Ignoring the pain

Recently an old friend came for morning tea and a chat. We talked about how it is possible to rise above pain if a person becomes engaged with something meaningful or creative. For some, a relationship lifts their thoughts above the pain, for others a connection with nature will surpass their awareness of pain in the body, while others are able to enter a world of creativity that blankets the world of pain. On a TV program I saw how scientists were interested in providing patients (suffering pain) with headsets and screens which enabled the patients to enter a digital fantasy world pursuing a goal through a series of challenges. The patients became so focused, so intent on the quest that they were able to forget the pain for a period of time.

I suppose the chief method for ignoring pain that I have employed over the years is reading. I love to immerse myself in a well-written true story which can temporarily give my mind rest from the insistent pain. Actually I have developed lots of techniques over the years – playing sudoku, listening to music, going for a walk, planning a speech, preparing an English lesson  – and you could probably compile a different list of your own favourite methods.

If I feel absolutely hemmed in with no ideas on how to ignore the pain I often go back to a phrase – ‘this too will pass.’ Time and again I have experienced the passing away of pain so this phrase is a very powerful reminder to me. I can tell myself to be calm as sooner or later I will find a way to lower the pain I am experiencing in a particular part of my body. It may take me months to achieve but I have had this happen in the past and I can find the way to make it happen again. For instance I remember a specific time when I was at my wit’s end:

  • In 1997 I had to stop writing as the pain in my writing hand was too intense. It was so bad that when it was absolutely necessary to sign my name I didn’t use my first name in full but reduced it to an initial plus the surname. I  found it difficult to sleep at night with the ache in my arm and so I developed a position of keeping that arm extended over my head and pillow all night which seemed to lessen the painful sensations. I decided I would keep writing with the other hand. I was never overly proficient with the other arm and gradually I felt that my right arm was also beginning to get a bad feeling so I stopped altogether. I could no longer play the piano. I still have diaries to remind me of that period of time – maybe 5 years all up. I found I needed to continue to make large arm movements (and overarm swimming was perfect) but I couldn’t hold my arms still, such as driving for long distances with both arms on the driving wheel, or lying flat on my back holding a book above my eyes to read. I could lift shopping bags but I couldn’t hold my arms still and carry the bags to the car  without aggravating the pain.
  • Eventually by paying attention to what worked and what didn’t and by not writing at all I managed to tone down the pain and these days I can write and play the piano but I only do these for short periods because I have a sense that within my arms there is a latent capacity for pain that could be re-activated if I do too much. When I feel tingles down the arm or a tightness or ache in individual fingers it is a reminder for me to pull back from whatever activity  is stirring up the sensation. It’s as if the body has a memory of pain in a certain place and it’s necessary to help the body forget the pain in order to recover.
irregular writing from holiday diary

irregular writing in a holiday diary

Ignoring the pain is different to thinking that if we (those of us who suffer chronic pain) take our attention away from the pain that the pain will actually improve. Our state of mind may improve if we ignore the pain but the pain runs its own course. I was dismayed when a doctor applauded me for going back to study as he felt that would take my mind off the pain and might even take the pain away!

We can deliberately ignore the pain for a certain period if we need to but there can come a time when the pain is too strong to be able to ignore. This is a time when it’s stupid to ignore the pain because it will increase if we don’t attend to it. My contention is that the sooner we register low levels of pain the better we will be able to redress it and stop it developing into a major episode. For example, the longer I am engrossed with designing something on the computer the more pain I will suffer in the shoulder/ neck/ head area the following day or longer – and not because I haven’t made all the ergonomic adjustments for working at the computer. But sometimes I choose to do this as I think something is very satisfying and worth the pain. Another example is the enjoyment I get from gardening – gardening sustains me more than it drains me and I find it hard to stop. Sometimes I misjudge whether it will only result in short term painful consequences or whether I have really stirred up extremely difficult shoulder pain again. Then I really regret that I didn’t stop the weeding earlier!

There are some people who might accuse us by saying,’You just need to relax!’ They imply that we have caused the chronic nature of the pain by being a very stressed, tense or anxious person. I think to myself, ‘I’d like to see you stay relaxed if you had this level of long-term pain. I too was a carefree person once!’ But it is true that becoming mentally tense can increase muscle tension which exacerbates the pain in the body – and that’s why we need to find out the kind of things that keep our own minds peaceful. The thing that can really tax my mind is that I go back over the day’s events trying to isolate what may have triggered more pain than I was expecting. Some days there just doesn’t seem to be any good reason.

