Living with Chronic Pain
As Physiotherapists we are naturally very goal orientated people and most of the time we are trying to get our clients back to pain free existences so they can do things that are meaningful to them. In certain circumstances however we as health care providers need to shift our thinking to how can I make this person’s life more meaningful without always reducing their pain. Pain and coping with pain is something I have a very humble understanding of and much of this blog are things I have observed over my career and the thoughts of much wiser Pain specialists.
1. Switch the focus from pain to function
To those working in health care how often is the first question you ask a client, how is your pain? It is no wonder then that our clients then focus on the same thing! For those living in chronic pain it can sometimes feel like their pain controls their lives not their lives control their pain. When pain outcome measures don’t change it can make people feel like they are not achieving what they set out to and are trapped in a permanent cycle of unrelenting pain. By switching the focus off pain and on to function it can allows clients minds to also shift from the negative to positive and from what they can’t do to what they can do. It enables people to work on goals and achieve them and improve performance and function in certain tasks that are meaningful to them.
2. Don’t isolate yourself
Battling with chronic pain can be one of the most isolating experiences any individual can go through. No matter how much you talk about it nobody can every truly understand what it is you are going through. In particular it can put strain on relationships, jobs and incomes, hobbies and family life. People suffering in pain get sick of explaining to others what it is like and often the support individuals can become tired and burnt out caring for their loved one. Often pain also inhibits us from engaging in meaningful activity which can cut involvement in certain social groups and circles. It is very important when dealing with chronic pain that individuals do their best to maintain their social interaction and close relationships. Some helpful ways of doing this include getting psychological support for individuals suffering pain and their significant others, making sure that you don’t lose touch with friends just because you can’t participate in certain activities and even joining new clubs and trying new sports that are more appropriate to your current function level. There are also many support groups out there to provide help to people going through different illnesses. While some can seem like a pity party there are many wonderful support groups out there and all are an opportunity to meet others going through similar circumstances to yourself.
3. Find good health care professionals that have your best interests at heart
This can be something that is often more easily said than done. It is hard to know when you are chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or alternatively being sold short. At the end of the day it has to be a personal decision that an individual needs to make on their own and with the support of those that they trust. Things that can help you know whether you are making good choices are seeking second opinions, looking at the clinical evidence (not google), finding someone you can communicate easily with and asking those who have been through similar experiences to you. It is also important that your health care team have good communication with each other as there is nothing more worrying, frustrating and confusing than conflicting information from your various health care providers.
4. Educate yourself about pain
Pain and the physiology of pain is a very complex area. It has fortunately been well researched in recent years and there have been major breakthroughs in our understanding of how the human brain processes pain. Listening to pain specialists talk about pain, reading information online from validated websites and attending courses and information nights are all great ways to learn about pain. This sort of information can not only help individuals suffering chronic pain understand what is happening in their body but can also help to reduce pain itself. It is an extremely powerful tool and should not be underestimated! Some helpful podcasts I have found include Peter O’sullivans, David Butler and Mike Stewarts on Physioedge and the Physio Matters Podcasts and websites like http://knowpain.co.uk/. If you are a local to the Gold coast the “Turning Pain into Gain” program is a wonderful government funded local program that assists people who are suffering chronic pain.
5. Keep active
Exercise is vital to life and health. It plays a major role in many of the body’s important functions including the processing of pain. Exercise can not only help reduce pain by changing chemicals within the brain but it can also reduce some of the negative effects of chronic pain such and poor health, weight gain, social isolation etc. Now I’m not talking about running a marathon on sore knees im talking about small amounts of consistent exercises that is appropriate for your body in its current state. This might start with a few laps around the house to walking the street and then eventually 2-3km. There are certain conditions that require a much slower return to exercise that others such as fibromyalgia however unless specially advised not to by your health professional there will be some sort of exercise appropriate for you.
Lindsay Christie (APAM)
Butler, D (Physioedge). (2016, Feb 2) Painful Paradigms and Sensitive DSystems (audio podcast) http://itunes.apple.com
Stewart, M (Physioedge). (2016 Mar 4) Know Pain (audio podcast) Retrieved form http://itunes.apple.com
O’sullivan, P (Physioedge). (2016, Mar 3) Chronic Lower Back Pain (audio podcast) http://itunes.apple.com
Stahl, S., & Briley, M. (2004). Understanding pain in depression. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 19(S1), S9-S13.