I live with chronic pain. Everywhere. Joints, muscles, bones… all over. It has been getting increasingly worse since August so I got it checked out. I had an MRI on my spine and an X-ray on my left hip to see what all this worsening pain was about.
Well, it turns out that I have managed to develop 5 bulging discs; L5-S1, L4-L5, L3-L4, T8-T9 and another in my neck or cervical spine (I wasn’t told which one). Oh, and my left hip is deteriorating just as my right hip did (I had a full hip replacement in 2016).
To those of you who know the spinal structure, please feel free to sip your coffee or tea for a mo. For those of you who don’t, there are 4 main sections to the spine. Starting from the top; Cervical, Thoracic; Lumber and Sacrum (the Coccyx is separate from the Sacrum). You can find some excellent information and diagrams here.
So, in short, I have discs touching nerves in every section of my spine which is causing rather a lot of pain. All. The. Time.
Going forward with my back
The initial thought from my pain consultant was that I need to investigate having injections into the discs. These would be Caudal Epidural injections to relieve the inflammation in the disc and draw the bulge back in, thereby relieving the nerve pain.
I had back surgery in 2014, a Discectomy and a Laminectomy on my lumber spine. It seemed a bit drastic to have it again if injections may work. So I am currently awaiting appointments. I have also been referred back to my hip consultant for further investigation there.
In the meantime, I am carefully doing light exercise, not sitting or standing for long periods and taking my pain medications regularly so that I feel the benefit. I know my back will potentially get worse as I get older, but after nearly 20 years of pain now, I am learning to manage and live with it.
Managing life with chronic pain
The truth is, some days… I don’t.
If the pain is high, it’s very difficult to move around, concentrate, bend, lift, shower, anything! All those things I took for granted in my teens can sometimes be a major struggle. So I have developed my own coping mechanisms.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ but I hope my methods help you if you are living with chronic pain.
1. Taking my pain medication as early in the morning as I can. Even if it means setting an alarm an hour early, taking my meds and then going back to sleep for an hour. It makes a difference! (Although, my son is generally up at 6am so…!)
Understanding physical restrictions
2. Ease myself into being mobile. I don’t jump out of bed or rush myself to get ready. I take my time. Getting dressed requires some interesting manoeuvres if my joints aren’t playing ball and I can’t rush my body to perform them. Another good reason for getting up early. (Besides, it’s pretty easy for me in December!)
3. I don’t stress about the housework. Stacking the dishwasher, filling the washing machine or dryer. Hoovering. These are major triggers for flares of pain so I take my time over them on days I feel I can manage them. Although recently hoovering has become impossible with the new diagnosis, our hoover is sooooo heavy! So I have asked for a new, lighter model for Christmas! These vacuums are great if you can’t lift heavy items!
4. Keeping my mental health in check. Now this has been a struggle this year. I had a mental breakdown in August which took me until November to crawl out of. When I’m overwhelmed or stressed, my pain increases which then makes me feel tense and more overwhelmed. It’s a vicious circle that I try to avoid. Keeping myself focused on a goal, taking my anti-depressants every day and taking care of me are important parts of my day now. Every day! Some great books to read to help keep your mind in check are;
Accepting help and support
5. Accepting help and support. This is a big one as I am a fiercely independent person. I find it very hard to ask for help or accept offers of it from others. However, in the last year I have learnt how important help and support is. I still struggle to ask or accept occasionally because I determinedly tell myself that I can still do something myself. Often though, I realise I need a bit of help, and that’s OK! My body is getting more fragile and less mobile, which I am coming to terms with.
There you go. they’re my main coping strategies for managing my pain and fitting my life around it.
What coping strategies do you have? Are there any areas you are struggling in that you would like information,advice or support on?
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