So let’s ignore the simplistic advice about how better posture, a certain vitamin, a particular manual therapy, a new type of exercise etc. etc. will be the answer to our problem. Some people can even imply that we haven’t tried hard enough. I bite my tongue when really I feel like answering,  ‘Don’t you think I’ve tried all of that and more. If it was just that simple I would have recovered years ago!’

one way to soothe my shattered equilibrium

one way to soothe my shattered equilibrium

When I have done everything I know to keep the pain as low as I can and I still end up in a mess then I ignore thoughts of despair. I remind myself that I am still actually handling the pain, that it hasn’t overwhelmed me yet. I keep alive the thought that I will find a way to reduce that pain again. I calm myself with a nice cup of tea and I let myself switch off by reading a book. Or I allow myself to think of one step I can take next, one thing I can do to to feel I have re-gained control of what is happening – such as  ‘I’ll go swimming tomorrow’ or ‘I’ll switch the electrodes to another site.’ This way I manage to ignore fear and to keep hopeful that however bad it is at the moment another day will come when I will be so glad to be alive. And those days will be many.

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Pain relief from manual therapy

Manual Therapists [physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, acupuncturists]  are genuinely intent on patients experiencing pain relief.  But patients with long-term pain need to realise that therapists can only relieve the pain – they cannot diagnose, fix or cure the whole chronic pain condition!

Therapists ask for and listen carefully to the current symptoms. They differ from most doctors in that they locate the area where the pain is stemming from and they work on the problem with their hands according to their specific discipline. It can really surprise me to find out that the source of my problem is in another part of my body. I often take a permanent marker and get them to mark crosses on my back so that when I get home I can see in the mirror where the offending sites are. Therapists also give valuable recommendations for managing the recovery from a painful episode – certain types of exercise, avoidance of certain activities, applying ice etc. Now that I have a proven way of treating pain with microcurrent therapy I still learn so much from them about the optimal site to place electrodes. This helps me to follow through on the pain relief I gain from an appointment. I highly recommend going to a therapist in times of dreadful pain as the information they supply will help you to manage your pain as much as the treatment they give.

I turned to a chiropractor in 1988 after my GP could not determine what was the matter with me and could only recommend paracetemol which seemed completely ineffective in diminishing the pain. At the time if felt like my right buttock and leg were on fire. In fact chiropractic treatment was the only thing that afforded me pain relief – not massage, not exercise, not tablets, not rest, not physiotherapy. It took years before it became clear that there was an underlying systemic condition and not just unrelated parts of my body breaking down. No wonder therapists would suggest conditions or injuries as they worked piecemeal on my body : whiplash, RSI, piriformis syndrome, sprained ankle, sciatica, stress, all-over muscle tightness, a very tight iliopsoas, tennis elbow and candida. This of course would lead to admonitions about having the correct posture, becoming more relaxed, changing my whole lifestyle, building core body strength, undergoing a course of dry needling, trigger point therapy or direct myofascial release, doing a detox, changing my diet, taking supplements, stretching and lengthening various muscles. I did all of this and more!

I should just say here that different therapists may describe my symptoms differently. Whereas the chiropractor may refer to the L5S1 joint, the physiotherapist will talk about the hip flexor muscle and pelvic girdle and the massage therapist might notice that the gluteus maximus is tight and another might talk about the need to strengthen weak abdominal muscles. I can always look up these terms under ‘Images’ on the internet to get a clearer idea when I get home from an appointment.

Appointments with therapists take time and money, and there can be one massage therapist, for instance, who really helps and another  who is useless. It will be a matter of trial and error. And money. There are additional things therapists may recommend such as taping a part of the body to immobilise it (absolutely the wrong thing for me!) or buying a foam roller (agony for my iliotibial band!) or a special BakBall (2 joined balls) to undo the nerve tension in my spine (too severe!). More money, appointments and frustration.

