If you’ve clicked the link from my Healthskills blog, this blog is for people who have chronic pain and want to live well. Before we begin, a quick reminder:
You may find information here that is helpful. I encourage you to make sure any advice you receive anywhere (including here) is based on sound scientific studies. This blog is not designed to give any personal advice on health conditions, and should not replace a consultation with your own health care providers. I cannot be personally held responsible for any decisions you make on the basis of the information in this blog.
Right then, enough said.
If you’ve arrived here, I guess you want to know something about your pain, and I can’t emphasise how important it is for you to become your own pain expert. No-one else can feel your pain. No-one else knows where it hurts, how it hurts, what effect it has on how you feel about yourself and what you can do. Only you can tell whether a treatment is making any difference to you. Pain is not something that we can see, touch, or even view using imaging technology – and although fMRI is being used to study what goes on in the brain, it isn’t able to show anything more than blood flowing to various bits and pieces. Nothing and no-one can tell whether your pain is real or not real.
Pain is useful, normal and part of everyday life.
Without pain we’d be unlikely to survive more than a few years – ask the people who have Hanson’s disease (leprosy), or lose the sensation in their body through spinal cord injury what it’s like to have to check your body for injury and you’ll see why. You see, normal pain is a great way for your brain to let you know something needs your attention. That’s why there are times you really feel your pain and other times you can get injured and not notice. Your brain does the job of working out whether the threat to your body needs to interrupt what you’re doing so you can attend to it, or whether it can be safely ignored because something else you’re doing is more important.
Luckily, most pain is acute pain which means it settles down as the tissues return to normal.
Unluckily for some of us, acute pain can become chronic or persistent pain.
This pain is different – it’s no longer your brain deciding you need to know about a threat to your body, instead something has gone wrong within your nervous system. It could be a change to the mechanics of a joint, long-term inflammation from something like rheumatoid arthritis, it could be a nerve that has become highly sensitive, or it could be something about the way your nervous system processes the information it’s getting from your body.
There are some good things about chronic pain. Chronic pain doesn’t indicate that you have a dreadful disease that will kill you. It also doesn’t mean that you are going to damage yourself if you use the parts of your body that are painful. I like to think of it as like an unnecessarily noisy and kind of off-station radio. Lots of static. Nothing really intelligent going on. Harder to focus on what you really want to hear, but doesn’t mean the radio is broken – just means it needs a tune-up. Of course, sometimes a radio can’t be completely tuned because there’s something stopping good reception, and that’s where learning how to deal with the frustration and disappointment comes in. And humans are a whole lot more complex than radios.
There are loads of resources about chronic pain on the internet. I’m not going to repeat things that are already available, but I hope to put my spin on what can help you live a good life even when you have chronic pain. How can I do this? Well, I’ve worked with a lot of people who have chronic pain in my clinical work. I’ve seen how some things seem to help, and other things don’t. I’m also a researcher into chronic pain and how people can live well despite it. I hope to share some of the things I’ve discovered from people who do cope well with pain. And finally, I have chronic pain myself.
If you’re interested in learning more about ways to get on with life despite chronic pain, come back in a week or so and I’ll have put up another post. Meantime, take a moment to stop. Breathe in and out slowly and enjoy your breath. Feel your body making contact with the chair you’re sitting on. Feel the air around you, see what you can see and hear. Appreciate that even though you have pain, you have some parts of your body that don’t hurt. Try feeling your earlobe, or your belly button. If you can, try finding out where your pain is, where it ends, and where the non-pain bits start. Then breathe out again and go about your day.