain and I'm better in the morning and I'm worse at night."'

Most of the study's participants are patients at Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto General Hospital and the Centenary Pain Clinic based out of the Rouge Valley Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Scarborough.

But researchers say the study is unique for including area residents of the far-flung Iroquois Falls, since such rural communities are rarely able to test new technologies or influence their development.

McLaughlin's doctor says the app appears to be especially successful in the remote community of 4,500, where 2,000 patient visits in 2017 were related to chronic pain.

Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing and usually lasts longer than six months. This type of pain can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away. Pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years. Some people suffer chronic pain even when there is no past injury or apparent body damage. Chronic pain is linked to conditions including:
  • Headache
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Nerve pain
  • Back pain
  • Fibromyalgia pain
People who have chronic pain can have physical effects that are stressful on the body. These include tense muscles, limited ability to move around, a lack of energy, and appetite changes. Emotional effects of chronic pain include depression, anger, anxiety, and fear of re-injury. Such a fear might limit a person's ability to return to their regular work or leisure activities.

9 Apps That Can Help You Keep Better Track of Your Pain

1. Chronic Pain Tracker
Download the Chronic Pain Tracker app for $6.99 (after a free trial) from iTunes.

2. GeoPain
Download GeoPain for free from iTunes and Google Play.

3. My Pain Diary & Symptom Tracker
Download My Pain Diary for $4.99 from iTunes.

4. MySymptoms
Download MySymptoms for £2.99 from iTunes and Google Play.

5. Migraine Buddy
Download Migraine Buddy for free from iTunes and Google Play.

6. PainScale
Download PainScale for free from iTunes and Google Play.

7. Year in Pixels
Download Year in Pixels for free (+$0.99 to $14.99 for in-app purchases) from iTunes and Google Play.

8. FibroMapp Pain Manager
Download FibroMapp Pain Manager for $2.99 from iTunes and $2.84 from Google Play.

9. Flaredown
Download Flaredown for free from Apple or Google Play.