One of the most frustrating things about living with chronic pain is its ability to be unrelenting at times.
And for some reason, it’s always the times when you really need to function well.
It’s also really hard for people to understand what you are going through, as generally you look okay, and I know there are a few of you reading this that will relate. Whether it’s Fibromyalgia*, CRPS* (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome), an injury, or pain caused by an autoimmune condition such as RA*(Rheumatoid Arthritis), Lupus* or Hashimoto’s*; the outcome is the same…
Pain that takes away your joy of life.
In my case, I find that it’s generally worse when I get complacent and forget to do the things that help reduce inflammation in my body. Things like eating a whole food, lower carb and healthy fat diet (LCHF), regular gentle exercise, taking the supplements that I know work for me, and understanding (and living within) my limitations.
Oh boy, is that last one hard?! I’m pretty good at sticking with the first three for the majority of the time; I know a lot of people that advocate the 80:20 rule, but for me to function at a good level I find that 95:5 is a better ratio.
But, I really do struggle with the ‘living within my limitations’ bit. It could be that I’m a little too enthusiastic when I’m teaching a class, and while exercise is generally a positive, it can quickly become a negative when you overdo it. Or it could be that I really want my house to look great and “hey, I’m feeling pretty good today, so surely vacuuming and mopping couldn’t do that much damage”. Well, I suppose it’s a good thing that the house looks nice, because I’m probably going to just be able to sit here and look at it for a while! Then, sometimes, it’s just doing a bit too much of everything on top of a day that I may have chosen to be in the ‘5’ part of the 95:5 ratio and the pain kicks in.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not writing this so that you’ll feel sorry for me…far from it. Pain has taught me a lot; I have learned that I’m stronger than I thought, and it has also led me to a couple of my great loves in Pilates and Essential Oils. For the most part, pain is there to tell us that something is wrong and we should definitely listen to it. That’s when pain can be your friend. It’s the body’s way of saying that you need to rest and heal and to proceed with caution. It can also alert us to something deeply sinister that could be dealt with easily if caught swiftly. Ignore pain at your peril!
However sometimes, the body’s messaging systems become a little haywire and pain can become a chronic and debilitating enemy. At times certain illnesses and conditions cause the body to feel pain because of increased inflammation, or even when there is no apparent reason.
People with this kind of pain can feel isolated and alone, and because pain is a very personal thing that can be hard to explain, they often find it easier to just keep quiet and try to push through. Some people are able to maintain jobs and home life relatively well and others are unable to function with the simplest tasks. No two people are alike and each person will find that different things work better for them.
There is however one thing that helps every single person living with chronic pain…
I love the dictionary description of the word:
‘a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” (dictionary.com)
Now obviously if you know someone that lives with chronic pain, you are not responsible for alleviating their suffering as such, but just being aware that they sometimes have no control over their pain levels and letting them know you understand is enough, especially if it is a loved one. There is something that chronic pain sufferers hear that can sometimes feel like a knife to the heart. The words “But you look fine” or “You don’t look sick” can cause many sufferers to just keep how they really feel to themselves. This can lead to depression and other problems causing even more isolation and exacerbating pain levels.
So, if you know someone experiencing chronic pain, I encourage you to show compassion. Of course, tell them they look great, but perhaps ask them how they are feeling and really help them to know you are willing to listen and understand.
And if you are someone living with chronic pain, I encourage you to seek out support and don’t be afraid to share how you truly feel. Often just knowing that someone understands can be enough to help you through a difficult day. And if someone gives you a hard time over it, well, you know they are not the kind of person you need in your life right now! Finding out how to support your body to reduce inflammation and pain is also vitally important.
My top tips for managing chronic pain are:
- Eat mostly whole, nourishing foods – Choose the best quality foods you can afford (Grass fed, pastured, seasonal, local and organic is best) and wherever possible avoid highly processed packet food-like products. Find some easy recipes that you love and prepare extra to freeze for the days when you are not feeling so great. There are a number of different protocols that can be helpful such as Paleo, LCHF (Lower Carb, Healthy Fat), AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) and many more. In my opinion, there is no one “right’ way for everyone and it can take some time and experimentation along with a bit of guidance to find what works for you. Try not to get overwhelmed. Persevere, it’s so worth it!
- Drink enough water – Preferably filtered water as reducing toxins is an important step in reducing inflammation. Read more about different types of water here.
- Reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals – As mentioned above, reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals is often very helpful in reducing inflammation, which improves pain management. Chemicals are all around us and not all of them are bad; water is a chemical! Choosing cleaning products and cosmetics (your skin absorbs more than you realise!) that are safer for you and the environment is a great start. Or why not make your own using essential oils? It’s fun and super satisfying!
- Get plenty of rest – Good quality sleep is essential for helping reduce pain levels. There are a number of things you can do to improve sleep, such as sticking to a healthy bedtime routine, meditation/mindfulness exercises, avoiding stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and sugar etc. Unfortunately many chronic pain sufferers have sleep disorders that make quality sleep difficult, so if you have tried lots of things and nothing is working, you may need to seek professional help.
- Regular, gentle exercise – This can often be the hardest thing to implement because when you are in pain, the thought of doing anything that may cause more pain is horrifying. But, it has been proven time and again that quality movement helps to reduce pain. Find something you enjoy and start slow. As I’ve already mentioned, Pilates was the one thing that helped me the most which is why I became an instructor, and I know that some people love Yoga, Tai Chi, Swimming, Walking…there are many different ways to get yourself moving. Finding a Personal Trainer that has an understanding of chronic pain can be extremely helpful too. Possibly the worst thing you can do is to push yourself too hard, too quickly. Your body needs time to adapt to the changes and grow stronger. You will also find your mood and sleep improves when you are incorporating some gentle exercise into your routine, so it’s a multi-faceted benefit!
- Supplement where necessary – I know there are a number of people who believe that if you eat really well there is no need for supplementation and whilst there may be a few people who are healthy (and disciplined) enough for this to be true, I believe that we are living in a time where our natural resources are depleted, both in our bodies and the earth. This means that we don’t always get the nutrients we need from our food, even when we are eating a fabulous diet! And this is especially true for those of us with compromised immune systems, chronic illness and inflammation. I recommend finding a reputable functional medicine practitioner and really getting to know what your body may need a little help with. It may take a little trial and error, but the benefits are well worth it.
- Improve your Gut Health – We are learning so much about gut health and microbiome and we are only just at the tip of the iceberg on this subject, but what we do know is that a healthy immune system begins in the gut! Improving gut health goes a long way to improving the body’s ability to fight disease, and reducing the symptoms, such as inflammation and pain. Fermented foods are a great place to start and they taste great too! You can read more here.
- Listen to your body and be kind to yourself! – Nobody knows how you feel better than you do, so learn to listen to the signals that your body gives you and learn to trust your intuition. Often we ignore the warning signs and have a much harder time than if we had just listened to what our body was telling us in the first place (Man, am I preaching to myself here, or what!) When you push yourself past what your body can deal with, the inevitable result is more pain. Which generally means more time out of action, unable to do the activities you would prefer to be doing. So, get to know the signs and signals, and give yourself permission to take some time out. Read a book, have a bath, colour in, or my favourite – go to the park and have a swing! Or if that all sounds like too much, just take a nap. Whatever it takes to help you feel better equipped to deal with the pain. It’s your body, you know best!
What is your favourite thing to do to help you cope with chronic pain?
*the website links are for education purposes only and the information therein may not necessarily be aligned with my personal & professional views. Always seek professional advice where appropriate.