'Let Me Take Your Pain Away' in Iran

"Dardat be joonem," the saying goes in Iran — let me take away your pain.

It's more often said between family and friends, but the phrase isn't far from the work of Dr. Mohammad Sharify, head of the Iranian Pain Society.

He's one of only a few dozen doctors in Iran focusing on pain management. As head of the Iranian Pain Society, a chapter of the Seattle-based International Associated for the study of pain, healing pain in Persia has become his life's work.

"Pain is something like a torture. … Pain can even kill so when you are relieving someone from torture, it's great satisfaction for you," said Sharify.

In Iran, modern medicine accounts for the bulk of pain management treatments, from drug therapy to trophic exercises, nerve blocks and electrical stimulation.

But traditional therapies have a role. Rosemary oil, lavender oil and olive oil are rubbed into skin for topical pain relief. Hypnosis is used to alleviate pain during childbirth. Acupuncture is widely available.

"There are some documents from 2000 years ago that show that Iranian people were doing something like tattoo [for pain management]," Sharify told ABC News.

"They put some colorful drugs [on the skin] as traditional remedies … like acupuncture."

Religion, a central part of life in the Islamic Republic, plays an unofficial medical role in Iran. Sharify describes it as a useful tool in the pain management kit.

"When [an] 80-year-old lady in [the] village is experiencing pain, her child will come and say, 'OK, mother, don't worry God wants this, is good for you, maybe this is your luck for today.' That lady says, 'OK, maybe this is something from God, from the prophet.' … Religious beliefs, some traditional beliefs can have an effect on [the] pain experience," Sharify said.

"When I'm concentrating my mind on religious beliefs, to God, to holy books … this kind of attention may raise my pain threshold."

Sharify places the medical benefits of faith within the context of what he calls "attention distraction techniques," such as music therapy, self-hypnosis or aromatherapy.

"Of course we like to find the origin of the pain, force of the pain, to investigate what's the reason for that pain [using] a medical approach, but when it is not available, use anything you want to relieve your pain or pain of others," says Sharify.

A Slowly Growing Field

While Iran is known for having well-educated doctors and a strong public health-care system, the pain management specialty is new. Sharify is one of roughly 30 pain management specialists within an Iranian population of 70 million people.

Sharify works to close the gap by learning from his international counterparts, including doctors in the United States.

"The organization is better than in Iran," he said when asked what he has learned from visiting American pain therapy clinics. "The management is better. … [They are] well administered."

Sharify has seen colleagues ramp up their approach to pain, learning to focus on it as an independent issue rather than just a symptom of another ailment.

"At first there was this kind of opinion that pain is pain. If your knee is in pain for one day, it is no different than if it is in pain for 20 years," Sharify told ABC News.

"This was a wrong idea, wrong belief, and there was a need to change these ideas that pain is not simply a symptom. Pain may become a disease state. Acute pain is different from chronic pain."

What has evolved since then is a practice that tackles pain associated with a range of ailments in Iran — muscular skeletal pain, rheumatic pain, osteoarthritis and withdrawal pains from drug addiction recovery.

Even with a variety of applications Iran's pain management field is seeing steady, slow growth.

"It's not growing very quickly. There is slowdown and recession here in every respect," but, Sharify said, "I am hopeful."

Maryam Shahabi contributed to this article.

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