Electrotherapy for chronic pain

The biggest breakthrough I have had with reducing pain has been through electrotherapy.

Some doctors jump to thinking I am referring to TENS therapy. When I was experiencing severe pain in 1991 I trialled a TENS machine. It only produced another sensation on top of the pain. I tried once again a few years later with exactly the same results. I am unequivocal that for my type of condition TENS produces no benefit. If it is working for you then your condition or your pain differs from my chronic myofascial pain.

A lot of new devices using electrical current have emerged more recently. The difficulty as a patient is finding how to gauge their suitability without being able to personally trial them before making a decision to buy. This can be an expensive exercise because the various claims for pain relief are so tempting.

I will tell you what I have found to be effective in reducing pain. The first discovery was a very reasonable price and was so helpful that I would have been prepared to pay a lot more. This set me off on the path of using electrotherapy and I now have 4 therapeutic devices which I use according to different situations or different parts of my body. One is a unit which lasts 300 hours before it needs to be totally replaced and the other 3 involve the on-going cost of purchasing lead wires, electrodes, batteries. I will describe and assess some of the strengths and weaknesses of the 4 devices so that you can decide according to your own circumstances if any are suitable.

There is actually a website http://www.electrotherapy.org/ which has a medical basis and provides research articles for the different modalities of electrotherapy. I wish I had known about the studies and the publications that are listed on this site. Perhaps some of the doctors would not have reacted with such scepticism when I told them about the wonderful pain relief I obtained from the first electrotherapy unit I used. Only about 5 years ago I asked a specific pain specialist whether he or his colleagues at a pain clinic had ever encountered any medical literature that suggested  microcurrent was an effective way of treating chronic pain. He was very dismissive, said that the device was likely to have produced a placebo effect and challenged me to find the medical proof myself! It is a strange world when patients need to convince doctors through accessing and filtering the research themselves.

This is partly the driving force behind this blog – if I had only listened to the doctors (and most have been very compassionate) there really was very little that could be done about the pain besides management with medication and exercise. I am very grateful to avail myself of these two methods but I would have led a very diminished life if that was all there was on offer.  I will write about exercise at a later date as it is a significant tool in pain reduction.

Actually no one thing, even electrotherapy, is THE answer to pain. It’s like having a toolkit and I bring out of the kit whatever helps most with whatever I am trying to do… as I write this I am standing up because I want to avoid aggravating the pain in my right buttock – it’s the oldest trick in the kit, common sense tells me to avoid sitting!

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Magnets for calming pain

Magnets for chronic pain?

Yes! Even though magnets are more commonly associated with arthritis and joint pain, they are also effective with myofascial pain. Let me explain their application in more detail so that you can consider their effectiveness.

Not magnets that are jewellery and are designed for painful joints.

Not magnetic underlays or inserts.

Not magnetic bands.

Just magnetic discs.

I buy ones that need to be applied with micropore tape. They are small but strong – with a Gauss Rating of 2350. They are marked (with a dot) to indicate which side is north-facing. This is the side which needs to be against the skin.

I use individual magnetic discs from Happy Daze Magnets.

individual magnetic discs

I prod and poke my own body to locate a painful site – unless the burning areas need no reminders! Then I simply tape one of the discs onto a painful spot and leave for a day or more and reapply as needed. If that point is now quite calm, another spot close by may have flared up.

For instance, certain chairs will inevitably make a long-standing area flare up in one of my buttocks. I push into several points in this area until I locate the most painful site and then I stick a magnet there. I may need more than one magnet to cover the area.

[NOTE WELL. I don’t need to understand whether the pain is occurring in muscles, tendons, nerve endings, myofascial trigger points or acupressure points… But I have gradually come to understand how pain can be referred from the pelvis and leg to the foot and from the shoulder and arm to the hand, and from the upper back and neck to the head. So if my hand is aching I put magnets on painful points along the arm. Similarly there is no use putting magnets on my aching foot – instead I look for the painful sites in my buttock or down the leg.]

Magnets are a safe and inexpensive option. They are in keeping with The Number One Principle – use whatever method you can to reduce your pain. Magnets give good symptomatic relief and they will contribute to the nervous system being calmer. They are one tool in a kit that keeps pain at more manageable levels. Having tools that I can pull out to manage my pain gives me a sense of control and this also helps me to remain mentally calmer.

Even though I now have more advanced ways of managing pain I still use magnets in certain situations – they are like trusty old friends! My only advice is – don’t wear them on unexposed parts of your body (or people will think you are more crazy than they already believe) or when you are passing though airport screening.

Once again if you decide to try them (Disclaimeryou need to track their effectiveness for yourself. If they really work well in a particular site and you want to be certain of always hitting the spot then you can mark your skin with a cross using a permanent marker until it is indelibly imprinted in your memory. Of course this will confirm to lovers that you really are crazy!

The one principle for reducing pain

One principle must be uppermost if you wish to reduce your pain.

To reduce your pain you must reduce your pain.

I emphasise this because although it appears to be a sensible and inherently obvious principle I have experienced a common attitude from others that I should carry on regardless of pain and ‘just get on with it’. There was a theory at one pain clinic that the more a person experienced the pain the more they would get used to it mentally and so be able to minimise the pain. Perhaps with other types of pain this works but in my experience this is completely the wrong approach.

Let me explain.

The more you experience chronic pain the the more pervasive. extensive, intensive and prolonged the pain will become.The longer the pain persists the more difficult it will be to get rid of it.

Number 1 Principle

Number 1 Principle

Calm down.

