This article appears in Salute to Nurses 2018.

When it comes to a patient’s pain management, nurses are leading the way. When zero pain is not an option, nurses help alleviate discomfort by understanding and acknowledging pain, being responsive and involved in care, and communicating effectively as patient educators.

Considering herself new in the area of pain research, Janiece Taylor, RN, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, lets frustration drive her instead of hold her back.

“Pain really is outside the box,” Taylor said.

For nurses who love caregiving but struggle with doubt about how to treat pain, Taylor says, “Don’t give up.” She hopes her research might one day “be making it just a little bit easier for that brand-new nurse” out there.

New solutions for pain

Nurses play a huge role in pain management.

“We advocate for our patients in so many ways whether through research, at the bedside or as advanced-practice nurses,” Taylor said. “It is essential that we stay up to date on current research surrounding pain management and that we don’t treat chronic pain patients all the same. We cannot forget how individualized the pain experience is and how different strategies work differently in our patients.”

A researcher in the area of pain management, Taylor’s current work “focuses on new and innovative ways to address pain among community-dwelling older adults living with various types of pain. I seek to find ways that can be easily used in the community/home setting that are not necessarily pharmacological in nature but can complement pharmacology or serve as the main pain-management tools in those who are not able to take pain medications,” she said.

Her research is a crucial piece of addressing the opioid crisis.

“Pain researchers are working tirelessly to find alternative options for pain management. Although there is a place for opioids, however, it is important to find practical alternatives to reduce the risk of not just addiction but side effects,” Taylor said.

Especially exciting are new developments in managing pain through the use of virtual reality as well as in mental health, she said.

Keep fighting

Pain can be overwhelming, but Taylor urges people to never give up on pain management. Communication between providers and patients is a simple yet effective component of adequately managing pain, she said.

Patients should “advocate for themselves with their providers and don’t just live with the pain. Express any concerns, questions or challenges to keep communication open with providers. There are other options that can complement pharmacological pain management,” she said.

For her fellow nurses, Taylor also encourages tenacity.

“It can seem very difficult but we must try to identify effective and successful treatments that can be sustained over the long haul,” she said. “Education in pain management among nurses is a vital component to addressing pain in our aging populations and those experiencing chronic disabling pain.”