Pain can come in many forms and for a variety of reasons, but most of the time there is something that you can and should do about it other than take medications. Suffering from chronic pain can be a defeating place to find yourself, but if you become part of the solution by assertively educating yourself, seeking the right help and being open to change, you can usually win the battle. This post outlines the steps I recommend you follow to take control of your health both physically and mentally and get the help you need.
Step 1: Don’t Panic
Step 2: Learn
Step 3: Network & Ask for Help
Step 4: Treatment
Step 5: Maintenance & Prevention
Step 1: Don’t Panic
It is really hard to think logically and objectively when you have been in pain for an extended period of time. Irrational fears can cloud your judgement and Googling your symptoms can create fear and confusion. Try to become mindful of the fact that you may be getting pulled down a rabbit hole of misleading information and mind fogging medications. As best you can, try to zoom out from the pain and try to look at yourself in the context of where you are and where you want to be. Create a physical and mental goal to anchor your purpose and then start learning what it will take to get you there.
You are the only person that has to live with your pain on a moment to moment basis and you are the only person that has the control to change it. You will likely have to change some of your behaviors, step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help from people you don’t know. It is journey that may take longer than you expect and won’t be a linear path, but is something you need to assertively embark on to control your future. Time does not heal all wounds. You usually need a team of people to help your body make sense of the predicament it finds itself in, but with a little direction most people can rid their bodies of pain.
Step 2: Learn
Information is only useful if you have a context of how to use it, without context, too much information is just stressful and confusing. We live in the information age where people have unlimited access to information, but quite often there is a serious lack of knowledge translation. It is easy to find the answer to the question “what is hurting?” but it can be hard to find a satisfying answer to the question “why is it hurting?” I encourage you to seek out the what, but I challenge you to understand the why. It is the understanding of why that motivates people to take the action and have the commitment required to change an undesirable situation.
Start by creating some awareness of your own body physically and mentally. If something hurts, when does it hurt? What makes it better or worse? Is it affected by your stress level? Do you have any emotional triggers? Is it trending better or worse? Simply try to take an inventory of what you are experiencing and then consider who you might talk to for help.
Step 3: Network & Ask for Help
Talk to your doctor about your pain, but don’t take his advice as gospel, there are many health professionals out there that may have more experience and a better tool box to help you. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family about who they have had success with in the past. You may feel like you are the only one with these types of problems, but trust me, you are not alone, everyone has had something go wrong with them and many people will tell you that ‘you gotta go see my guy!” After talking to a few friends and/or your doctor, look into the people and clinics that have been suggested to you to see if they seem like a good fit for your needs. Read up on their approaches and be open to techniques that you may not have tried before, just because you haven’t heard of it, doesn’t mean it might not be part of the answer for you.
If your pain is impacting your life and doesn’t seem to be going away, come to terms with the fact that you are going to have to make time to deal with it and that may involve seeing a therapist that isn’t necessarily the closest or the most convenient for you. Don’t let proximity be the most important guiding factor of who you choose to help you. Good people may be more challenging to see, but they could be the difference makers. When you start seeing a new person, try to be an assertive participant in the process of improving your situation, if they are trying to teach you something, pay attention, if they give you advice, try to follow it. No one is going to fix you, but many people can open a door for you, hold your hand and walk you through it, if you let them.
Step 4: Treatment
There are a lot of treatment options out there that might be helpful for you, but there are probably just as many that won’t be. Part of that is based on what your body needs and part of that is based on what you as a person are open and receptive to. No one technique to treat pain works for everything or everybody, but there are definitely some that seem to be more powerful than others and a lot of it depends on the practitioner having a variety of tools at his disposal and/or having the right team of professionals to refer out to. Be wary of people claiming that they can fix anything, but they only use one form of treatment.
As a physiotherapist, I have the luxury of having a relatively broad scope of practice that enables me to have a bigger tool box than some professions, but I have still built a team of professionals around me with overlapping but different skill sets so I can try to help anyone that walks in the door. Helping might involve treating them for a while and then sending them down a more appropriate path once I further understand their needs (e.g. pelvic floor physio, massage, physician). Most people trying to climb out of the hole that chronic pain has dug them need a small team of people around them, so try to find health professionals that play nice with others.
I preach to my clients that they will need to go through a process of release, re-educate, rebuild to get them out of pain and then work to keep them there. There is usually something physical and sometimes something mental in the body that needs to be ‘let go,’ a therapist’s job initially is to figure out what that is and how to do it. I think the person’s body and mind first need to be primed to let go by having a health professional explain what they feel is going on in a manner that is meaningful to the client in pain. After the person has a base level of understanding, I find that the most effect release techniques are IMS dry needling combined with osteopathic manual therapy called visceral and neural manipulation.
Physically releasing areas of tension in the body can, in itself, get rid of pain, but it can also draw emotional triggers to the surface. Pain is typically rooted in the physical, but you can see how entangled the two are after treating a person a few times and following their response to releasing treatments. The whole process becomes a journey of awareness and self-reflection for the patient as they start the transition into the re-educate phase. More often than not, you release something on someone, they start to feel better and then slowly the pain starts to return for one reason or another. The purpose of step two is to help teach the person how to move and hold themselves differently in order to make the release techniques last as long as possible. People that move poorly and, or live under high levels of stress can just be tension generators that require someone to release the steam every so often, which is fine, but the more awareness they create, the less frequently they need to be decompressed. Once your pain has been calmed and you are starting to move better, you are likely ready to start getting stronger in order to improve your performance and prevent future problems.
Step 5. Maintenance & Prevention
If you can find any silver lining to the experience of having to rehabilitate your body back to ‘normal’ after an injury, it might be the fact that you may have developed a new appreciation of your physical health that will motivate you to better take care of yourself going forward. Some people that have been in pain or discomfort for a long time start to lose touch with what normal is supposed to feel like, but after the ups and downs of seeing physio for weeks to months they start to become more in tune with their body. After I have helped someone get to a place of comfort, I encourage them to start trying to wean themselves from me and figure out their own maintenance interval of when they should come in for a tune up based on how they feel in their body. It usually ranges between four to eight weeks depending on how active they are, how old they are, how much arthritis they have and how tense of a person they tend to be. Our bodies are typically not built to do the things we ask of them all day and need a tune up to keep going in a pain-free way. You don’t need to be in acute pain to visit a physiotherapist, chiropractor or massage therapist every so often. Your body will typically build tension over the weeks of life and then the ‘straw breaks the camel’s back’ and you end up hurting something. A little maintenance goes a long way to preventing pain especially as you get older.
Check out my Getting Started page for further instruction on living healthy and pain-free.
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