When Pain is Your Companion
2004 was a tough year for me. I had knee pain that was getting in the way of my work and my personal life. I had to reduce the number of fitness classes I was teaching, and was going through physical therapy. Then I got in a car accident. A teenager’s car plowed into me—almost head on—and forever changed my life.
Not only was my car totaled, but I was in pain. My head hurt, I had muscle spasms in my back, I couldn’t turn my head and there was pain going down my left arm. Now, I could barely work with personal training clients, and I couldn’t teach classes at all, so my income took a hit.
But what the pain did to me, and still does, physically and psychologically is what I want to talk about. Because I know I’m not alone.
Chronic pain can last from weeks to years. Maybe it gets a little better, or you just get used to it. It is estimated by surveys that 11 to 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to Spine-health.com. That estimate is mind boggling to me. These are people that have gotten so used to being in pain, that the estimate has a range of almost 30%. The severity can vary greatly from person to person, but how the body reacts is almost the same.
First off, you may have to change your lifestyle. Your work may suffer, because activities you once did with no issue now hurt you. And because you’re hurting you start doing less things with friends and family. Now, you’re at home more, leading a sedentary life to avoid exacerbating your injury. It may be difficult at times, and can affect your overall health.
Then there’s the stress. You may not feel it constantly, but it is there. You may have trouble sleeping, your blood pressure might get higher, and cortisol (the stress hormone) is increased in your body. Pain is stress, and that is how your body reacts to it.
Now, you’re tired, hurting and you may start feeling down. This is normal, but it can lead to depression. Unfortunately, it is common in people with chronic pain. You may experience mood swings, less energy, changes in appetite and less interest in activities you used to enjoy.
What to do?
The thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take.
The first step is to see a doctor. If you’ve seen a doctor, then get a second opinion by a specialist. I saw three orthopedic surgeons, a chiropractor and a chronic pain specialist before I found what works for me. Doctors have different approaches and experiences. My orthopedic for my knee, referred me to a spine specialist when he felt that my injury was beyond his scope. I couldn’t stand this spine doc! He spent a total of 10 minutes with me, barely made eye contact and told me to fuse my spine or learn to deal with it. So, I went and sought out other opinions, and you can too! Maybe you’ll get the same answers, or at the very least you’ll get some new options.
Now you should listen to the doctor. If they recommend physical therapy, do it! This is where I personally got so much help and understanding of my injury. I learned exercises I could do at home to keep myself moving, and they could adapt the exercises as I improved, or even digressed. And, if they give you things to do at home, you’d better get it done. They know what they’re talking about.
Now, some pain may not be from an injury, but something like fibromyalgia or other nerve pain. This is where a pain specialist can help you. There are medications that can help.
Learning to adapt
Once you’re proactive in trying to overcome, or manage, your pain, you can begin to adapt. You may have to modify things, but you can live a very full life. I had to stop teaching so many classes, and limit the types I taught. I also would just explain to the class that I’d show them how to do something, but I couldn’t do the exercise because of my injury. It worked.
Then I learned to change my workouts. No more really heavy lifting, or spine-loading and overhead exercises. But there are literally thousands of exercises to choose from, so you can still get a fantastic workout. Start slow, and keep changing it up until you find what works for you. This is where a knowledgeable personal trainer can help.
I also had to stop running with my dog. I could not manage my 85-pound dog and run with my injury. So, with my two dogs now, we walk…a lot! I go hiking with my husband, but we do easy trails. We also enjoy going to yoga classes together.
One thing I did not do that I should have was speak to a therapist.
I feel that therapists can truly help us learn to deal with all aspects of our lives. I don’t think that we need to have a specific issue to benefit from their help and guidance.
But, this is a very personal choice. You have to do what’s best for you.
Do you have chronic pain, or have suffered from an injury? What do you do to deal with it? I’d love to hear from you!