There is so much information on the net about how to manage pain, but I can really only speak from my own experience with any authority. In time, I plan to examine the current psychological literature and do an easily-digestible review of this, but for now I thought I would talk a bit about how I manage pain.
For those who haven’t read this blog before, the main pain I manage is head pain – whether you call it migraine, severe headache, neuralgia, face pain, it’s all around the head and neck area.. This is mainly as a result of the electrosensitivity which I blogged about here a little while back, but I have also had headaches for over 25 years as a result of a neck injury (when I was 13) and CFS. Neck, back and arm pain have given me trouble over the years, but a lot of that has now been resolved.
The 5 major techniques I use to manage pain are: Exercise, Distraction, Sleep, Heat and Medication
- Exercise – this is one I use every day I’m able, although with CFS, fatigue is obviously an issue. On really bad fatigue days I avoid exercise, either because I simply can’t do it or if I did it would not serve me (ie. it’d make me worse). Although I do use some very mild yoga or Pilates when laying in bed, so I guess that is still using exercise, although it’s not cardio-vascular exercise.
But mostly over the 20 years of CFS I’ve usually managed to be able to do 15-20 minute walks. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise have been a life-saver for me over the years. I guess it helps that I’ve always enjoyed exercise, but for a long time now I’ve seen it as a treatment or rehabilitation that is essential for my quality of life.
The endorphins I stimulate in my body through exercise help ease my headache to some level, even if it’s only slightly. Maybe it’s also the distraction aspect that helps too, by getting out in nature. The fresh air doesn’t hurt either!
Recently I’ve started back at the gym doing some strengthening work after a hiatus of 10 years. I forgot how much I love the gym – working up a sweat in the energy-filled environment to the doof-doof music soundtrack (though with my tiny weights there’s not that much sweat!). Usually I’m a very social person, but in the gym I just zone out and enjoy the meditative effect it has. I’m certainly not doing any big weights, and I definitely don’t do a high energy workout, but my muscles have started to develop and because of that I find I need as many massages or trips to the chiropractor – bonus!
I realise not everyone is up to exercising when they are in pain due to other illness symptoms, but something I’ve been able to do in most stages of my health is yoga. I used to have quite a bit of hip pain, but for 12 years, since starting weekly 1 ½ hour yoga sessions I don’t have that anymore. Now I know a lot of yoga stretches, I find them very useful in easing pain throughout my body, and the more I practice them at home, the more I benefit.
- Heat – The form of heat I use most in pain management is a hot bath. For me this helps manage my headaches and my fatigue. For 2 years I’ve barely missed a day of my hot bath. If I can wait until late afternoon/early evening, it boosts my energy and reduces my pain to allow me to feel much better for the evening. I don’t know what it does exactly. I suspect it expands my blood vessels and increased blood flow may reduce inflammation but that’s not confirmed. All I know is it works well to reduce my pain. On really bad days I’ve been known to have 3 baths, but that’s rare. Showers are good too but the total immersion in the water that baths allow is ideal for me.
Over the years I have also used heat packs (filled with wheat or split peas), heated in the microwave, to relieve neck and back pain to great effect. At one stage my long neck heat pack was like an extension of my body!!
- Distraction – I’ve written about this in 2 earlier blogs (#1 here & #2 here), which I won’t repeat in this post. The main forms of distraction that work for me are: Audio (radio, podcasts, audio books, music), TV/DVD, Nature, Reading
- Sleep – Getting a good night’s sleep is about the only thing that can significantly ease my electrosensitivity headaches, and even sometimes reduce them to (almost) nothing. I often struggle to get to sleep, which is where medication comes in for me. I find I can just get to sleep, the amazing human body does the rest.
- Medication – As I say above, I mostly use medication to get me to sleep. I don’t think the medication has much bearing on reducing the pain. During the day I find medication fairly useless, so I usually don’t bother. Occasionally I give a couple of ibuprofen a try when I’m out at a function and having trouble coping with the pain, but I think any effect is probably only a placebo. Some relaxant-based pain medications take the edge off, but as they also take the edge off my mental capacity, I usually don’t bother unless I intend to go to bed.
I guess alcohol should go in this section too. A cold gin and tonic definitely eases the pain, but I only imbibe at the end of the day, and only occasionally. I don’t ever drink more than two drinks (I learnt years ago more than two leaves me spinning when I go to bed and usually quite ill in the morning), and even then I pick my times as I get some indigestion from it, which then interrupts my sleep. At certain periods of the CFS, I have had a bad reaction to alcohol – mainly severe indigestion – so for a long time I just didn’t drink.
[ Edit – BONUS STRATEGY: I forgot one of the MAJOR ways I’ve managed pain over the years. Truly I can’t believe I forgot it but I think it’s because it’s just become so much a part of my life that I forgot not everyone does it. What is it? MASSAGE!! For as many years as I can remember I’ve had regular massages to manage my neck and back pain. Originally this was due to a high jump accident when I was 13 where I almost broke my neck – had only just learned to master the Fosbury Flop, but unfortunately went head first over the bar (actually, no, I hit it – didn’t even make the height!!), missed the bags completely and landed on my head on the wooden gymnasium floor. So there were plenty of massages from then on, but the CFS exacerbated the pain in my neck, back and body, and now for the last 10 years that I’ve had the electrosensitivity headaches I could easily have a massage daily or every-second day if I could fit that into my budget (I can’t just yet!). Sometimes when I’m really fatigued massage CAN make me worse, so I have learned to judge – mostly – when I should or shouldn’t have a massage. Anyway, I may write a whole blog on massage some other time, but I realised I needed to add it to this post. Couldn’t have one of my greatest loves go unrepresented in the pain management stakes!! ;-)]
So there you have my 5 main pain management strategies. What are yours? Tell me in the comments section or over on the Facebook page. Maybe I could put your posts together and make a second post.