No one likes pain. And we’ll do almost anything to find the cause and a solution.
It’s easy to jump on what I call the pain merry-go-round. Visiting all types of healthcare providers. Going through x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans, and all sorts of other tests. Attending lectures. Spending countless hours on the Internet. Taking a concoction of opioid painkillers, non-opioid medicines, vitamins, and herbs. Getting injections. Even having surgery or surgeries.
While some of these might help, some may not, and some may even make things worse. Meanwhile, they all cost time and money and delay chronic pain rehabilitation.
Get your free copy of the e-book Chronic Pain Won’t Stop Me for ways to make the jump.
Have the thought without buying the thought
It’s easy for our mind to wander and lose touch with the things we enjoy.
Mindfulness has shown to reduce anxiety and stress while improving mood and pain acceptance. It redirects the mind from the wandering negative thoughts in our head so we can enjoy the present with no judgement, rumination or worry about the pain. It simply asks us to become aware of our senses and free our mind.
We can practice mindfulness when simply taking a deep breath by focusing on the breath, how we breath, and what the air feels like coming in and out of our bodies. We can also practice mindfulness when listening, walking, or doing simple things like playing with our pets. Best yet, it’s free and requires no special equipment.
People with chronic pain often do too much when they’re having good days and not enough when they’re having bad days.
Pace activity by setting time limits, slowing down (start low, go slow), breaking up tasks, and taking frequent short breaks – gradually increasing what you can do to build endurance.
Here is a helpful resource to help you.
What do you do and say when you hurt? How do you react to chronic pain?
You may moan or groan. You may make a face and grimace or wince. You may touch or rub the area that hurts. You may stop what you are doing and limit activity. You may even say a few choice words.
The body’s natural vocal, verbal, physical, emotional, and social reactions to pain are called pain behaviors. They are our ways of expressing we are hurting.
While fine for acute pain like touching a hot stove, these pain behavior reactions place undue focus on chronic pain and reinforce the pain – causing emotional distress and anxiety. Which can lead to reduced coping skills, intensified perceived pain, disability, and increased use of the healthcare system.
But, wait, Tom. Are you reinforcing the pain by the sheer fact of talking about it in this article?
No. Not really.
It's okay to talk about chronic pain in a general or educational sense just like we do any other topic in a conversation. Our emotions stay in check. What is not okay is “stinking thinking” – verbally expressing pain, complaining about it, wallowing in it, or placing blame for it.
Pain is a learned response not just a physical problem
Research has shown as pain conditions become chronic, the relationship between pain severity and pain behavior weakens. In other words, pain behaviors can become over-exaggerated responses to the pain.
Rubbing the spot where it hurts may help you feel better. But what does rubbing and other pain behaviors tell your brain? They tell your brain how to react the next time you have pain. You not only learn the pain; you learn the reaction.
And what do pain behaviors tell others around you? How do they react to your demonstrations of pain? They may become confused, over helpful, over cautious, or over critical. They may even stop interacting with you.
Change how we react to chronic pain
We know what to expect from our pain by the very nature of it being chronic. It is not like twisting an ankle or getting stung by a bee.
Below are a few tips to reduce pain behavior:
While easier said than done, these tips can work with practice.
Dr. James Hudson wrote this telling and controversial article published November 27, 2019 in the Washington Post – generating 1,400 comments.
The article expressed his views regarding the growth of opioid prescriptions and the importance of reducing the fear of chronic pain.
Whether you agree or disagree with his thoughts regarding opioids, there is merit in exploring his contention regarding the fear of pain. Research has shown pain related fear is associated with more pain intensity and disability.
In one part of the article, Dr. Hudson shared what I think is an extremely helpful metaphor:
“In many ways, learning to live with chronic pain is like learning to live next to the El in Chicago. This above ground transit system is old and loud. It roars past homes and businesses. Nearby residents feel the vibrations; it can be so noisy that they pause their conversations while the train goes by. Yet those who think a lower rent is worth the annoyance report that the sound soon ceases to be disruptive. You get used to it. Getting angry every time a train passes is a sure way to obsess over it. Our body’s pain system works the same way. The more we learn to calm it down, the less it bothers us; the more we try to be pain free, the more it takes over our lives.”
What has been your experience? Can you relate to what he wrote in the article about accepting pain and not being afraid of it?
Check out a mix of great article reads in the education tab.
A former boss of mine loved this quote. If you think about it, it's very much true.
An example of this type of thinking was highlighted in a documentary I watched yesterday on Hulu about food brands that made America. One of them was Heinz. Henry Heinz went bankrupt after his first business quest to market horseradish sauce failed. And he fell into a deep depression.
A year later, Henry perfected a tomato ketchup that turned into a very popular local product. Seeing the need to expand distribution; he built the first manufacturing plant with electricity and mass assembly. An idea Henry Ford eventually used for cars.
So, what’s the point, Tom?
Be open to change. You can’t change if you don’t want to change, if you don’t know you can change, or if you don’t know you need changing.
Most chronic pain treatment has focused solely on biomedical therapies such as drugs and interventions. But as Dr. Rachel Zoffness has noted, if we only treat pain with biomedical therapies, we’re missing two-thirds of the factors involved in chronic pain – psychological (our thoughts and beliefs, emotions, and behaviors) and social (our status in life and interactions with other people and society, in general).
Explore more. We have more control over pain than what we may think. And much of that comes with changing how we think about pain. If we can learn to accept chronic pain and learn it doesn’t mean more us more harm, we can use a variety of coping tools to manage the pain and live well, despite it.
This article from Dr. Zoffness is very telling. Hope you find it helpful!
Doctors often ask what our pain score is on a scale of 1-10. But is the pain scale a true measure of our pain? And is it helpful?
I contend we're more than a pain number. We're humans with feelings, emotions, and social interactions. A number on a pain intensity scale doesn’t capture our struggle with pain. And it’s often the struggle with pain that is worse than the pain itself.
Below is a research article that explore is asking us about pain tolerance might be more helpful than asking for a pain score. I hope you enjoy reading it.
What's in your pain toolbox?
Pain rehabilitation goes beyond medicine and medical interventions – and crosses different disciplines. It doesn’t just focus on removing the pain. It focuses on the patient and how they can play a role in their own pain management – improving function and quality of life.
It’s a proven approach – benefiting patients while reducing costs and reliance on the medical system.
Having gone through the 3-week outpatient Mayo Pain Rehabilitation Center, at the recommendation of both my family doctor and a general surgeon, I can personally attest to the value of a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to pain rehabilitation.
Do I still have pain? Of course, I do. But I’ve learned to live well, despite the pain.
Ready about my experience at Mayo.
Play chronic pain champions online word search.
Chronic Pain Champions is an information resource/blog/support group to help chronic pain patients, their families, and friends, as well as healthcare professionals.