If you have been experiencing pain that has lasted for a month or longer without it showing any signs of getting better or resolving on its own, you face a dilemma. And that is what to do about it? There are only two choices; either confront it and try to do something about it or try to avoid and just tolerate it. The first reaction of most of us is to try to live with it. Last month’s blog touched on the kinds of thinking that most of us go through as we try to live with the situation. Because this is such a critical decision in trying to alleviate chronic pain, it is worth examining what most of us go through in trying to decide what to do,
What follows is a very typical experience of a person in chronic pain and the decisions they make, in this case, living with chronic knee pain. A bunch of us including me, a physical therapist and the sufferer were sitting around having lunch and just chatting.
Sufferer: “You know, my knee is killing me”
Me: “Have you been through physical therapy?”
Me: Did it get better?”
Sufferer: Yes, but I haven’t kept up with my exercises.
Me: You know, you really should restart the exercises especially since they seemed to help you in the past.”
Sufferer: “ You’re right, but I just can’t seem to get them going again.”
Me: “Read my book. It will lay out a simple set of things you can do at home that will help you.”
Physical therapist: “Or if that doesn’t work, come back to the clinic and let the therapists work on you”
Sufferer: No response.
Sometime later in the conversation:
Sufferer: You know I recently went on a vacation and sitting on the plane for the four hour flight was hell. I ended up taking three ibuprofens and it still didn’t help.
Finally, as we got up from the table to leave:
Sufferer, vigorously shaking his leg: “My knee is killing me.”
This conversation embodies the kind of reaction that most people have to a chronic pain experience. Even though the pain is intense, unrelenting and has been going on for some time, there is tremendous amount of emotional inertia that gets in the way of trying to do something about it on a regular basis. The inertia reflects the despair and feelings hopelessness that is at the core of the chronic pain experience. It also so often reflects a lack of knowledge about what is causing the pain and exactly what to do about it beyond simply taking some pills which usually give only very temporary relief at best. What is so difficult to accept is that the conditions that have brought you to your current state of an ongoing chronic pain state have existed for some time and that there is no one step solution to it. What has to happen is that a sustained effort, lasting over weeks and probably months, will have to be undertaken to eliminate the conditions underlying the chronic pain.
Making a start is the toughest step you will have to take. Once taken, you will see that the pain is not destined to get worse. You will feel better emotionally because you have begun the journey back to a pain-free existence. After a few repetitions, it will become apparent to you that getting back to a pain-free existence or at least achieving a marked reduction in the pain intensity is possible with simple steps that you can take at home, without a lot of expensive equipment and without relying on drugs. What you will have to do is identify the muscle(s) causing the pain, eliminate sites of shortening inside of them and find ways to either lengthen them if they have shortened or relieve them of any excessive tension they might have developed. How to do this is explicitly laid out in my book entitled, “A Way Out Of Chronic Pain”.
Success is achievable!