Examples of therapeutic aids that are ineffective for my condition

Examples of therapeutic aids that were ineffective for me

Here are some other things I spent my money on to no avail:

  • I really couldn’t tell if the Piezo  (needle-less acupuncture device) had any benefit.
  • Dry needling seemed to do nothing.
  • Cupping might have been slightly beneficial but I now steer away from glass fire cupping since I once got burnt – this meant I could not apply the electrodes to that area until the skin healed.
  • Ultrasound seemed to inflame the area and it took ages for the inflammation to subside.
  • Various back supports seemed to push into my spine at the wrong site and accentuate the pain.
  • Cranial osteopathy resulted in severe headaches.
  • Some acupuncture worked slightly and some was too strong and brought on headaches. A ‘course’ of acupuncture seemed to deliver pain relief in the lower half of my body but after I stopped treatment the pain simply regrouped and manifested itself with the same intensity. If I was able to have acupuncture every single day then perhaps …

Some things were worth the money:

  • I bought the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook to understand where pain might be radiating from.
  • A handheld Squirrel Massager for tight and aching muscles has been beneficial.
  • A new kind of tape – Kinesiology tape – which supports the problem area but does not restrict it.
Trigger Pont book and Squirrel Massager were beneficial

Trigger Pont book and Squirrel Massager are helpful for me

When I was still extremely confused about all the pain I was experiencing it was a physiotherapist who suggested that it was not normal for me to have such strong pain for the type of muscle tightness and joint restriction that kept recurring. I got a referral to a Pain Clinic in Auckland and this lead to an initial diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I now have doubts about this diagnosis but it was a help for me to understand that there was ONE actual syndrome to explain all the diverse ailments I was suffering.

In earlier years I would often feel frustrated and disappointed after a physical therapy treatment – either it stirred up the pain or it did not do enough to alter the pain. Now I have different and more reasonable expectations. Why should I expect therapists to make me better when doctors have not been able to? I have come to realise that I must not expect solutions to the pain but that I will probably get some pain relief which will gradually help me to pull out of a very strong episode of pain.

And nowadays I don’t enrol therapists in a detailed history of my chronic pain. I am the person who is most able to manage the different areas of my body that are involved.  I limit myself to the particular site that is giving me the most pain. I get as much information as I can from the therapist and then I go home and experiment with the Painmaster patches until I find the optimal site that will bring the maximum pain relief. See an earlier post on Mastering Pain.

Painmaster

Painmaster

You can also refer back to the Number 1 Principle For Reducing Pain which supports manual therapy if it brings you pain relief. Constant pain is the driver of chronic pain so if you can find any way to reduce pain by a therapist’s treatment then you are allowing your nervous system time to rest. It’s such a blessing to find a good therapist!

Microcurrent units

If you have discovered that Painmasters deliver the pain relief you need you might like to consider a more permanent form of microcurrent therapy. Here are 4 units I have some experience with: Micro 300, Micro 400, Micro 850 and MicroPlus.

different microcurrent units

different microcurrent units

In 2004 I went back studying after a very long break. I had no means of pain relief other than exercise and low-level medication. The few years in Auckland when I was able to purchase a continual supply of Painmasters had long faded away. I realised that attempting the course might bring about a nightmare of pain (mostly from the need to sit at computers) and so I went to the internet and typed in ‘micro current’ in the wild hope that there might be something out there that mimicked a Painmaster.

I was thrilled to discover on http://www.medcareservice.com a device called a Micro 300. This website no longer leads to the page on the Micro 300  device but the same unit can be seen at

http://www.3dhealthstore.com/micro-current-300.html

It was going to cost me more than $100 as well as postage from the U.S. It was a big event 10 years ago to order something online and arrange payment for it while living a whole ocean away from the source. I don’t know how many times I read and reread all the information on the site before I took the plunge – a plausible explanation was given on the website as to how microcurrent could address pain. When the case arrived I was nervous all over again in considering how to adjust the settings to achieve something similar to the Painmaster device. After reading the Micro 300 booklet I chose some settings and switched it on. After only a couple of days of experimenting I found the optimal settings and I was in business! All the different seats in lecture halls, tutorial rooms, library and cafeteria as well as computer chairs no longer seemed an insurmountable problem.

trying to make sense of technical specifications

wondering which technical specifications would match a Painmaster

When you remove the settings cover there are a number of choices to make. I can recommend the following selection however you could track some different settings to come to the optimal solution for your own pain condition. Just note that the MicroPlus has a second dial on the outer surface which I generally set in the range of 0.5 to 1.3 ( the lower end of the spectrum).

different settings to suit chronic pain

examples of settings that suit chronic pain

The Micro 300 model has now been replaced by the Micro 400 model. However Medcare Service no longer sells those models or posts to Australia. This forced me to search again and I found Llhasa OMS, a company which has always provided a very good service and you can arrange by email to have the unit posted to Australia. The units themselves come in hard black cases and mostly seem to be made in Taiwan even though they are sold globally. The case also comes with a battery and lead wires  as well as electrodes – I have not found these electrodes to be very durable. All the units have a small flashing light to show the battery is working.

