The layers of chronic pain
Chronic pain eats away at your soul. You only experience this if you have had chronic pain of any sort. You only come to realise it when you are released from that pain. How often do we go through a stressful event not realising the effect of the stress we are under until we are through the event? It is the same with chronic pain.
The pain can be anything from niggling pain, rumbling ache or full blown agony. There are many ways of dealing with chronic pain and the internet will probably come up with hundreds. This blog talks about back and neck pain but the idea of becoming more aware of our bodies I hope will ring true with other chronic pain sufferers.
What are the layers of chronic pain?
I believe the first is the physical issue – the thing that is wrong with the body. This might seem obvious but its the first starting point, there are other layers that go on top of this one!
The second is the medication we use to deal with the pain,how it affects us and how long we have been using it for.
The third is our well being. By this, I mean partly how under pressure we are at this point in our lives? – you really need to try to look objectively at your life with this one. If you have a well trusted friend try to see if they can help you out if you have problems with this. For example consider these points – are you moving, changing jobs, getting married, moving country, pregnant, had a baby, suffered a bereavement, taking exams, under increased work pressure, not happy with your relationships with close family members or friends? Other things to consider under this layer include – are you able to do the things that makes you happy or does your pain stop you from doing them? Can you do regular exercise of any type? Anything from taking a walk or running a marathon or swimming, playing rugby, doing an exercise class?
The fourth is how we try to get rid of the chronic pain – what are we prepared to do? Are we just tinkering at the edges hoping it will go away or are we bought to a point that dealing with the pain once and for all is the only course of action we feel we can now take? Or have we been told we just have to live with the situation as there are no more ‘medical’ answers for the pain but are unhappy with this diagnosis?
The fifth is how in control of our pain and the problem we have are we? Do we fear what will happen next, don’t know what to do if something bad happened and dread the intensity of the pain that can follow. Or do know that the bad patch can be gotten over with a bit of reassessing, pain management and refocusing on what we know helps, along with holding onto the knowledge that in the past we have been better and we can get back there. The second situation does take some discipline and hard work but the flip side to it is living in fear and more pain. The two situations are so different that they can have a large effect on our pain.
There are probably more layers but lets take these for starters. I believe each layer affects the other. Therefore I do believe and have evidence to support how our emotional well being directly affects our physical symptoms. Having said that I also believe that if the physical problem/weakness didn’t exist our emotional state would have no affect on it! Therefore don’t beat yourself up thinking you are to blame for the pain. Stress will always find the weakest part of our body to affect – it could be migraines, stomach problems, indigestion, hair loss, being irritable, sleeplessness etc. We all have an Achilles heel and the majority of us will have to deal with pressure at some point in our lives!
I also believe you can influence the pain but you need to consider all the layers! In chronic cases the layers are overlapping with each affecting the other. I suspect that a lot of cases are physical issues which are subsequently influenced by all the layers mentioned and probably some more – well being, fitness, medication, fear and what steps we take to deal with the pain. If you consider all the layers together rather than in isolation and then go on to consider how they interact for you personally then I believe you are on the right path to reducing your pain and understanding how your body reacts. You will then be able to go on and properly assess the steps you take to reduce your pain and to understand what works for your individual case.
We also need to reassess what point we are in our lives and what we are able to do (or face) within the constraints we find ourselves in at that particular stage. For example if we are in a particular busy time of our lives (busy career, family life etc.) we may find we are less able to manage our situation ourselves and also less able to cope with pain than say when we are at a calmer part of our lives. This may affect our reliance on medication or our ability to access exercise. As long as we acknowledge this and set ourselves goals (with our doctors help?) for when things are calmer and try to stick with them then we will be able to move through our life with better awareness. Having said that, if the goals are not stuck to time and time again then we will need to reassess them and decide whether the time is now for change! A truly effective doctor/patient relationship should have this awareness of the patient’s current position in life at the heart of their interactions.
(Sarah does not have a medical background so it is emphasised that her blog is the result of her experiences and listening to others only. Before doing any of the suggestions contained in her blog, check with your doctor if you have any concerns on how they may affect you)