People often say they feel trapped by the pain, confined by their body and what it can’t physically do, as well as confined emotionally. Sometimes unable to engage in the world or make meaningful contact with others.
There is a way out though, and here we lay out the key steps to getting there.
Firstly educating yourself and those around you, family, friends and care-givers about chronic pain. Understanding how it really works and its entanglement with the brain’s emotions and experiences, past and present.
Step 1 is all about empowering yourself through education and understanding. This can lead to acceptance and a sense of calm, because there are ways to improve your daily life.
You can find a balance between activity and rest, and a balance in your emotions that allows you to get more out of life. We have produced another leaflet in this series called ‘Understanding the Complexity of Chronic Pain’ – ask your therapist or practitioner for this leaflet.
Arm yourself with coping tools. As you know, every day is different with some better than others and some terrible. But with the right tools you can find the perfect balance that works just for you.
Coping tools may include exercise, activity, healthy diet, yoga, medication, practicing mindfulness or joining a pain support group.
Techniques to use at home include meditation, distraction and deep breathing. Again we have another leaflet in this series covering these coping tools.
Seeing the right pain specialists or physical therapists can also be of great help and support. Physical therapists are experts in handling pain, finding the source of the pain and treating your body holistically.
Physical therapy can be very beneficial in managing chronic pain by promoting joint movement, using exercises to reduce stiffness and improve muscle strength. This can all reduce your pain and improve your mobility which may help with daily activities.
Specific nerve mobility treatments can help reduce sensitivity to pain and massage has always been a trusty stalwart as it reduces stress and anxiety as well as pain. Again there’s another leaflet in this series that covers how physical therapy can help.
Finding an activity you love to do is really important.
This could be walking the dog, dancing, singing in the choir or painting, anything as long as you love it. Enjoying doing the activity is part of the treatment process, as it feeds into your emotional state, promoting the release of endorphins (happy hormones) which in turn will make you feel better.
It may have to be a new activity that you can manage with your pain, or something you used to do in the past but with less vigour. However, finding that something to do regularly without a grudge (or the sense of I am only doing this because I have to/was told to) is another vital coping tool.
Ownership. Possibly the most important step and which arguably should rank before Step 1, is to say “it’s all about you” because it really is. This is not to preach or dictate, but to remember this is your life, your pain and your body that no one else can control.
You have to take the wheel and be in control of the journey. It’s not a simple A to B along the motorway.
Learning to manage your pain will require taking the scenic route, with dead ends that sometimes mean you have to go back to where you started.
As long as you keep going, the twists and turns will eventually open out onto one of those beautiful coastal road with that sense of open freedom – a stage where you are in control, and you know your body and pain so well that you can have a more fulfilled life.
You know the saying it takes a village to raise a child, well we believe it takes an army to survive and thrive with chronic pain.
Although it’s important that you are in control and are the driver of your pain management, it would be unrealistic to assume you can do this alone. You need the support of friends and family, work colleges or associates. Not just emotional support and encouragement, but their actual help daily.
Making sure you are all ‘on the same page’, sharing this information and these links with them, will go a long way in their understanding of what you are living with.
This article was originally published in the Town & County magazine for County Durham. Download The Strain of Pain – Part 2 in PDF format.