The one which has become my main backstop is the Biomedical Life Systems Micro Plus which I have ordered from Allegro Medical – https://www.allegromedical.com– in the electrotherapy menu. I emailed them and they arranged to post it economically to Australia using DHL.

Lhasa OMS offers the Micro 850 (http://www.lhasaoms.com/Microcurrent-Units.html) at a very reasonable price. In many years of ordering I have only hit one snag  because there are 2 different models of the Micro 850, one offering a 10, 20, 40 minute length of current, another one providing a C(Continuous) 20, 40. The timer needs to be Continuous to address chronic pain so check this out when you email your order.

chronic pain requires the C (Continuous) setting on the Timer

chronic pain requires the C (Continuous) setting on the Timer

Of course whichever microcurrent unit you purchase there are still going to be occasional dramas and costs. You will regularly need to purchase new electrodes and lead wires as well as 9V batteries. You can try buying a recharger for a rechargeable 9V battery but I found that they never lasted more than 12 hours which was too troublesome. Eventually any microcurrent unit will expire after a few years of continuous use. The hard plastic cover for the settings and battery may also fall off.  Not to mention dropping the whole unit onto concrete floors! As a woman, I found I needed to dress in skirts or pants which ideally had a pocket so that the unit could rest in the pocket while the lead wires were threaded under the clothing. Although a microcurrent unit is a health device I always feel it is better to remove it before passing though airport screening and then reapply it before boarding. I just don’t want to make public explanations as to why I’m wearing something that looks like I’m wired to explode.

Purchasing the accessories can be time-consuming but here are a few tips for electrodes and leads if you don’t want to order them from overseas.

Alpha First Aid – in booths at Westfield shopping centres – sell the most common lead wire which fits into the Micro 400 and Micro 850

http://physioworks.com.au/online-store – under TENS Machines – sells electrodes.

http://whiteleyallcare.com.au sell PALS Valutrode Electrodes as well as less expensive AllCare Electrodes as well as the Lead for Allcare TENS (Product Code: ACTENLEADMK5) which is compatible with the Micro 400 and the Micro 850. The way to order to order these products is via www.myphysioshop.com.au.

By searching for a good price I have most recently ordered replacement electrodes from OPTOMO at https://www.optomo.com.au/category/tens-machines/

At the moment I have put the units into a cupboard and am enjoying the freedom of using Painmasters after a gap of 15 years (See  Mastering pain (part 1). No longer do I need to fiddle with settings, check the battery, purchase accessories online or deal with long wires bunched up underneath clothing. I can wear dresses! I can travel! I have proven to myself over and over that the level of microcurrent in a Painmaster – the original model provided up to 20μA (microAmps) and the latest model says 2.7 vDC @ 49μA  –  is a perfect match for removing the sensation of pain. I am so convinced about this Painmaster MCT patch that if I am not experiencing freedom from pain then I only need to move the patch to a slightly different place on my body. Maybe if I have strong pain occurring in a number of places – my shoulder as well as my buttocks – or if I cannot afford to use more than 2 Painmasters at a time, I will get out one of the above microcurrent units and use it in conjunction with a Painmaster.

Buying one Painmaster is a simple investment in finding out whether your pain responds to microcurrent. If it does then you can consider buying one of the microcurrent devices I have described.( Disclaimer) If it doesn’t work then you may not have the same kind of chronic pain as myself. But you have not wasted your money as it doubles as a device for sports injuries, for tennis elbow, for lower backs that ache from lots of lifting or for necks that ache from working at the computer…

Some doctors are sceptical that such a small current could make any noticeable improvement.

I am not saying that it cures chronic pain.

But I am saying that as long as I am wearing the patch in the correct site then it will render the pain negligible.

Doctors may want you to increase the settings on a microcurrent unit to milliamps in the belief it will give you a better outcome

BUT

 the use of a microcurrent for reducing pain is a surprising and wonderful example of how

less is MORE!

Exercise works

Exercise may be the last thing you feel like contemplating when your body is in pain. So let me tell you I would be one of the last people on earth to recommend exercise UNLESS I had found that it really reduced pain. Exercise on its own will never be enough but it can make significant inroads into your pain levels.

