Chronic Pain Recovery in Six Steps
Here's an overview of the 6 major components of recovery that I give my clients and that I've followed myself to recover from chronic pain.
1) Assemble your team
2) Fine-tune your self-assessment
3) Loosen your schedule, routines/habits, and your ideas of "shoulds"
4) Take inspiration from those that have made strides
5) Breathing, allowing the composition of your reaction to your experience to shift,
from now moment to now moment.
6) Persevere and repeat until significant shifts or recovery....+ encourage others
Discussed more fully here are strategies to improve the kind of pain that begins mildly and gradually, persisting and/or worsening. Please note we are not discussing pain that began at birth, or as the result of an inury, trauma or disease.
1) Assemble your team: Personal and Professional
This of course refers to what is needed in healing: a witness, someone who is holding the space of what you are experiencing without judgement and who is tracking the changes that take place at different levels of being. This can be a friend, a supporter, a spouse. It may take a lot of effort on your part to communicate your real experience and to ask for what you need. You might need to communicate the fullness of obstacles that come up so that the other person has an opportunity to see the need for: listening, respect, compassion, not giving advice, or logistical adjustments.
More often than not, people need professional help with chronic pain. Great. You picked the perfect millenium to have chronic pain. A massage therapist, a chiropractor, a naturopath, an osteopath, a physician, counsellor, acupuncturist, craniosacral therapist, or energy medicine practitioner are all good choices and the options only begin there. When I went through years of severe low back pain, it was weekly appointments with an acupuncturist, monthly craniosacral therapy and daily yoga that supported my recovery. Which one helped the most? It doesn't matter! They all worked together to support my system to make the shifts that needed to happen. And my motto is: try everything! Find out which combination of therapies grasps the thread and unwraps YOUR whole knot.
A caveat: a later flare-up of the same chronic pain might indicate an adjustment of therapy is necessary that wasn't necessary before...just go with it. Its okay.
When it comes to chronic pain, what becomes clear to someone like me on the therapy and client side of things is that the causes of chronic pain can be multiple, seeded in the past, and in most cases exacerbated by stress. Because of the complex nature whereby the body will adapt to a "problem" for a long time without symptoms, eventually all levels of our being will, in someway, become involved in trying to resolve or compensate. And thus we need opportunities to bring all levels of our being - mental, emotional, physical, spiritual - to focus on what's true about the condition and for openings to resolution. It could be moments of acknowledgement, listening, biomechanical techniques, emotional and spiritual support that is needed for the totality of our highest healing ability can be accessed and empowered. (Craniosacral is wonderfully suited for this!) The results ripple through the life in amazing ways. You may have felt this.
This I know with the fullness of my being and why I'm passionate about healing: the body will go to its next level of health when it gets the right support.
I'm not saying get three types of therapy every week. I'm saying, look at your insurance, look at your budget (there are therapists out there that do sliding scale), look at your schedule, choose a time when changes and stresses are low if possible so you can get more "you" time, and proceed with a therapist you've heard a good referral from, someone you feel you can trust, and go for an appointment. It would not hurt to call a therapist before hand to ask about their experience successfully treating your kind of chronic pain. See if you sense a positive and effective therapeutic relationship budding. After the appointment, assess: do you feel less stressed? did you feel heard? was your pain addressed in a way that made sense to you? did your therapist give you sense of what you can expect in the way of progress after a course of sessions? did the therapist give you ideas about other therapy you could try in support of this work? did the therapist give you homework? did you feel optomistic about your condition? if so...continue. If not....discontinue with that therapist but keep searching for the right fit for you. The rule book in manual therapy is: if you want change to occur, go more than once a month. Do at least 4-5 appointments before assessing the therapy in full.
Big Big Warning:
Do not expect one session to remove chronic pain. Do not expect two sessions to remove chronic pain. If you've had chronic pain for more than 5 years, I do not advise you to expect full recovery in under a year. If you've had chronic pain for a year, I advise people to be prepared for at least 2-3 months of regular therapies and homework on your part.
