I am one of the cursed ones, doomed to live life with chronic, progressive musculoskeletal pain. Whether it’s my muscles, joints, bones, ligaments or tendons acting up, my diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome plays out painful effects throughout any one or all of these system components.
Finding a pain management strategy to improve my quality of life is an Art of Survival. Sharing what I learned through research, trial, and error is the mission of this humble website, so without further ado here is my Chronic Pain Toolkit: 5 Tools to Improve the Quality of That Chronically Painful Life™
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#1 Hot and Cold Therapy
My muscles strain and sprain for no rational reason more often than not. My doctor prescribes an opioid and muscle relaxer to help, which is great except for the increased side effects and leftover pain unrelieved by prescriptions. Adding Hot/Cold therapies to my pain management toolkit helps where the scripts leave off.
I purchased this Sunbeam heating pad from Amazon a few months back to replace the one I lost. The original heating pad made it 5 years without malfunctioning, so I was confident in the brand and purchase.
One of my favorite things about this heating pad is the length and width. Laid out flat, it covers my entire back or I can wrap it around my belly when my gut is acting funky. My intermittent subluxations, dislocations, and frequent strains/sprains make this a must have on hand item for those bad days. Heat helps promote circulation, which is often impaired with injury and inflammation occurring with EDS as well as other chronic pain conditions.
Cold packs reduce harmful inflammation by slowing circulation. With musculoskeletal injuries, circulation may too quickly deliver important immunity components to the area of injury to hasten the repair process. An overzealous effort floods the area with interstitial fluids beyond the tissues capacity. The resulting damage caused by pressure to delicate structures and nerves in and around the area, thereby making the original injury even worse. Applying a cold pack immediately after an injury helps to reduce damaging inflammation.
I use these hot/cold packs by Therapearl are great because they don’t stiffen in the freezer so I can easily use it on any area without causes pain from a hard, awkward, frozen block. Using anything frozen on my body activates my cold intolerance quickly. This pack is made with a gentle, velvet fabric to keep the direct coldness off the skin. Plus, these packs are just the right size to spot treat sore areas on my back. As far as the “hot” usage goes, the heat dissipates too quickly to be effective. One even popped while heating in the microwave. I can’t recommend these for hot therapy. Nevertheless, I can’t say enough about these handy cold pack for combating my musculoskeletal pains.
#2 Muscle Salves, Lotions, and Balms
Topical pain relievers are integral to treating my chronic musculoskeletal pain. There are a wide variety of topicals available through Amazon. I’ve tried quite a few different products available as well as from other online suppliers.
Recently here on OnlyinthisHead: Chronic Illness Life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome I got the opportunity to review a couple CBD-infused products for relief of my musculoskeletal pain with fantastic results. Please see the links below to open a new window to read the reviews.
- The Fay Farm’s CBD-infused Rejuvenation Lotion for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome related Musculoskeletal Pain
- My Experience with HoneyColony’s Superior CBD Oil for EDS Related Symptoms
I was SUPER impressed with the power of CBD lotions for my chronic pain. Right now, The Fay Farm’s Rejuvenation Lotion is my favorite pain relieving lotion, but I also am quite fond of Noxicare, an all natural pain relieving cream formulated by physicians specifically for musculoskeletal pain.
Both these products contain powerful ingredients, known to reduce inflammation, swelling and related pain without harmful side effects. Unfortunately, my chronic illness story includes a load of hypersensitivities to certain foods, additives, and chemicals. Neither of these products aggravated those issues. Anytime I begin feeling strain or swelling in my muscles and joints, applying topicals reduces my pain within 10-15 minutes. With continued and daily use, the reduced muscle tension works to improve my other symptoms. Even if this intervention only provides a fraction of relief, it is relief that cannot be achieved in any other way.
#3 Relaxation Techniques
Any practitioner equating my pain only with stress automatically loses my respect if they know my history. It feels invalidating as if being told, “You are only in pain because you fear pain.”
Why can’t they understand it is the pain stressing me out not the other way around?! Regardless, relaxation during pain flares is important for the best outcomes. With the right tools in my Chronic Pain Toolkit, it isn’t an insurmountable endeavor and helps considerably.
