“It’s all in your head!”
“You can’t possibly be in pain still, everything’s healed!”
“She must be making it up… I think it’s because she’d rather be on the benefits!”
“Your condition is degenerative and you’re going to be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 50!”
I sincerely hope these statements are foreign to you, but sadly you may have heard it all too often.
Pain is a subjective experience, no one person can feel the pain of another. Pain is our incredible in-built alarm system!! Take a child for example, if they touch a hot stove once, they will retreat, cry and run away from the stove. The next time they see the hot stove, they will likely not touch it again, recalling the pain it caused them the last time. This protective mechanism is necessary for our survival!
So, Pain is good ? Most certainly!
BUT for some people, beyond the time of healing or as a result of ongoing damage, pain continues. This is when it is no longer serving its protective function. When pain continues it can become chronic and persistent and life can become engulfed in it. Current research confirms that chronic or persistent pain is due to brain and nervous system changes and can become a chronic condition. The nervous system and brain essentially remains switched on and remains in a sensitive “warning” or protective mode.
Over time, we may change the way we live to accommodate the pain. We move less, we stop doing the things we once enjoyed and our life reduces to accommodate the discomfort. Sooner or later frustration, guilt, anger and self-doubt creeps in and our quality of life dwindles. Such ongoing pain results in functional, psychological and chemical changes in our central nervous system! We once thought that such changes were permanently, however the good news is that our brain and nervous system is very adaptable and changeable. We now know that there is much we can do to influence how pain is experienced. Knowing this means that if you suffer long term pain, you don’t have to accept the “you’ve got something degenerative and that’s your life sentence” types of statements. Those statements are simply untrue !
So what can you do to change the pain experience? As humans we want the magic tablet, the magic cure, the magic FIX! The CURE is not always in a tablet or a machine or a surgical procedure. All these options can help but they won’t cure it!
The solution lies in finding a combination of different tools and methods of changing pain. It is this synergistic approach that will help you to conquer your pain. Because we are all unique there is no one size that fits all. Some of these tools include: a combination of safe and effective medications, relaxation techniques to calm the nervous system, different movement techniques appropriate for each phase of pain, changing your diet, correcting nutrient deficiencies, sleeping well, alcohol reduction, stress management, music and art therapy and smoking reduction. Other things like acupuncture, massage and some devices can also make up part of the tool bag. There are also now specific ways to test and measure the different ways we will respond to such changes or whether certain medications will be better suited for one person and not the other.
So, the BOTTOM LINE is this. Pain is NOT a life sentence if you don’t want it to be one.
The true art of altering how we feel pain starts with knowing who you are, understanding how you produce your pain and what contributes to it and giving yourself the opportunity to learn different ways of managing pain and then consistently, enjoyably and purposefully putting a plan together.
You may need a helping hand to do this and that’s OK too. Speak to a health care professional such as your pharmacist, your GP, seek out a pain program or start with some credible websites on this topic.
Managing your pain well is an incredible second chance at life. It is a courageous journey of self-discovery as you turn the obstacles into opportunities… leaving no stone unturned!
By Joyce McSwan
GCPHN Persistent Pain Clinical Director
PainWISE Pty Ltd, Managing Director
Clinical Pharmacist and Pain Program Educator