One-two years is not uncommon for full recovery of long-standing issues. Flare-ups are common, often just a painful and trying step in the recovery. Allow for self-soothing. Do not be discouraged. And do not mentally punish yourself or your body. Please. Its not failure. Its a message. Take comfort.
2) Fine-tune your own assessment of the pain, and develop more self-awareness.
We can all use a little more of this. Your therapist or therapists will help you track the areas of the body that will receive the bulk of focus in treatment. And its important for many reasons that you spend time just noticing, very very specifically, where exactly you are feeling painful sensations or restrictions, during what time of day, during what levels of stress, and during what activities and movements that are most affected. A huge key is to notice minute changes. To do this, compare an area of pain to an area that has diminished or no pain at all. The body, at the cellular level and at higher coordinating centers, including mind, emotions, and spirit, change every day - every hour, every second. Life is constant change, especially in our cellular biology. Learning to assess the sensations objectively as they ebb and flow is how the body is talking to us. We need to be there when the body is asking for less of something, and especially when it is asking for MORE of something.
Recovery is based on building your days with more of what your body is asking for. Your ease and joy are the barometers of that, whether its: the effect of regular posture adjustments or exercises or hot packs, or time alone, or time laughing, or time outside, or two gallons of water - whatever combination of things it is that your body is asking for. The body - the fabric of its dynamic and resilient structure - is wise, and concious at a deep level. It has aeons of structural features and responses we are only now uncovering. It rewards good attention.
It is our body who bears us through an unhealthy habit or job or dysfunctional movement pattern, for years often, before it speaks up for what's imbalanced. This can be hard, I absolutely know. But it is, potentially for some, also....a profound blessing. A deep call of our soul that can only be heard through pain. Pain, a large motivator unfortunately. This is not to say that chronic pain means that we are doing life wrong. Nope. There's no blame here. It may only sometimes mean that we are being called to adjust in a small or big way to make way for us to be at another level our soul is ready for.
3) Loosen your schedule, your routines and habits, and your ideas of "shoulds"
As many of you may know, pain can change how you compose your day. Errands you put off, children you want to pick up but can't, boxes that sit until someone else can deal with them, pain medication you need to arrange and manage, favorite activities or social opportunities abandoned.
In exchange for some smaller or larger impositions, the situation offers an opportunity: to exercise our will in unexplored directions, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Whether its the new meditation practice that helps with migranes, a desk space overhaul, a new exercise or therapy that changes how the week looks....or even the smallest stretch 10 times a day in the back of the neck or shift of weight in the feet or hips... that over time can alter your entire system or just the localized pain area.
Life may not have to change drastically, but allow for: some persistant therapy, some persistant homework on your part, maybe a new pillow for your neck or for your driver's seat. Maybe life will have to change some, or a lot. I can't tell you what that will look like. What I do suggest is to soften your ideas of "how life should look." Learning is partly taking breaks from everything we already "know."
4) Take inspiration from those who've made strides in the area of chronic pain you face
This speaks for itself and its worth saying. Read blogs, books, or listen to someone who is feeling better and believes in recovery.
We are mammals. We sound a lot like those we speak to the most. We can't help it. If the mammals around you resign themselves to pain, love them, and seek out those who, at any and every age, find healing. Search and immerse. This just softens our brain for patience and the awareness necessary to notice changes, stick with therapy, and to find the small or big life adjustments that make all the difference.
5) Breathing, allowing the composition of your reaction to your experience to shift, from now moment to now moment.
This is ultimately our only chariot in this life, the carrier of our experience, conscious or not. On pain meds or not. Having a better day or not.
I wrote an article specifically on breathing here.
Persevere. That's actually the fullness of it. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Try everything. Trust your body. Trust the process. Trust healing. Celebrate with gratitude all the parts of your body and life that are unnoticed because they are flawless. The way your skin keeps your fluids inside.
Persevere and repeat until significant shifts or recovery.... and encourage others!
May you be happy.