Do you, or someone you know, suffer from Chronic Pain?
Coping with Chronic Pain and 5 Tips to help you!
For the past 14 years, I have suffered from chronic pain and struggled to manage the implications it presents. However, with the help of my Physiotherapist and some personal study, I am trying to overcome the limitations of chronic pain. I’ve discovered these 5 tips that I will share with you now.
You might be wondering why I’m talking to you about chronic pain. Well, it’s something that both John and I have had to cope with, in one way or another, for a large part of our lives.
As many of you will know, John has Ulcerative Colitis, a debilitating condition that attacks the large intestine and can, in rare cases, be fatal. For years John suffered from chronic pain that left him exhausted and left his opportunities very limited in many ways. I have a long term knee injury that I have really struggled to get a grip on. Since my teenage years, I’ve had mobility issues and terrible pain. This was exacerbated by further injury in my twenties, that no physio has been able to fix. I’m hopeful that this is about to change, both through my current physio regime, and some of my own experiences and discoveries. I’ll also share these 5 tips with you from Ted Jones, PhD, and his article on the subject.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional by any means, and only give my experience and what has helped me. Please seek professional advice as a first rule and do nothing that will cause harm to yourself or others!
Tip 1. Understanding
Understanding your chronic pain is so important! For years I suffered through, taking pain medication, hoping that it would go away and just disguising or masking the pain. I wasn’t really dealing with the core problem. This led to a downward spiral where the issue became worse and the pain became worse. I was so scared of hurting myself that I inadvertently created these psychological pain walls in my head that told my body that the pain, although real, was so much worse than it maybe was in reality. It got so bad that even just the gentlest touch to my knee caused me terrible pain. I had overloaded my pain sensors and fooled them by being afraid of pain. What I didn’t know, was that not all pain is bad. In order to heal I had to do the opposite of what I was doing.
I had to move!
Fear of hurting my knee further caused me to limit myself. I used to do aerobics and Zumba, but the pain afterward was awful. So instead of finding a more manageable alternative, I assumed that I couldn’t do anything and stopped energetic movement completely. It was a terrible decision that has rippled repercussions through the intervening years. I didn’t understand my pain and therefore didn’t deal with it correctly. I hadn’t the guidance nor the maturity or knowledge that I have now. Ignorance is not bliss. Learn what you can about your pain, speak to your health professionals, and respond to what your mind and body are telling you.
John had a very different issue to deal with. He had to convince his Colitis Specialist and local GP that his medication was not working for him! That’s something so important to remember! You know your own body! What works for one person, may not work for another. Don’t be afraid to speak up and question your treatment plan. If John hadn’t done so, he would still be in chronic pain and on a medication that was harming him, not helping.
Tip 2. Accepting
For many years myself and John, have fought with acceptance on varying levels. Many a time I have thought ‘why me?’ or ‘I wish it’d just be better!’ or worse still ‘I’d rather just chop my leg off than keep suffering like this!’ Rather dramatic and over-the-top, but very honest at that time in my life. Sometimes the pain is just so bad you want to disappear. The old adage, ‘Acceptance is the first step to healing’ is often rolled out, but if your so mired in a ‘woe is me’ attitude, finding strength from this can seem impossible. By ‘Catastrophising’ your pain (telling yourself it’s the worst pain imaginable, that you’ll never find relief and it’s just the worst time in your life) you are setting yourself up to fail. Yes, you hurt. Yes, you want to scream the air black and blue. But where do you go next?
Accepting your current limitations is crucial to your physical and mental improvement. By not focusing on what you can’t do, and instead looking to what you can, you can steadily redirect your negative position towards a more positive one. For example, my physio has told me to walk, yes, but to limit myself to short ones. I suffer terribly the next day if I over-do it, and knowingly rely on my stronger pain killers to cope. And just to please other people! I could have spoken up and said can we take it a little easier, but not wanting to deprive them, or show weakness, I didn’t. The idea that we ‘should’ be able to do something, seemingly simple, is a big learning curve to coping with chronic pain. You have to learn what your normal is and work within your boundaries. Then you’ll see improvement. I know I have.