Strangely enough I can now remember the different types of exercise I have tried according to places I have lived. In Whyalla, South Australia I began with walking. I would get up before the children were awake and walk a number of blocks. My husband persuaded me to go to circuit classes at a local gym and there I found that the cool-down stretches made a big difference to the pain I was experiencing. This was followed by freestyle swimming at the Whyalla Recreation Centre. I would pay a babysitter to come at dinnertime and off I would go to swim a number of laps. By the time I got home the children were in bed, I would eat dinner and take some Mersyndol (Codeine plus antihistamine) – otherwise I would develop excruciating headaches in the night. I kept up with the swimming regime because it really reduced the pain in the lower half of my body. Much later I learned to swim with a snorkel and mask because this stopped the need to turn my head which brought on the headaches.

Some memorable backdrops to exercising have been

  • Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland, NZ.  Walking the dog on the circuit of this mount with panoramic views of Hauraki gulf and the green-blue waters of the harbour.
  • A small secluded beach near Whyalla. Watching multitudes of rainbows fragmenting in the sea around me.
  • A heated olympic outdoor pool in winter in Perth, W.A.. Getting there early to watch the rising mist as the pool covers were removed, breathing in the clean crisp air.
  • The bush pathways around Claremont, Perth.
  • The pathways around the New Farm Park, Brisbane which connect to paths along the Brisbane River.
local landscape whilst walking

enjoying the local landscape whilst walking

Somehow these surroundings have the added dimension of improving my mental state which can be overloaded with pain management.

Altogether, as well as walking, swimming and going to the gym, I have tried PUMP™, Pilates, Yoga, Jogging, Power Walking and Denise Austin aerobic videos – now replaced by other exercise DVD’s such as Increase Your Flexibility with Hun Yuan Tai Chi Chan Si Gong Foundation Exercises (see http://www.taichiacademy.com.au/products.php). Lately I have improved my backstroke swimming and I am currently learning more about Walkactive™.  (Learn about Joanna Hall’s method at walkactive.com)

I have found out for myself that Pilates and Yoga are too difficult for my body and instead of getting a nice deep stretch I can easily strain the muscles resulting in  a long episode of pain. Likewise jogging is too jarring for my body and can leave me with terrible headaches. Conversely ordinary gardening and housework are insufficient to bring about pain relief.

Another important tip I have learnt regarding myofascial pain is to stretch my muscles after the exercise not before. If you want to walk or jog or swim just start off at a slow to moderate pace and gradually build up speed and intensity. Then your body will be ready for deeper stretching at the end of your session.

Let me give you an example regarding the benefits of exercise. Twenty years ago I was attending a *fibromyalgia support group which a rheumatologist had recommended. A speaker talked about the idea of helping this condition by resting. It sounded quite attractive so I put it into practice.  I was running a household with 5 children, and my husband and I were preparing to go away for his long service leave. A few weeks had passed without exercise and I now felt I needed to clean the house  for my mother who was coming to mind the children. After a couple of very intensive cleaning days (barely sitting down) the bottom of one of my feet started to burn. Whenever I put my foot to the floor I experienced significant pain to the extent that I got myself some crutches. I was now forced to spend quite a bit of time resting on the bed. A couple of good friends came and helped with the chores til my Mum arrived. But the more time I spent lying down the worse my whole leg became – sometimes feeling a bit cold or heavy.

I realised that I needed to do something or I would not be able to go on this trip of a lifetime. So I began swimming in a heated pool at Takapuna (I hope those damp change rooms have been upgraded!). This was the best strategy – not to keep staying on my feet as that only made the pain in my foot worse but to keep the leg moving and active in another way. I kept this up for a few days more when my Mum arrived and thankfully I was able to get on that plane. [Years later I learned that the foot pain was stemming from the buttock/pelvis area and the swimming had mobilised that area.]

Obviously the lesson I learned from this was to KEEP on exercising, forget resting – and now if a certain part of my body gets stirred up I still need to keep it in motion but not with the activity that caused the area to malfunction. For instance I currently need to do gentle exercising of my shoulder but I mustn’t keep pulling out weeds as this caused the shoulder to flare up – admittedly we live on a large property and I have been pulling out thousands of weeds so that the land will return to native bush. I have also had to switch the arm I use for the computer mouse as that also fires up my shoulder even through it wasn’t the original cause.

Another lesson I have learned is to take medication with breakfast and wait an hour or so for it to take effect before I start exercising. And I exercise most days of the week.

