Why can an amputee still feel pain in their missing limb? And does this have anything to do with why we might still feel pain in a healed injury?
These are the kinds of questions that intrigue senior physiotherapist Joshua Pate – and have drawn him a global audience online.
Josh works for the Westmead Hospital Pain Management Centre, and is passionate about sharing cutting-edge research in a clear way with people suffering from chronic pain.
He is undertaking his PhD on the topic of reconceptualising pain using a biopsychosocial model – in other words, if we change the way we understand and think about pain, can we change the way we feel it?
That question is at the heart of two scripts he has written for TED-Ed, the educational arm of the influential TED Talks media organisation.
His latest effort, ‘The mysterious science of pain’, was released one week ago and has already been watched more than 500,000 times on YouTube and Facebook, translated into multiple languages, and utilised in pain programs around the world.
“A recent estimate reported that on average it takes 17 years from when a paper is published to see that knowledge applied in everyday practice,” Josh said.
“But within days of this video being published, I was hearing from people saying they had shown it in university lectures and used it in individual therapy sessions, which is incredible.”
Josh became passionate about this topic thanks to his involvement in the Spark Pain Program, which involves a multidisciplinary team of pain specialists, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists.
The team works with people suffering from chronic pain, which has often left the participants unable to work and dealing with crippling anxiety and depression.
“We follow up with people three to six months after the program to check on things like their quality of life, function, pain levels and use of medications,” Josh said.
“We commonly hear that the program changed peoples’ lives. They have a much better quality of life and are often able to return to work. So it’s a very motivating process to be involved in.”
Josh said it was a good experience working with TED-Ed, which gave him the opportunity to collaborate with a professional team of editors, producers, fact-checkers, directors, animators and voice actors.
He hopes to spend more time in the future working on educational resources – and his experience suggests there’s a strong appetite for engaging material.
“The possibilities of large-scale education about pain are enormous and I find this very exciting,” Josh said.