Acceptance is how John got started with Art from the Heart! He realised that he was limited by his Colitis. Working a standard 9-5 job would be outwith his capabilities, and yet he didn’t let that stop him! He thought, well I know what I can do and what I can’t, so let’s focus on what I can. Paint! Why not visit the website and find inspiration for your next step. Who knows, it could be a new skill in painting! https://www.johnmorrisartfromtheheart.com/
Tip 3. Calming
Sometimes the obvious choice in coping with chronic pain isn’t necessarily the best one. How often do we just reach for the painkillers? It’s a simple solution after all and will no-doubt kill the pain we are experiencing. Don’t misunderstand me, we do need to take the medications prescribed by our health professionals, but sometimes our body reacts to pain more extremely than is actually there. We’re so used to pain that we expect it and have sometimes got into practices of dealing with it that are not necessarily good for us. Our bodies become stressed over time by this constant pain and therefore are in some way damaged in how they respond to it.
How do we fix that?
Learning to calm your body, to distract or relax it, can be an effective way of assessing how extreme your pain actually is, and indeed is an alternative to automatically reaching for that pain pill. I haven’t spent much time on this method yet as it’s all new to me, but it is something I will be employing to reduce my painkiller intake. There’s no one way to relax or distract your mind and body. You need to find the fit for you whether it be yoga, mindfulness, music, meditation, or something else entirely. I will need to decide what works for me, and I’ll get back to you in due course!
Tip 4. Balancing
This is something I’ve already briefly touched on: not over-doing it! There are other aspects to finding balance, a lesson that should be applied to your whole life, not just this current topic of coping with chronic pain. You need to create a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ that works for you. There is a time for everything, and you need to find a balance in your routine. Make time for light exercise that strengthens you and helps you manage your pain, but don’t do too much! You’ll only set yourself back! I know! I’ve been there and it’s not fun! You also need time for rest. It is important to allow for enough sleep as it helps you to face the day revived and ready.
Chronic pain is the stealer of sleep!
Chronic pain is the classic stealer of sleep. It’s something I currently struggle with. But finding out what works for you to help you get as sound a sleep as you can is important. I often find right now that I need a pain killer during the night more than I do during the day, as that’s the time I experience the most pain. I’ve learned to read my body and administer pain medication when it’s most needed. During the day I often need to take a seat or do some light exercise to sort the pain out. It really depends on what the cause of your pain is. Learn to read the signs your body is giving you before things get really bad.
Lastly, remember that you need to prioritise yourself sometimes. I know this can be difficult when life is hectic and family or work demands are placed upon us etc. But if you don’t think about what is best for you at times, you’ll only cause yourself more damage and continue to loop in that cycle on unmanaged chronic pain. And then you’re no use to anyone and you’ll just feel worse! Be good to yourself!
Tip 5. Coping
Balance flows smoothly into Coping. They are linked because as I said above, it is important to be able to learn how to cope with your pain in a healthy and sustainable way. One that doesn’t always rely on popping pain pills. It is also especially true for people like my husband, who cannot rely on pain pills, as they have a life-long illness. John’s Colitis has to be learned to be managed if he’s to have any sort of quality of life and that comes through developing coping mechanisms. I’m glad to say that he has been successful in this.
For myself, I’ve invested in a cold compress that is re-useable and allows me to opt for a natural remedy to control my pain. I also use Arnica gel, which is a plant that is transformed into an anti-inflammatory and works wonders on my knee! I’ll include the links, though please note that these are only things that worked for me and may not be suitable for you.
One of the best ways to deal with your pain without resorting to medication, however, is to distract yourself. By diverting your focus away from the pain, you are not only re-directing your concentration but also reducing the reactivity of your pain receptors. My physiotherapist has told me that the reason my knee pain had become so chronic was that I’d created a heightened response when anything went near my knee. My fear of pain had created more pain and I, therefore, had to desensitize the area gradually. So by diverting your thoughts elsewhere, you can not only learn to cope with the pain better but also prevent the pain from becoming worse.
It’s best to distract yourself with an activity that requires focus such as, sorting the laundry, painting your nails, painting a picture, reorganising that messy cupboard that you’ve been ignoring forever! It doesn’t matter what it is, but it has to be within your limits of capability and distracting enough to take your mind off your pain.
Methods for Coping with Chronic Pain
Below are some great tools for coping during struggle and some that John and I have personally used. Just click on the links below and begin building a freeer life.
Great art courses at www.ourtreachart.org
I hope this Coping with Chronic Pain blog has been very helpful for you.