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


  1. I have chronic pain as well and like you I don't take medication for it, as I would hate to get addicted. I not long ago took some for another issue and oh how it helped I could quite easily see how I wouldn't want to come off it at the end of the cause and that scared me.

    1. Hi Sarah-Louise, and thank you for sharing your experience. It's hard sometimes, isn't it? You sound very strong.

  2. My heart goes out to those with chronic pain. My godmother suffers with chronic pain and it's definitely hard for those around her to understand what it's like. She struggles with pain pill dependence and often gets shunned by her family members instead of being helped. Maybe sharing this with her so she can share it with them is a good idea.

    1. Thank you, Esse, for sharing your kind thoughts towards those of us who face chronic pain. Feeling shunned can hurt just as much as the physical pain. Your godmother is lucky to know you.

  3. I have chronic pain and have to admit that what I eat really does affect and can either make it better or worse. I also use cannabis to treat the pain.

    1. Yes, food has such a strong impact! Stay strong!

  4. Dealing with chronic pain can be a drain on every aspect of your life. Your post brings up some food for thought; using pain meds can be scary. I like that you post options

  5. This hits very close to home. I have suffered from that kind of pain for many years now. Thank you so much for your post.

  6. Thanks for sharing ways to combat chronic pain. Everyone should have a guide to dealing with health and wellness limitations. This articles is a gentle reminder to take of yourself in areas that others take for granted.

  7. Im a nurse so i know how difficult battling with chronic pain is... this is a good read!!! Ill definitely pass it on to others so that they can learn about it too...

    1. Thank you so much for passing on the information and for all you do daily to take care of others!

  8. I know a couple of people with chronic pain, and I can't imagine how hard it must be! Thanks for sharing what works for you!

  9. The article posted was very informative and useful. You people are doing a great job. Keep going. Jawahar Thomas

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  12. They may use gravity boots or an inversion table or chair to reduce the ... every day may improve the overall health of the spine and ligaments and ... i was reading this


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