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That is the one absolute truth for those of us who deal with chronic pain.
And if that was all there was to it, that would be bad enough. But chronic pain is big into spreading the misery around. It finds ways to drag your mind into the game, too.
So, instead of just having to deal with, say, lower back pain, you also have something like this looping in the background every day:
- “Will I be able to keep working?”
- “If this is how I feel now, how am I going to feel in 20 years?”
- “What can I do now that it hurts too much to (insert favorite activity here)?”
Whether you’ve been dealing with your pain for one hour or 50 years, you know what I’m talking about.
You live it.
That’s why it’s so important to have strategies in your pain management toolkit that address both the physical and mental aspects of dealing with chronic pain.
The most important thing to remember is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to pain relief. Not everything in this post is going to work for you.
And that’s ok.
Because chances are that there is something in here that could help you cope better.
So give a few of these a shot, ok?
You never know what might help you make the leap from coping to thriving.
This is the first place most of us look for pain relief.
It’s easy. It’s available.
Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen… one of them is bound to help, at least a little.
But as our pain starts looking like it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (or seems to be getting worse), we start looking to doctors for help.
That’s where antidepressants, anti-seizure meds, muscle relaxers, and/ or steroids are most likely to come in.
If you and your doctor think that any of these will help, by all means, take them. And if your medicine of choice doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to ask for something different.
You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel to benefit from yoga. You also don’t have to be young, thin, or able-bodied to practice yoga, despite the way it is presented by pop-culture and the media.
What you do need is patience, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to listen to your body and honor it and stop when it tells you that you are pushing beyond its abilities.
We’re trying to find relief from chronic pain through yoga. Not create more of it. 😊
It can be hard finding a yoga practice that works for you, though. I tend to prefer workout videos over in-person classes. It allows me to stretch at my own pace without feeling self-conscious when I’m unable to do one of the poses that the rest of the class is focused on.
Healing Yoga for Aches and Pains was my favorite video for years, but seems to only be available for rent on Amazon at the moment.
I do enjoy yoga, but my practice has been inconsistent at best.
I think these links could be useful if you want to know more or want to start a yoga practice of your own:
I don’t know how else to say it…
Foam rolling is weird.
Sometimes foam rolling even kind of hurts.
But it is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to help relieve pain.
Think of it like a massage you give yourself. Hopefully away from the questioning glances of strangers.
This is the best how-to video I’ve found on foam rolling.
Trigger Point Therapy
Much like foam rolling, trigger point therapy is super helpful for pain relief.
The basic idea is that sometimes the pain you are having can be relieved by putting steady pressure on a tender area nearby, which is the true source of your pain.
Yeah. It sounds more woo-woo than it is. I promise.
And while foam rolling kinda hurts, you can think of trigger point therapy as deep hurting that is also crazy therapeutic.
Don’t be surprised when you realize a tennis ball is your new best friend.
This video can help you get started.
And if you want a more in-depth look at trigger points, this is the book you’ll need: The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief.
Ice or Heat Therapy
I know there are rules for when to use ice as opposed to heat for pain and injuries.
But, honestly, I ignore these rules when it comes to managing my chronic pain.
If my neck is hurting and it is hot outside, I’m gonna use ice*. And if I’m hurting in the dead of winter, you better believe that I’m going to roll myself up all nice and snug (maybe in an electric blanket) and do my best impression of a cannoli until I feel better.
Anything that can ease my pain while also making me as comfy as possible.
*10 -15 minutes, tops. Seriously.
This a perfect example of the dangers of the one-size-fits-all approach to pain relief.
Everybody likes to say how great massages are for relieving pain. They may be right.
But it has never worked for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Massages can feel great. They can leave you feeling relaxed and happy.
But they may or may not do anything for your pain levels.
I have had good massages. I have had massages that left me covered in bruises. I’m just not sure that they did anything one way or the other for my pain.
(Although walking away from a massage sporting bruises was pretty disconcerting.)
Massage can be a great pain management option, if you’re into that kinda thing.
Personally, I’m happier relying on other pain relief strategies.
