It all started with knee pain.
A once-avid snow skier, I always knew my knees would act up someday.
Still, I couldn’t know just how debilitating they could be – or how much trouble I’d have with chronic pain issues from 2014 on.
Nine years, many serious diagnoses, and five surgeries later, chronic pain is an unfortunate part of every day.
Thankfully, both knees are replaced. But other issues have cropped up, and no amount of exercise or rest, physical therapy or ice packs, muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatory medications can take the pain away.
I’ve learned, however, to live successfully with chronic pain while moving on with life.
A big problem
Managing chronic pain, or any chronic health condition, while developing and nurturing a career, family, and personal life is a challenge indeed. It’s something that reportedly
244.6 million U.S. adults experience.
While I can’t claim to be an expert, I’ve built a business, traveled internationally, and raised three college graduates, and most of that time I’ve juggled health conditions that included chronic pain.
Coping and conquering
During my ongoing journey, I’ve identified 10 or more methods of coping and conquering chronic pain, at least long enough to meet deadlines, develop new clients, and get dinner on the table.
My tips, of course, make some assumptions about those who suffer with debilitating pain. For starters, I’m assuming that the sufferer has a diagnosis and a health professional or two who are helping manage the condition. I’m also assuming that the sufferer wants to live as active a life as possible, including nurturing a career, raising a family, or pursuing other interests.
Get the right treatment
The first step is identifying the cause of chronic pain and getting a working diagnosis from a trusted health care provider. It helps to have good insurance and a flexible schedule.
Follow your provider’s advice, at least as far as you agree with the suggested approach.
Don’t be afraid of medications
This is a controversial stance, but I believe that wise and controlled use of painkillers, including the medication I take in moderation – oxycodone – makes my pain manageable. I also rely on both an anti-inflammatory medication and a muscle relaxant.
Needless to say, my opioid use in particular is strictly monitored. I’m proud that I’ve been able to minimize my daily dose and continue to do so.
The point is, don’t be afraid to explore medications. Better life through science, as they say.
Seek physical therapy
Beginning with recovery from knee replacement surgery, I’ve taken advantage of physical therapy many times. I have a binder full of recommended exercises for coping with my body’s limitations and treating chronic pain.
Physical therapy is only as good as your communication with the therapist, and the therapist’s experience with your type of pain. It’s worth exploring the selection of a physical therapy business with your provider.
Alternate ice packs and heating pads
It really helps for me to change positions throughout the workday. Sometimes I’ll take my laptop to the patio or my cozy nook in the family room rather than staying at my desk. Varying my positions frequently helps a lot.
So does alternating an extra-large and flexible ice pack with a good heating pad. I use them both so often that they’re always close at hand.
Get enough sleep
We get it: Physicians recommend at least seven hours of sleep every night. Practically speaking, that is nearly impossible for some of us, particularly those coping with chronic pain.
I try to get around this by sometimes adopting a sleep schedule that’s broken into a few hours here and there. It’s not ideal, but at least that way I can get as much sleep as possible.
Consider Tai Chi or yoga
At least for me, rigorous exercise is off the table. I’ve accepted that my age and chronic pain limit my ability to work up a good sweat.
At the same time, I’ve discovered that gentle stretching done consistently has both lessened my pain and helped me develop good balance. I am a red belt in Tai Chi, practicing at least twice weekly, and I can do gentle yoga with the right instructor.
Walk every day
Along those same lines, I’ve discovered the joys of walking. With the right conditioning and a great deal of patience, I can work up to four miles at a fast pace. When my walking schedule falls off, usually due to work demands, I notice that it’s more challenging to deal with the pain.
We are fortunate to live close to the co-joined Santa Ana and Fairhaven Memorial cemeteries and Portola Park, so we’ve developed different neighborhood walks of varying lengths. Being among green trees, quiet lanes, and in the fresh air can do wonders for your mind, body, and spirit.
Talk about it
Acknowledging your chronic pain means sharing it, even beyond discussions with your health care provider.
Your family and trusted friends need to know. You’re going to need modifications to the family’s daily routine. And if these dear ones understand the scope of your pain, they’re more likely to accommodate your needs.
Adjust your schedule
Like it or not, there are going to be what I call “pain days,” during which it is challenging to shower, dress, and function. It’s worth having a come-to-Jesus meeting with yourself to acknowledge your limitations.
Only then can you develop a working calendar that adapts your schedule to varying levels of pain. I’m fortunate to have a great deal of flexibility in both my work and family lives.
Journal about your pain
Thanks to a dear friend, I write daily and sometimes more often in an online journal. I can make my entries totally private, open them to trusted friends, or even invite non-members to view my writing.
I’ve shared my entries occasionally with my therapist, husband, family members and friends. Not always, just sometimes.
I’ve found that journaling about my battles with chronic pain helps me come to terms with frustration, as well as giving me a forum to share my successes with others.
Whatever privacy level you choose, sites like Prosebox and Open Diary and many others offer the opportunity to express your feelings in writing. Online journals are easiest for me because I type so much faster than I can write by hand.
Don’t expect too much of yourself
I’ve saved the most difficult suggestion for last. I’ve found that adjusting my expectation is challenging at best and depressing at worst.
It’s critical to your mental and physical health, however, to accept your limitations and accommodate your schedule accordingly.
For me, that means making time to rest. I try to walk and stretch every day. I work in different parts of my home and yard and I take frequent breaks. I adjust my work schedule based on how I feel on a given day.
It helps to have something to look forward to, whether it’s an upcoming vacation or visit from faraway family members, the holidays or entertaining, or even Date Night.
Whatever coping mechanisms you adopt, I wish my fellow sufferers of chronic pain much success in career, family, and leisure pursuits. I’m thinking of you and wishing you the best, and hoping my suggestions help.