The relaxing intervention I use to help lull my pain into submission includes indulging my olfactory senses with essential oils. The sense of pain is much like the sense of hearing, taste smelling, sight, and feeling. It sets off processes in the body to prepare for incoming stimuli, whether it being pulling away from a painful stimulus or initiating secretion of digestive juices after smelling an appetizing meal, our olfactory senses are always sending messages about the environment to our brains so the body can be ready. At the same time, when one sense is negatively overwhelmed, adding stimulus to other senses will help divert energy from the offending sensation to respond to new incoming stimuli. This is how aromatherapy works to help reduce pain by inducing relaxation.
Essential Lavender Oil is exceptionally helpful when experiencing a pain flare. Rubbing a few drops into my hands, cupping my hands over my nose taking deep inhales and exhales transcends my soul beyond the pain of the flare. While I do not believe essential oils cure chronic illness, I believe there are therapeutic effects available to augment more conventional therapies.
Sound provides countless therapeutic effects, especially within the realms of relieving chronic pain via the use harmonic and resonant tones. Known for healing properties. my Tibetan Singing Bowl helps me focus my mind and calm the racing though often accompanying pain flares.
When I use this beautifully hand-crafted work of art by Geshe’s Dharma, those nagging realities dissipate into the abyss so I can focus on allowing the pain to pass without overtaking me. The tones this calm my mind, creating a slight vibration on my forehead between my eyes. I imagine ancient magic aiding my pain plight.
Through this relaxation technique, I enter a meditative state where pain transcendence is possible, even if only a placebo effect. This bowl makes a great conversation piece as well! Of course, this is helpful in dealing with my anxiety/panic attacks also. Amazon offers numerous varieties in Tibetan Singing Bowls and the prices are affordable. The tone is beautiful as you can see here in this short video demonstration:
My toolkit wouldn’t be complete without luxurious and pain relieving Epsom’s Salts. My soaks in the tub with lightly scented Epsom’s salts help on days where nothing relieves the stiffness, swelling and pain. Soaking in an Epsom’s salts bath for a twenty minutes or more helps tremendously to loosen things up so my other tools will work better. I tried several different brands, but am partial to any of Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salts. My favorite is The Soothe and Sleep Lavender for I’m a little addicted to the Lavender scent.
#4 Compression Therapy
My hands cause a significant amount of arthritic pain. Eighteen years after the first utterance of arthritis, it is now widespread throughout my body throughout my whole body. Sadly, my hands look like a 105 years old.
One management strategy proving helpful is compression therapy. This works by confusing pain signals via pressure application. It also promotes circulation via the gentle vacillation the compression simulating the pumping action of the skeletal muscles.
The Vive Health Products on Amazon offer great deals on quality medical equipment. I looked hours for at compression gloves to find one well reviewed. After foraging the compression gloves section of Amazon checking options and customer reviews, I felt confident spending $15 USD on this product. This glove met my needs and looked great no matter what I wear (usually PJs!).
The Vive Arthritis Compression Gloves are quality crafted. Fashionably, the material’s stylish gray/black pattern fusion is neutral and exceedingly versatile. I feel evocative of the C-punk movement wearing these gloves! That makes me a
awesome despite my pains!!! The open-ended fingertips allow for the gloves to be worn even when I am using my tablet.
The material stretches gently, but provides light support. Breathable and moisture wicking, using these overnight tames my tendency to clutch my hands into a contracture while sleeping. Although the gloves take a few days to get accustomed to and sometimes I get a sore area on the skin between my pointer finger and thumb, this never causes further issues or takes longer than one minute to forget.
The seams are well-secured and even. The glove is sturdy to all day use and the dark color hides accidently stains until the next wash. I wash mine in the sink and hang them on the towel rack to dry. Consistently, the elastic pressure continues to provide the same support and relief as they did on the day of arrival. The material is warming, which is something very important to those of us with very cold hands (despite our warm hearts)!