Over the years I have settled into moderate exercise with many repetitions of the same movement for a number of different muscle groups, while maintaining a good posture. I suppose this is best described as exercises that tone and stretch. I am grateful in particular for  a DVD that provides 10 minute workouts to shape and strengthen the abdominals, the thighs, the buttocks and the arms & shoulders. I find that most exercises therapists recommend for me after treatment are already embedded in routines on this DVD.

Cindy Whitmarsh will be forever young to me. XXX

Cindy Whitmarsh will be forever young to me. XXX

All exercise DVD’s come with a disclaimer and I stress that I am passing on what works for me but you need to work out for yourself what type of exercising suits you best (Disclaimer). You need to find ways of exercising that you actually enjoy and that suit your own temperament or else you won’t be motivated to keep exercising. So don’t be afraid to gradually build up an exercise regime – it will give you pain relief and also stamina to cope with the condition. You may as well have the benefit of looking fit!

* Other doctors have since dismissed the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Headaches are the hardest

I have accumulated a number of electrotherapy devices to reduce pain but I must admit that I cannot give unqualified support to these aids when it comes to chronic headaches. Thank goodness for the effective medication which I will describe.

I have been given various diagnoses such as cluster headaches, non-classical migraine, neuropathic pain, old whiplash injury, the C2 joint becoming locked, restrictive movement of head caused by postural weakness/ muscle rigidity/ joint stiffness in upper and mid-back, shoulders or neck which can disturb the occipital nerve,  hormonal fluctuations that causes rigidity of upper back which impacts on my neck, fibromyalgia,  aggravation of myofascial points in my shoulders …whatever!!!

My headaches are easily exacerbated by heat, by working on the computer, by sleeping on the wrong side at night, by chiropractic adjustment, by menstrual patterns, by expending a huge amount of energy, by turning my head whilst swimming, by travelling long distances, by emotional tension, by looking at electronic screens for too long, by lack of sleep, by BEING ALIVE!!!

a headache is starting

stuck on public transport when I need to get home to bed NOW!

I am interested to know that there is now a theory* that migraines involve neural activity which (if I understand this correctly) would fit with my whole condition so that the headaches are just one painful manifestation of nerve disturbance which I also experience in other parts of my body. A specialist explained to me that the overly sensitive nervous system is at the base of why the muscles, connective tissue and nerves become so aggravated.  Over time repeated episodes of pain lead to entrenched and faulty reactions in the body. Again, if I understand it correctly, this malfunction of the nerves works in conjunction with the malfunction of soft tissue around the skeleton to produce pain that perpetuates itself.

Older medications for migraine (e.g. Ergodryl) were not as effective at reducing the pain for me or took a lot longer to work and required more than one dose. Even then I would spend inordinate amounts of time lying in bed with a cold washer covering my left eye and that side of my head. Sometimes I would still need an injection to stop the vomiting and rushing to the toilet. As I write this I feel myself  re-living how the minutes passed so slowly as the pain kept jabbing into the back of my eye … the waiting and waiting for the driving pulsating pain to subside or be obliterated by merciful sleep.

 ### throbbing eye ### 

throbbing eye

jab#jab#jab#

Thankfully Sumatriptan has intercepted this torturous occurrence and within 45 mins of taking this medication I can feel the pain subsiding. Of course you cannot simply shop for this – it has taken years of pain and various treatments to arrive at the effective medication I now take – your headaches may not be identical to mine so keep  my Disclaimer in mind.

There is one thing I can recommend for the reduction of headaches for fellow sufferers – swimming! especially back-stroke!  as much as possible! It seems to work for me in 2 ways. 1. The constant coldness of the water on the back of the upper body and head dulls the pain and generally seems to calm the nervous system. 2. The repetitive but smooth action of the shoulders relieves the deep clenching of one of my shoulders and the tension in the spine of my upper body. I am not talking about tense muscles which massage can ease – yes the muscles are tight, but this is a lifetime of restriction which operates continuously on the structure and fabric of my body. An extra tip about backstroke – while moving through the water lengthen out the back of your neck by looking at your toes splashing but don’t lift the head, instead, tuck in the chin. Somehow swimming (every 2nd day)** tones the body so that it reduces the number of headaches I suffer. Swimming also provides greater alleviation of pain than having a deep massage – plus it is something I can do for myself! I hope  you can think of another activity that will reduce your headaches if swimming is not possible.

* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11359360

** On alternate days I do different types of exercises that are more effective for the pain in my lower body.

### pulsing eye### Courtesy http://www.creativecolours.org/freebies.html

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!

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.