Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dealing with Chronic Pain

Guest post by Sara Russell, Ph.D., NTP

I have a hereditary connective tissue disorder which causes chronic pain across the body. Musculoskeletal pain due to tight muscles and unstable joints, joints which partially dislocate during sleep when my body is relaxed, and which partially dislocate at times during the day when I do things as simple as taking a step, putting on my backpack, carrying food to the table, typing at the computer, sneezing, turning my neck ever so slightly. Head pain due to excessive vasodilation. Gastrointestinal pain at times just from eating. Excruciating foot pain when I walk. (Do you remember fairy tale of the Little Mermaid, who feels pain with every step she takes once she is transformed into a human?)

I am used to a baseline level of pain that is probably much higher than what the average person. At the same time, I know what it means to feel pushed over the edge with pain, once you cross the threshold of your ultimate pain tolerance. It is definitely not fun.

Before I go on, I want to say that I’m sharing my experience in the hopes that it will help others with chronic pain, and help those without chronic pain understand and support us more. I also understand that what helps me may not be the same as what helps you, so please don’t feel in any way judged if you're doing something different!

I don’t take pain medication on a regular basis. I would hate to become addicted to pain medication. I do keep some prescription anti-inflammatory medication on hand to use in those situations when the pain is beyond unbearable.

But for the most part, I have come to appreciate the importance of addressing my pain through rest, an adaptation of daily activities, regular physical therapy, careful exercise, and mindfulness. I have come to accept and understand that while I have come a long way in reducing some sources of pain by adapting my nutrition and lifestyle, there is some pain that I can’t erase.

Indeed, in today’s world, we are conditioned to fear pain, to hate pain and to seek to erase and eradicate it at all costs. In addition to the known risks of addiction, I would hesitate to medicate my pain with narcotic medications because they may increase my risk of injury making me less alert and less aware of my body. Additionally, narcotic pain medication can impair digestive motility, which in my case is already slow due to poor connective tissue function.

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I live in a world where others around me can’t see or imagine my pain, and where my pain sometimes stops me from functioning properly. I am also good at masking my pain in order to function as well as possible.

It’s not my fault that my body struggles with a disorder that causes injury and pain. But it is my responsibility to do what I can to live as well as possible with the body I have.

This means working constantly on four main areas:

Doing what I can to improve the areas that are improvable.

For me, a nutrient-dense diet that focuses on properly prepared real food is really important. I have difficulty assimilating nutrients, so quality and digestibility is definitely more important than quantity!

I also am careful to stay well-hydrated and maintain good electrolyte balance.

I have regular physical therapy sessions with a good physical therapist and do my physical therapy exercises daily. The regularity is so incredibly important!

Staying physically active while avoiding/limiting situations that put me at unnecessary risk of injury

This is a difficult balance to strike because over-limiting activities from fear of getting hurt comes with its own set of problems! The challenge is staying active while staying reasonably safe at the same time. For me, this means choosing daily physical activities that I enjoy, adjusting the duration, frequency, and intensity of the activity depending on what I have going on.

The more I like and look forward to a specific type of physical activity, the more motivated I am to stay active in spite of fatigue and accidental injuries. For example, I love walking in the woods and observing nature’s beauty far more than I do going to the gym. The more conditioned I am, the better my overall quality of life. So exercise is definitely a priority for me!

I avoid contact sports and high-impact sports, after experiencing injuries in martial arts classes and the high hurdles. But I do enjoy doing gentle yoga and riding my bike on non-strenuous trails.

Using medications sparingly for beyond-unbearable situations

This point is fairly self-explanatory, keeping in mind that what constitutes unbearable levels of pain is pretty subjective. I don’t take pain medication to turn off the pain, but do take it on those occasions when I experience pain so severe that I can’t think or move.

Accepting the rest and really appreciating everything in my life that is positive!

Does it annoy you when you’re having a bad day or struggling through a complex problem, and a loved one tells you that it could be worse or that everything happens for a reason? Me too! But as silly as it may sound when I make it a point of noticing what I am able to do, or days when my pain level is low and I don’t wake up feeling disjointed, that gives me something to celebrate. And I leverage every little celebration in my quest to have the best day I can, one day at a time!
About the Author

Sara is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who frequently blogs about nutrition and health in addition to running a nutritional therapy practice where she specializes in supporting clients with complex health cases. You can learn more about Sara’s work and read her blog at

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