But like I said, pain management is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you would like to give massage therapy a try, the American Massage Therapy Association can help you find a licensed practitioner near you.
A lot of people think that meditating will empty their mind of thoughts.
Sadly, I don’t think that is possible. I wish it was.
Thinking: It is what brains do!
Luckily, meditation seems to help slow those incessant thoughts down. And when your thoughts slow down, you are better able to see that your thoughts are not you. They are just the silly little things that zoom through your brain when it is on autopilot.
It is the space in between the thoughts that is important.
And it is the space between the thoughts that you become better at noticing and resting in by practicing meditation.
I don’t know about y’all, but my brain loves to send up some stupid stuff for me to obsess over. Meditation helps me take a step back, see my thoughts for the annoying little critters they are, and then move on with my day.
Typically in a much calmer emotional state than the one I started my meditation practice in.
Tara Brach’s website is a good place to start if want to give meditation a try.
Go ahead. Give it a shot.
A calmer mind can be a blessing for someone dealing with chronic pain.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Remember those nagging looping thoughts I mentioned earlier? You know, the ones that add insult to your pain injury and keep you in a near-constant state of anxiety and depression?
CBT can help with that.
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches you how to recognize and change the distorted thoughts and beliefs that influence your feelings and behaviors.
Let’s tackle this one, shall we?
“If this is how I feel now, how am I going to feel in 20 years?”
First off, you are not psychic. How you feel today does not accurately predict how you might feel tomorrow, much less 20 years from now.
Secondly, whatever it is that is causing you pain right now? We might have a cure for it in five years.
Or maybe you’ll get so good at this pain management stuff that an activity you dread and avoid now won’t give you a moments pause later because you’ll know how to troubleshoot any issues you could possibly have to deal with from said activity.
There. Does that feel any better?
That’s the power of CBT.
Here’s a list of common cognitive distortions so you can get better at spotting dis-empowering thoughts and beliefs.
And if you want to learn more about CBT, check out the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. They can either help you find a therapist or recommend a self-help book tailored to your needs.
If I could travel back in time, I’d beg my doctor to send me to physical therapy the moment it started looking like my pain was here to stay.
Whether helping you troubleshoot movement dysfunctions, providing you with therapeutic massage, or recommending rehab exercises, physical therapists are awesome.
Seriously. Ask for physical therapy.
But if that isn’t a possibility, DIY physical therapy is always an option.
My blog post, Exercises for Head-to-Toe Pain Relief, can help you get started.
There are tons of other exercises on YouTube that might help you, too.
If you’re more of a book person, I recommend Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue. It is the first resource I go to when I have pain that needs troubleshooting.
Biofeedback is a pain management technique that helps you learn how to make changes to your physiological state.
By measuring your heart rate, brain activity, or muscular tension, a biofeedback device will provide you with feedback in the form of sounds or visuals.
You can then experiment with various relaxation techniques, like mindfulness, breathing, and visualization, to find what works best for you in calming your stress response.
In addition to being helpful for those of us dealing with chronic pain, biofeedback can also be effective in managing anxiety and high blood pressure, along with many other health issues.
Even though meditation is usually my first line of defense, I’ve found that biofeedback helps me relieve my pain and anxiety on those occasions where I’m too keyed up and mentally scattered to meditate.
I use the emWave2 and love it, but there is a bit of a learning curve to it, especially in the beginning.
I’ve also heard great things about the Muse Headband but haven’t tried it yet.
Either of these devices would be more than worth checking out.
Also known as guided imagery, visualization can be a useful tool for pain management.
And even though it sounds woo-woo, there is a lot of scientific evidence that suggests that visualization works.
Maybe you’re a big fan of sitting in the sand and watching the waves roll in while the salty beach breeze tousles your hair, your pain evaporating as the sun warms your skin.
Not your thing?
That’s ok. There’s bound to be something out there that will work for you.
This article has some suggestions for pain relieving visualizations, but you could also make up your own.
I figure, if athletes can use visualization to improve their performance, we should certainly be able to use it for pain relief.