Updated: Jan 3
When you are experiencing chronic pain, whether it is your neck, shoulder, lower back, hip, knee, anywhere... what you want is for someone, anyone, to fix it. We turn to the medical system because we grew up believing that they know all (spoiler alert... they don't).
When it comes to chronic pain we have been learning more and more in the last 20 years. Just 2 years ago, the IASP (International Association for the Study of Pain) changed the definition of pain “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”. It was a significant change that now includes the concept that not only biology (tissues) affects pain levels, but psychological & sociological factors affect pain levels. It also brings in the fact that pain levels are not equal to the amount of tissue damage.
Think about that one for a second... imagine that the pain you are experiencing does not equal the amount of tissue damage you have. That can be a tough one to wrap your brain around... but if you've read a few of my previous articles, you've read how your nervous system is trying to protect you, and if you are experiencing chronic pain then it is likely trying to protect you too much and is now stuck in a bad, painful loop. So take a moment, sit and just notice the sensations in your body. Don't jump to the 'pain' description... but breathe and calmly notice what the sensation feels like... Throbbing? Stabbing? Burning? Aching? Cranky? Numb? Stiff? Hit up your thesaurus and find some more adjectives... :)
So back to how we can't just 'fix' the pain. Over time your nervous system has changed to get to this point. Your neurons have become used to 'firing' in a certain way that creates this pain experience. The good news... yes we can work to change it back.
The deal is, it isn't one injection/surgery/drug away. With back surgeries in particular... If you take into account the recovery process plus typical outcomes, and instead you gave yourself that much time into creating a healing mindset and working to build a healthy lifestyle, it could likely give you a better outcome. Either way, it is a process of you doing the work and getting help to look at the bigger picture.
The problem... when you are in pain, you want out and there are numerous people out there touting that they can literally 'fix your pain'. Usually they are selling passive therapies... from lasers, cupping, kin tape, needles, 'fascia release', injections, inter-venous nutrition, braces, chiropractic, anything that sounds easy for you!
Now, don't get me wrong, some of these will ease your pain and sometimes surgeries & injections do help. So here is the deal... If they ease your pain, use that time to start rebuilding your movement and strength! Don't just sit there, waiting for the pain to come back so you can go back for another treatment!
In 2005, I was told by a great yoga therapist, Susi Hately, that if you didn't notice a SIGNIFICANT difference from 3 sessions with your physical/medical provider... then go elsewhere. Solid advice. That plus your provider should be teaching you ways to manage any flare ups that will happen. And they will happen. The way out of chronic pain is not a linear line. There will be many ups and downs. That is how we learn.
You may be thinking... now I'll never be out of pain! Yes and no. Yes, pain is an experience of life and the area that you experience it will likely always be there. That is the spot that your nervous system knows will get your attention! BUT we can change the experience. We can manage the levels of pain and how it affects our lives. No, this does not mean that we push through our pain and do what we want. It means that we build our awareness of how we live. From what we eat, our sleep routine, how we move our bodies and stay healthy, to how we work and live with the people in our lives.
Yes, this is a big picture project. But you are worth it! So, let's get started.