Pain changes you
You can go from a sweet, smiling person one minute to the PO’d Hulk the next.
It’s not just Fibromyalgia or Rheumatoid Arthritis that can come with severe pain; many people don’t know MECFS, Lyme disease, MS, Lupus and many other illnesses can too. How severe the pain is can vary in degrees from a slight nuisance to a full blown, soul crushing experience. It can also vary greatly from day to day, depending on; the weather, stress, how physically active you’ve been and a bad flare.
“On a scale of 1-10 how bad is your pain?”
If you’ve dealt with pain for awhile, you undoubtedly have heard your Doctor ask that question. Yet they often fail to tell us what those numbers actually mean! Here is a great explanation of the numerical pain scale so you will be prepared at your next appointment. Knowing what to talk to your Dr about is also helpful. Here are some pain relieving options that cover everything from the basics of a hot shower, to NSAIDS & Narcotics, to some alternatives you might not know much about!
1) HOT SHOWER Hot water stimulates circulation and blood flow while loosening joints, tendons, muscles and even tissues. If you are in a lot of pain, try taking a hot shower or bath before bedtime, it helps relax your body to sleep better. Patients listed it on CureTogether.com as one of the top ways to deal with Fibromyalgia pain.
2) MASSAGE Studies have found massage can be as effective for treating pain as medication. One Lyme Patient, “Adventures in Lymeland” wrote about being at the end of her rope with how to cope with the severe pain : ”I credit a very dear friend who is a massage therapist with getting me through the worst of my pain”.
3) STRETCHING & LIGHT EXERCISE For some of us exercise makes our bodies flare and causes more pain. But here’s the rub, doing nothing can also cause more pain as our muscles tighten and get weaker. Stretching, yoga or very light exercise can be a huge benefit if you start slowly and go easy on yourself. Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, CFS & Fibromyalgia report the benefits of gentle stretching. Webmd.com has some examples of where and how to start.
4) YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT Believe it or not gluten intolerance can cause more than just gut pain and uncomfortable bloating. When your body reacts to something you’ve eaten it causes inflammation which, you guessed it, causes pain! Many patients report a decrease in joint pain, muscle aches, headaches and of course gut discomfort when they stopped eating certain foods. That can range from simply eliminating gluten, all the way to getting rid of sugar, dairy, soy and nightshades as well (here are some ideas for quick & tasty meals). It really depends on how severely your body is reacting & how diligent you are about sticking to it.
5) NSAID WHAT? Many of us rely on NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) such as Advil, Motrin and Ibuprofen to help us through the bad days & nights. They work by inhibiting prostaglandins, a family of chemicals our body creates that can cause inflammation and pain. If I could take Advil around the clock, I’d be a very happy person (& much more productive!) But prostaglandins are also responsible for coating our stomachs and supporting our blood platelets, so stopping that process too often could cause stomach ulcers and promote bleeding. They are a great “go-to” on the bad days and maybe even weeks, but not something you can use around the clock.
6) NARCOTICS (I’m Not a Druggie!) Narcotics are rarely the first thing any patient tries to control their severe pain. In fact it’s usually the last. Both because it’s an incredible battle to get any Doctor to prescribe them but also because no patient is dying to take them. There is a perception out there that patients that use narcotic pain medication are doing it for the “high” or because they are addicted. Many pain Doctors say if you are in true physical pain, the rate of becoming addicted is actually very low and you don’t get the “high”. Your body can become physically dependent on the drug but that is a huge difference from becoming mentally addicted. One ME patient said:
“The pain was so bad I was crying all day long. I couldn’t sleep at night and I had lost a ton of weight. I don’t think my body could have survived like that much longer. My Dr could see that and after trying everything else, put me on a top narcotic. I believe it saved my life”.
The most commonly prescribed narcotics for CFS & many other illnesses are; Percocent, Vicodin, Darvocet and occasionally Opiods such as Morphine or Codeine. In extreme cases a Doctor might even put a patient on a pain pump that drips a regulated dose of medication into your body on a daily basis.
7) LYRICA / NEURONTIN Beyond NSAIDS and Narcotics, the 2 widely used drugs are Lyrica & Gabapentin/Neurontin. Both are used to help treat neurological nerve pain. Many patients with Fibromyaglia rely on Lyrica to give them whatever relief they can get. One study showed patients taking 100-200mg 3x a day experienced a 50% greater reduction of pain than at baseline. But like anything this seems to be on a patient to patient basis with how much it helps and what side effects they experience. Gabapentin seems to be helpful in about a third of the patients that try it. It is a drug to treat epilepsy but is often prescribed to help deal with moderate to severe neurological pain. It’s used in MS patients to help control spasticity and dysethesias (pain caused by MS lesions).
8) MEDICAL MARIJUANA This might be one of the more controversial options some patients are looking into. But when you live in crushing pain, you really don’t worry about “social opinions” after awhile. Studies have proven Medical Marijuana not only decreases nerve pain but also decreases the anxiety that comes with it.
On CureTogether.com out of 44 Fibromyalgia patients, 10 reported it was a major help to them, 12 said it was moderate help and 6 felt it made them worse.
One Lyme patient writes:
“In the hospital, I have needed to have morphine or Lorazepam through an IV to accomplish what smoking two grams of cannabis does on the comfort of my couch… The escape from pain it provides, keeps me sane.”
9) THE BIG O An orgasm is actually a powerful pain killer! A natural chemical called Oxytocin surges in our bodies before and during climax. When you add in the Endorphins that also get released (Endorphins are our bodies very own natural version of Morphine) you can have less pain! But, sex? Many patients are too ill to even think about getting a shower let alone dating! Fear not, you aren’t being excluded from this form of pain relief. Guys probably don’t have to be told masturbation is an option, girls I think forget that. Beverly Whipple, a famed sexologist found that when women masturbated to orgasm, “the pain tolerance threshold and pain detection threshold increased significantly by 74.6 and 106.7 percent respectively”. So, no dating is really required. In fact there are studies that show whether you are a guy or girl, watching porn can help pain (although maybe all you need is a good Twilight movie!)
Listening to music, laughing and doing something you really enjoy also helps release Endorphins if that’s the route you’d rather go!
10) TENS UNIT
A TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a pocket sized device used to administer mild electrical currents. The signals pass to the nerves under the skin and then to the brain. It’s believed it helps release endorphins (yup, that natural pain reliever) as well as creating a tingling sensation that changes your brains impression of pain. This is a great explanation of how it works: http://www.drugs.com/cg/how-to-use-a-tens-unit.html. A Fibro patient at ButYouDontLookSick.com gives a funny account of her first experience using the TENS unit and how shocked she is it has helped her so much. Another Lyme Disease patient reported he would never go anywhere without it, it’s made such a huge difference for him. But many patients report it gives temporary pain relief in bad spells if anything, not an overall relief of pain.
As someone that has battled severe pain for many years, I feel it’s only right to end (on a slightly depressing) but honest note. Pain messes with your mind. People often comment on how cheerful I am, which makes me smile because they have no clue how much pain I live with, how hard “cheerful” can be some days. Lying in bed feeling like the unbearable pain will never end can lead you to some pretty scary thoughts. If you are ever having those thoughts please always remember there are hotlines out there that will take your call & help you through those moments 1-800-273-TALK. The next morning wake up and start calling new Doctors. No one should live in that kind of pain!