Pain part 2: Pain management

January 30 2017

I saw a Facebook post a few weeks ago, a picture of a woman in some kind of yoga position and the text announced ”Your attitude is your best pain management tool”.

My first reaction was that someone obviously knew nothing about pain. But the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. As simple as it sounds, it holds a lot of truth... 

The pharmacological approach is obviously the first step in killing pain, even long term or chronic pain. In most cases it reduces pain but it seldom takes away the chronic pain. How shall we deal with pain when the medicine can't reduce it?

I see three different, non-medical approaches that can complement both the medicine and each other. They are very summarized in this blog post and feel free to comment or contact me if you wish to discuss anything in particular.

Physical treatment

There are several physical treatments that might help; TENS (Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation) may be worth testing. For me it helps for several of my different pains.

Physical training is good for most of us. It lowers the stress, it releases the endorphins and it helps manage the weight as well.

Massage is also something many people report helps with pain management. Yet too few of us get that help unless we are willing to pay for it ourselves. Stretching the muscles are also a good physical it prevents the muscles from getting short and tense.

Most of these approaches help muscles and tissues to relax and can reduce the pain for many people. Acupuncture is another approach that has been recognized to ease pain, even in western medical schools. Several doctors and physiotherapists work with this.

Social activities

This may come as a surprise to some, but research shows that a lot of people with pain and injuries tend to isolate themselves. They have smaller social networks and less social activity. You may ask how in the world this may affect the pain? It does not affect the pain signaling in your body, but it will affect the context in which you experience pain. Your experience of pain will be very different when you sit at home with nothing to do compared with having a great time amongst friends. You fill your mind with so many other things, so many impressions, that pain no longer has the stage for itself. Its a two-fold strategy, it provides distraction and it's a lot of fun at the same time.

Mental Strategies

In Pain part 1 we noted that pain experience is an interpretation that happens in our mind. Knowing that, we also understand that we can use mental strategies as an approach to battle the pain. I'm not talking about some New Age mumbo jumbo but true mental strategies.

If medicine has done all it can, we may still feel that pain is hard to endure. Then we are left with either the option of distracting ourselves, as mentioned above or adjusting our understanding of pain. Since the dawn of life on earth we have learned that pain is to be avoided. It signals danger and we want to flee from it. Thats why we have our pain system, to warn us of any dangers that may hurt us.

In my case, the neurological pain is not something that endangers my life. I’m not at risk of dying from something that's related to the pain. My approach has been to face the pain, accept that it is there and learn to accept that the pain is not dangerous. It’s there, its annoying, but its not a threat to any of my bodily tissues.

Meaningful life?

Does your life have a meaning and purpose? Nietzsche said ”He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. If we have a reason for being we can still live a life thats meaningful and rich, regardless of our pain. If your pain has a purpose, only you can answer.

Various philosophical and religious thinkers have different approaches to that question. Only you can answer for your life. Regardless if you say yes or no to that question, I think all of us can find a purposeful life in the midst of pain. We do not need a pain-free life to have a rich and meaningful life. We can create meaning, we can overcome and do something beautiful with what we have. What you have is unique and don't spoil that. Bless others with your life!

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), Pain management