Living With Chronic Pain Overcoming suffering and pain is difficult – sometimes it even seems impossible. Hanging on to hope and increasing your understanding of your condition and the treatment options available to you are two keys to living with pain. Chronic pain takes a physical, financial, and emotional toll on those who have pain and their family and friends. Understanding the various aspects of living with pain can help you set realistic treatment goals and start on the path to healing. Tackling your pain with hope and optimism, even in the face of great odds, can make a difference in how you feel pain.
Living With the Physical Toll of Pain
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or cure to relieve chronic pain or its underlying conditions. Medication alone often is not enough, especially in people who have chronic pain. Relieving pain requires work both on the part of the physician and on the part of the patient. People with chronic pain must be active participants in their care, and one aspect of this is caring for your body.
Getting adequate rest, eating a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity are vitally important to maintaining function and health. It may seem like a catch-22 – you’re in pain, so you don’t want to move or you’re finally feel a little better, but you’re afraid to move because your pain might come back. Avoiding exercise can be detrimental to your health – you lose muscle tone and strength, your heart and lungs work less efficiently, and your pain can increase.1 On the other hand, the benefits of incorporating activity into your lifestyle are immeasurable and include increased muscle strength and flexibility, improved sleep, and stress relief.2
Following are some suggestions for increasing your activity level:
•Choose exercises that can be incorporated into your daily routine and that you enjoy •Set a schedule •Ask your doctor about appropriate exercises and activities for your situation •Set appropriate goals.3 No goal is too small – visiting friends or walking around the block may be appropriate goals, depending on your pain and physical condition Ask your physician which exercises are safe for you. In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, relaxation techniques such as meditation, visualization, hypnosis, and biofeedback may help you feel better. Your health care provider can help you decide which techniques may be beneficial for you.
Living With the Financial Toll of Pain
Pain touches all aspects of life and can be especially hard on your financial well-being. Pain is expensive—even if you have insurance, co-pays for prescriptions and doctor’s visits add up. Even more, pain can result in job loss, which means loss of income and health insurance. Financial stress adds to overall stress, and stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression make you feel pain more intensely.4 Are you financially prepared to deal with the costs of pain? What are your options if you weren’t prepared when financial crisis struck?
You’ve heard it a million times – don’t use credit cards, live within your means, save 10% of your income, and more. The problem is putting such advice into a plan that works. You need to get organized and learn where your money is going. Write down everything you spend, including things that seem insignificant (eg, ATM charges, candy bars) because they add up. After you have gathered the information, determine which expenses can be cut and make a realistic budget. Most importantly, do not incur any new debt.
Managing debt can be extremely stressful, and stress can add to your pain. There are options to help you gain control and reduce your stress. Contact your creditors to let them know you are having difficulty and tell them why (e.g., job loss, medical expenses). Most creditors are willing to work out a payment schedule. You do have some rights when dealing with creditors – laws prohibit creditors from harassing or threatening you and from taking most government assistance (e.g., Social Security).5
If you’ve tried to get control on your own and can’t, there are others who can help you. Non-profit consumer credit counseling organizations have counselors who can provide support and education. To find an organization near you, contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit at www.nfcc.org or call (800) 388-2227.
Living With the Emotional Toll of Pain
The effect emotions and psychosocial well-being have on pain cannot be ignored as emotions have a direct effect on your health.6 Pain so often is accompanied by loss – loss of function, loss of employment, loss of money, loss of friends and relationships to name just a few – t’s no wonder that people in chronic pain have an increased incidence of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.7 Research has shown that people in chronic pain suffering from depression have poorer outcomes than those who are not depressed.8 It is natural for people in pain to grieve for what they’ve lost, and it is important to remember that your family members and friends grieve too. Your emotions may range from fear, anger, denial, disappointment, guilt, and loneliness to hope and optimism. Every person feels emotions at different times, which can make relationships and pain control difficult.
Taking care of the emotional aspects of chronic pain is necessary to treat your overall pain condition. Your physician may want to prescribe medication for depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances and, in addition, may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (e.g., relaxation techniques, coping strategies, psychological therapy).9 Your doctor does not think you’re crazy – he or she is treating you as a “whole” – not just the part in pain. Following are some suggestions to help you deal with the emotional aspects of pain:
•Keep a journal of your emotions. A journal can help you release some of the emotions you feel. The National Pain Foundation provides an online journal that you can use to express your emotions and write about your pain. You can use the pain journal by logging in here. •Share you’re your thoughts and feelings with loved ones and allow them to share their feelings with you. People cannot read your mind – just as pain is an invisible disease, emotions can be difficult to discern. •Avoid isolation and loneliness by joining a support group. The National Pain Foundation’s Community section is a great place to share your story and connect with others. The American Chronic Pain Association has support groups throughout the country. Contact the ACPA using their web site or by calling (800) 533-3231 to find a group near you. •Be active – exercise can help relieve the stress and emotional pain you feel. Finally, don’t give up on yourself or others. Helen Keller said “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence.”
Resources 1.”Chronic pain: Exercise can bring relief,” Mayo Clinic (April 23, 2001). M Nicholas et al, Manage your Pain: Practical and Positive Ways of Adapting to Chronic Pain (Sydney: ABC Books, 2002) 84-89, 98-127. 2.”Chronic pain,” WebMD (March 2001). “Chronic pain: Exercise can bring relief,” Mayo Clinic (April 23, 2001). 3.”Chronic pain: Exercise can bring relief,” Mayo Clinic (April 23, 2001); M. Nicholas et al, Manage your Pain: Practical and Positive Ways of Adapting to Chronic Pain, 84-89, 98-127. 4.”Looking beyond the pain: The role of psychological assessment in medical treatment,” The National Pain Foundation. 5.”Regain your financial health,” Yahoo Finance. Available from http://biz.yahoo.com/edu/md/ir_md7.ir.html. 6.M McCaffery, C Pasero, Pain Clinical Manual, second ed (St. Louis: Mosby, 1999) 499-505. 7.Ibid. 8.Ibid. 9.Ibid.