It's National Pain Awareness Week

The MUHC is making a difference and saving lives

At the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) we save lives every day but sometimes in ways people may not immediately consider.  One woman revealed to Dr. Deborah Radcliffe-Branch, the Director of our Chronic Pain Self-Management Program (CPSMP) that before she started the program she walked into her barn and contemplated what rafter would best hold her weight when hanging herself; but after enrolling in the program, that was no longer her desire. 


Trainers for the My Tool Box Chronic Pain program: from left, standing: Falk Kyser, Allison Lyne, Paul Clark, Traci Williams, Catherine Dube, Francine Adelson, Gary Blank, Eugene Feig, Louisa Nicole, Bobby Harrinanan, Deborah Radcliffe-Branch. Seated: Mario DiCarlo, Janet King, Lisa Cardas, Kathy Camozzi, Sandra Lefort, Isabelle Ducharme.

“She just looked at me and said thank you,” says Dr. Radcliffe-Branch. “And guess what? I hear many stories like this from people living with debilitating pain—we don’t prescribe meds or perform surgeries but our program literally saves lives.”

Since 2010, the MUHC has offered CPSMP through “My Tool Box,” a free six-week program designed to teach people skills required to live well with their chronic health conditions.  

According to the Canadian Pain Coalition, chronic pain affects 1 in 5 Canadian adults and, on average, sufferers live with pain for almost six years.  

“More than half of chronic pain patients are unsatisfied with medication alone,” says Dr. Deborah Radcliffe-Branch. “This leaves room for a well-rounded pain management plan, including multidisciplinary pain management techniques and self-management strategies such as the CPSMP, which has now helped over 1,500 people at the MUHC.” 

The CPSMP—which is a Stanford University founded program—is problem based, wherein knowledge creation and sharing is encouraged. Each workshop  includes about 12 people; over the course of a year there are about 25 workshops offered in French and English.

“If someone raises a problem, it is brought to the group in a very structured activity,” says Dr. Radcliffe-Branch. “The group discusses the problem and shares their own strategies, techniques, and tips for managing pain. This is very valuable for the problem solving component of the program.”

The program also teaches the patients how to better interact with healthcare teams, how to navigate the healthcare system, and provides techniques to get a good night sleep; exercise and pacing oneself is approached, alternative therapies and treatments are discussed (including relaxation methods and mindfulness techniques) and medication and other interventions for chronic pain are reviewed.

“It is a very complete program that really activates their ability to self-manage,” says Dr. Radcliffe-Branch.  “Participants are required to make an action plan every week which is critical for people suffering with chronic pain who often have not achieved success in a very long time; that success is affirming, motivating, and thus they become a little more courageous and confident with every plan; the process builds on itself until they are able to achieve their goals, to do what they want to do.”

According to Dr. Radcliffe-Branch, there is a huge stigma associated with chronic pain because it is not “seen”, it is invisible. People suffering with chronic pain often find family members, friends and employers have a difficult time understanding they are in constant pain and that there are limitations to what they can do. “And that is really hard because they have to live with the pain, and they also must try to convince people whom they are close to that they are truly suffering. Many people are still accused of being psychosomatic or exaggerating.”

“We help our participants live better lives through the use of the right tools at the right time in the right way,” says Dr. Radcliffe-Branch. “I am so gratified the MUHC can provide this evidence-based program to chronic pain sufferers—we are truly making a difference.”

Deborah Radcliffe-Branch, PhD

Deborah Radcliffe-Branch, PhD
Director, "My Tool Box", MUHC Chronic Disease Self-Management Program
Assistant Professor, McGill University, Faculty of Medicine
Research Institute, McGill University Health Centre
2155 Guy Street, Suite 1230.5
Montreal, Quebec
H3H 2R9
Tel:  (514) 934 - 1934 ext 71584
Email: Deborah [dot] Radcliffe-Branch [at] McGill [dot] ca
Web site: mytoolbox.mcgill.ca