Jennifer Morley

Jennifer Morley

Foundation established to shed light on pain syndrome

NANAIMO – Sufferers describe burning feeling when talking about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

It’s in the slight shift in her seat, the breath she expels in a soft, measured exhale and her slow and laboured gait when she gets up to walk.

Without those small signs, you might never know 39-year-old Kate Palmer is in pain.

And that’s the problem.

The pain experienced by Palmer and Jennifer Morley, co-founders of Nanaimo’s new CRPS Hope and Awareness Foundation, is largely invisible and not well understood.

They have complex regional pain syndrome, a condition where patients feel more pain than they should for the physical trauma they experienced.

Dr. Karl Muendel, Nanaimo’s pain clinic director and co-chief of pain for Island Health, calls it a dis-regulation of the nervous system and doesn’t know why it happens. Neither is it known why certain people are more prone to it, so it’s tough to work on prevention and treatment, he said.

But there are criteria for the condition, and he said it’s a legitimate issue where patients have pain and are not functioning. There is no cure.

Think of an extremity that just got burnt, he said. There’s very, very sensitive skin; often if CRPS is in the foot, that foot can’t even touch the sheets.

Two years ago, there were 90 active patients at the pain clinic with CRPS. Today, Muendel believes there are more, although updated statistics are not available.

For Palmer and Morley, this condition has taken over the lives they used to live, affected their careers and their home life. Palmer can’t remember the last time she hasn’t cried, and their families have had to pick up the things that they are no longer able to do, like cooking and laundry. There’s guilt and grief, they say.

And then there’s the pain.

“I am constantly aware of the burning,” said Palmer, who explains that it feels like the bones in her feet are broken. Her hands are burning and sweating but cold to the touch and mottled white and red and she’s exhausted.

“It’s really a horrendous experience,” she said. “The deep breaths are just me trying to manage it. It becomes so overwhelming.”

She’s had CRPS twice before in her limbs – once after a surgery and the other when she broke her wrist snowboarding – but since her third diagnosis three years ago, it’s spread into both arms and legs and she doesn’t see the pain going away.

“That’s always the thing we come up against. How can you be in that much pain and still function?” she asked. “The reality is, we can put on a really brave face and we can be quite good at hiding it and behind closed doors it’s a different story.”

She said there are days when she wants to tattoo flames and barbed wire all over her body, just so people would get what it feels like.

Morley, 40, was diagnosed when the pain of a shoulder surgery didn’t go away, but it took five years and multiple specialists.

“We quite often get told it’s all in our heads and you just have low pain tolerance and those kinds of things,” she said, adding the goal through the new foundation they’ve started up is to make sure when they run into someone on the street, they help that person understand CRPS is a real disease.

The co-founders want health-care professionals to be more aware of the condition and the diagnostic criteria so they can make referrals resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatment. They also see general awareness as being a launch to funding, treatment and research, as well as understanding.

Muendel said research is happening at the university level for CRPS, but getting funding for more research would be helpful.

“You see someone that’s been two years out with untreated CRPS and they never got the treatment early on and how to cope with their pain and that they actually should rehabilitate and use the extremity rather than just waste away,” he said.

The foundation will show the documentary Trial by Fire on Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. at Beban Park social centre. For tickets, please e-mail

Just Posted

The Nanaimo Business Awards are accepting nominations now. (Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce image)
Nanaimo Business Awards accepting nominations of worthy winners

This year’s awards aren’t until the fall, but the nomination period ends June 28

Retailers say they’re ready for the ban on single-use plastic checkout bags in Nanaimo when it takes effect July 1. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Retailers report they’re ready for Nanaimo’s single-use checkout bag ban

Business operators say there’s been plenty of time to plan and prepare for bylaw that kicks in July 1

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews on scene at a boat fire near the boat ramp at Long Lake on Sunday, June 20. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Boat burns up on Nanaimo’s Long Lake, man and child unhurt

Jet skiers attempt to put out fire by circling around to spray water on burning boat

Gabriola singer-songwriter Sarah Osborne, Cowichan Valley duo Heartwood, Vancouver singer Kelly Haigh and Nanaimo bluesman David Gogo (clockwise from top-left) are among the performers in this year’s Cultivate Festival. (Photos submitted)
Gabriola Arts Council presents COVID-conscious Cultivate Festival

Theatre, music and art festival returns to Gabriola Island after 2020 hiatus

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

John A. Read, who was inspired to leave his former career to become a professional astronomer by the purchase of a $13 telescope, will give beginning astronomers key pointers on how to set up and get the best performance from their instruments at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s meeting June 24. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Read)
Astrophysicist will talk about getting the most out of a telescope at Nanaimo astronomy meeting

John Read’s purchase of a $13 telescope led to a degree in astrophysics and a career in astronomy

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

Most Read