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Launch of NZ Pain Foundation

5 November 2013

Media Release

Launch of NZ Pain Foundation

Wellington musculoskeletal and pain specialist Dr Giresh Kanji has launched the NZ Pain Foundation to help provide answers for people suffering from mental and physical pain.

The foundation will fund research to investigate simple self-treatments for people suffering from lower back pain, neck pain, migraine, depression and obesity. The initial research will be undertaken by six masters students supervised by Dr Kanji and Massey University Associate Professor Rachel Page.

Dr Kanji has been a medical practitioner since 1990 and has been treating chronic pain patients since 2002. He was recently awarded a PhD for his research into how chronic pain spreads and amplifies over time and how it can be reduced.

“I started working full time in pain medicine over 10 years ago and recall going to work with a feeling of dread. What was I going to do to help these patients? Prescribe medicine that never seemed to cure the suffering and often caused side effects? I was no longer happy prescribing medications without trying to understand the cause of people’s pain. So I decided to investigate why people developed pain and how to reduce it,” Dr Kanji says.

His work over several years trying to unlock what he calls the “pain puzzle” has now led him to establish the NZ Pain Foundation. His vision is that it will help his fellow medical practitioners get to the root of what causes pain so they can provide more effective treatment.

He points to chronic back pain as a key example of the extent of the “pain puzzle”.

“Chronic lower back pain is a significant worldwide medical puzzle with reportedly no cause found in up to 85% of cases. Lower back pain is the most common pain complaint in the world, and over the last three months one out of every four New Zealanders would have suffered from it. In addition, one in six people would have suffered migraine and one in six neck pain. The ACC bill for lower back pain alone is estimated to be around $300 million a year,” he says.

Dr Kanji says we should not underestimate the financial costs or emotional toll of pain.

“One in six New Zealanders suffer from depression and more than 500 commit suicide each year – one of the world’s highest suicide rates.

“Currently over 25% of the population suffer from common pain complaints. Most do not even know the cause of their symptoms, and this severely restricts their chance of managing their condition.

“So what do you do when you cannot find the cause and treat pain? Call in the psychologist and psychiatrist to help people cope with their symptoms? I feel that the medical profession has failed these patients. Many patients do not understand why they are seeking psychological help, often feeling that the doctor thinks the problem is in their head! After seeing numerous specialists without any answers, a patient may believe this to be true,” Dr Kanji says.

In his PhD research, Dr Kanji researched self-treatments as an alternative or complement to relying on medication to treat pain. In particular, he conducted a clinical trial that showed heat treatment through regular use of a sauna was as effective as mainstream medication for people suffering from chronic tension-type headache.

“Research on simple self-treatments is lacking in the medical literature due to insufficient funding, as – unlike pharmaceuticals – self treatments cannot generate profits.”

Dr Kanji hopes support for the NZ Pain Foundation will enable it to build on his initial work by providing further insights into pain and researching a wide range of self-treatments for common pain conditions.


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