If medication cannot reduce the pain enough then you need to find out for yourself what does. Keep track of the things that seem to make your pain better or worse. Don’t think you are being a hero by ignoring the pain or pushing through the pain because you are actually exacerbating your condition. Of course there are certain situations beyond your control when you will simply have to endure pain. And certain occasions when it is worth enduring the pain. Otherwise, wherever possible you need to arrange your lifestyle so that you are not putting pressure on your nervous system.Or else you will pay for it later on.

So Fellow Chronic Pain Sufferers,

If this makes you feel like yelling at me,

‘I’ve tried everything I can and I still can’t reduce the pain’

then keep reading the blog

as step by step I will share things that have made a definite reduction in my pain.

Finding the right pillow

Hi there Fellow Pain Sufferers,

I acknowledge that it’s been a while since the first post – I have just been through a rough episode of headaches when I tried to find a new pillow. The old one is wearing out from several years of compression. It was never going to be a long-term solution anyway. I had reversed an egg-foam contoured pillow as I found the foam on the underside to be softer and less dense. However that pillow manufacturer no longer makes that  pillow as it prefers, naturally enough, to make a pillow from sturdier, longer-lasting foam.

It’s difficult to explain to people selling bedding what I need in a pillow.

Yes, foam is good.

No, not memory foam (which feels like it is  moulding tightly around my head).

Yes, soft.

No, some soft ones can compact into a hard brick under my head.

Yes, it needs to be low as otherwise it can feel like my neck is being stretched higher than it wants to go.

No, some low ones are still too high.

And it all depends on the surface of the bed I’m lying on – if the bed is too soft that is enough to make some low pillows seem too high and my neck feels under pressure again.

If it all sounds as if I’m being too fussy it only takes a short time lying on the wrong type of pillow before I wake up in trouble. Both my eyes become bloodshot and narrowed. I am going to need some serious medication to recover.  It isn’t a normal case of needing to take a week or so to adjust  to a new pillow. If it causes my head to feel rigidly compressed  then I will never adjust to it. I don’t know whether it’s the nerves, the blood vessels, the muscles- something feels like it is being pressured – all I know is that I have got to get off that particular pillow.

Needless to say I have a huge collection of pillows for visitors.

Last week I got pretty desperate for the umpteenth time when I had very carefully worked out with a chiropractor what would be the next most suitable trial – only to wake up in a very short time with the kind of glittering headache that a migraine tablet alone can deal with. In desperation I cut up some foam and combined it with a low feather pillow, I tried a child’s first pillow, I cut foam off a homeless person’s bed (only a tiny amount!) in case it was of a less-dense variety, I googled other people’s solutions for pillows which support the head but do not trigger headaches …

Eventually I looked back at a pillow I had as a teenager which I had saved for just such an occasion. I googled the words on the label and eventually tracked down a manufacturer in the U.S. (I live in Australia) and arranged through Amazon to order that type. It arrived a few days ago and I am fine. When I awoke later during the night without head pain I felt a deep level of relief which has lasted for a number of days.

my old disgusting pillow

This information may be totally useless to you as I realise that my head is extra-sensitive – I never lie on my left side even when I have a suitable pillow as it stirs up a headache on the left. And I never attempt lying down unless I have taken pain medication for the nervous system. Consequently I sleep on my back or on my right hand side and I don’t take naps or lie on a lounge during the day.

For the record the pillow is a Dupont Dacron II Polyester Hollofill. **  If you have found a pillow that works for you, stick with it. If you need a new pillow in the future and you were not satisfied with your old one then you might consider this pillow. I would only write this blog if I thought that some of my ways of alleviating pain were transferable to others who suffer with chronic pain. If the diagnosis ( I am referring to chronic myofascial pain with a component of nerve disturbance) is correct then there have to be common physiological changes that can be addressed in the similar ways.

**Disclaimer

Hi there…

Hi, I’m Janet and this is my story of Chronic Pain.

Chronic – Well 36 years should count as chronic in anybody’s books.

Pain – Aching, burning, relentless, moderate then very strong, mysterious because often there seems to be no direct cause, occurring in just about every quadrant of my body though not all at once.

Story – It’s my story so I can tell it my way. It’s not just a story. But I don’t want to sit around indulging in huge outpourings of the torturous path this condition has taken me. This much I will say:

It hurts.

It hurts that others don’t understand how difficult it is to live with pain.

It hurts that doctors can’t take the pain away.

It hurts a lot and

it keeps on hurting.

And yet my life is so much more than pain. It is a life worth living and a story worth telling.

An Endocrinologist had said that my muscle pain was a result of having Hashimoto’s disease – a term for an underactive thyroid.

The first Rheumatologist I saw told me I had fibromyalgia and this was the diagnosis I lived with and which other doctors accepted for a number of years.

A General Physician much more recently had said to forget about fibromyalgia – instead it’s a disease of the nervous system that is giving me neuropathic pain. My best understanding of this term is that the source of the problem is the nervous system but it shows up as pain in muscles and other soft tissue as well as in the nerves.

And a Musculoskeletal Physician has said that I also have myofascial pain which  has disturbed the nerves so that I experience local pain as well as referred pain.

Obviously chronic pain is difficult to understand even for doctors. For the present I think chronic neuropathic, muscular and myofascial pain is a good description.

Hi, whoever you are! I assume you are reading this because you also have a pain condition.

I want to give you hope. I will share  things that have actually reduced my pain or given me inner strength.

Cheers,

Janet

And don’t forget my Disclaimer : You should seek medical advice from a health professional about your medical condition and treatment. Be aware that your type of pain may be different to mine. I have repeatedly tried and proven to myself the measures and products I will write about. But if you try something that I discuss in my blog, then you alone are responsible for making that choice or for purchasing that therapeutic aid.