Learning How to Combat Chronic Pain and Celebrate Life
Posted Apr 15 2009 11:59pm
Sorry I have been MIA lately: I have been out enjoying my pain-free life. I remember how devastating and debilitating it was to be in constant pain, and wondering if I would ever get free of it, or whether I would be weak and suffering forever. I guess when you’re 24, a chronic injury seems like the end of the world—luckily it’s not!
Well in the last five years, my arm strength and career have come a long way and life is beautiful again. I’m not entirely pain free, to be honest, since I did pull a calf muscle while waltzing the other night (following an overly energetic dance partner). But my chronic arm pain is long gone.
I’ll admit that I still get twinges here and there. And I’m constantly amazed by the amount of friends I have, all around my age in our twenties, who also have ongoing arm pain. Many of them are in various stages between denial, putting up with it and treating it as best they can, or physical therapy. I can understand the feeling of not knowing what to do, and combatting it whenever it flares up. But I encourage anyone out there, even if just having a small wee bit of pain and twinge of discomfort, to do whatever possible to avoid that pain when it’s not present, and reduce it when it is.
Most people know already the basic platitudes and the list of “top ten tips” for getting rid of repetitive stress injuries, which mostly boil down to a mix of ergonomics, exercise, ice, rest and breaks. I think that a strategic combination of all those is most effective. But, often times those empty lists fail because they don’t really get to the heart of what’s wrong.
Of that list, the most important is probably movement—not just exercise—but allowing your body to move naturally, change posture and position while working, and letting your body settle back into a loose position after working in a tense, cramped way for too long. Ergonomics addresses that by putting the body in a better position for movement; exercise challenges the body; rest breaks allow the body to move more naturally. There are many other tools that can help, ranging in categories from healing techniques like chiropractics or massage, to excercise like martial arts or a gym, to preventative physical therapy and ergonomics, to restorative movement like yoga. But they are just tools.
Troubleshooting the human body isn’t like working in construction where there is a “right” tool for the job. Everyone’s body is different, and people mentally respond to activities in different ways as well. So people need to find exercise programs that motivate them, and ones that feel good, as well as challenge the body. I think that’s why I ended up getting into dance and poi spinning and enjoying self-defense classes—they aren’t just about “getting exercise,” but about learning a new skill for fun and they fulfill a social need too.
Humans are not just automated machines, designed to do a task repeatedly, then follow a regimen of exercise and healing routines. We are social creatures specially adapted to, well, adapting, and changing up our routines and skills. So, maybe the best way to heal from a chronic injury is breaking the routines that are causing pain, and trying new things. Mostly, these need to include active activities that challenge the body to move in a new way—and in doing so, move the mind.