The pain relief provided to my arthritic hands is significant! I love the pressure, seemingly diffusing the pain response when worn an hour or more. I can take them off an hour later to find a reduction in the swelling and a satisfactory level of pain relief to type or write for a little longer without a break. Employing these gloves will do the same for anyone experiencing pain and stiffness secondary to swelling in the hands. Compression is well known for its medical benefits in treating chronic pain and Vive compression gloves live up to the expectation!
#5 TENS unit
A TENS unit is a must have for anyone living with a chronic condition causing frequent muscular sprains, strains and tension. Over the years of dealing with progressive musculoskeletal pain, my TENS unit saved me from going to the urgent care more than once!
With my disease process, strains and sprains are a part of everyday life, but having a this TENS unit on hand makes a big difference! I can lay in bed in utter despair due to pain or lay in bed receiving relaxing, massage effect from the stimulation this little unit provides until my muscle tension dissipates. I’ll choose the latter. Amazon has loads of TENS units available for you to review here. Be sure to pick up the electrode gel and extra pads because this will be the first thing you run out of!
#6 Distraction Techniques
The other day during a haphazard scroll through Facebook a Nursing Page I follow posted the following meme the Willy Wonka meme regarding the patient’s report of pain versus the nurse’s perception of the patient’s actual pain level.
Any nurse sharing this meme should be ashamed and quit nursing. Distraction is one of the first interventions discussed in pain management courses during nursing school. Distraction is an effective, positive coping mechanism in dealing with pain levels of any intensity.
When I was in the final stages of labor with my son, I painted my nails and did my makeup all while waiting on his arrival. It was the only thing I could do to keep me from being overtaken by the painful experience. In regards to chronic illness, during every single one of my hospital admissions my laptop and cell phone served to distract me from the miserable experience of being hospitalized. If it weren’t for the countless hours of streaming media between Youtube, Amazon Prime and Netflix I would have lost my mind a long time ago living with chronic pain on a daily basis!
Distraction is a great technique for diverting attention away from the pain of an experience. Never let any nurse bully you into thinking true pain is staring blankly into space. Not only is this maladaptive but it will make pain worse! Instead, remind them of their nurse’s training with this tidbit provided and watch how quickly the attitude changes. Then, continue to use whatever distraction techniques works best for you.
As I said, one of my favorite ways to distract myself is with streaming media. I have a Youtube Red membership because advertisements, but even with a free account access to original content is never ending . With this and my Amazon Prime membership, I can always find something of value to distract me from my pain enough to make life a little more worthwhile. Prime benefits must be made for Spoonies because the extra services and perks to the membership save countless spoons!
My relationship with Amazon Prime was on and off from 2010 to 2015. Amazon makes it super easy to cancel the membership before being charged as you can initiate this action immediately after sign-up and still enjoy a full 30 days of prime membership benefits!
Since 2015 I’ve maintained our Amazon Prime membership as it offers a load of benefits beyond the 2-day free shipping saving us hundreds of dollars and loads of time. With Prime, I get access to Prime Video, Prime Music, and Kindle Unlimited all under my annual membership fee. All these services help to distract me from my pain so often that I think I would cry if we lost our membership!
The benefit far outweighs the cost when considering how much these services cost individually from other providers. My household used to pay $10 a month for a streaming music service, $20 a month on video streaming services, and at least $50 in video rentals a month. That’s $80 a month in just entertainment, which adds up to almost a thousand dollars a year!
Prime media streaming services offer a massive catalog of music, books, movies, tv series and documentaries to keep me distracted from the toils of chronic pain.
With access to thousands of Kindle books free with my Kindle unlimited add-on subscription, I am learning new things and increasing my reading speed. This is great despite my cognitive and neurological issues troubling most of my days.
If there is a TV series on premium cable I want to watch, Amazon makes it available as a series to purchase and stream or I can just add on a premium channel to my Prime video subscriptions.
Not to mention the fact that all the previously recommended products were purchased via my subscription!
Give Amazon Prime a test run free for 30 days. The offer is super transparent and canceling is no hassle under the account tab with a few clicks of the mouse. You get loads of streaming distractions that will be sure to make your nurse spend her off time making mean memes about patients instead of enjoying life!
In Conclusion of The Chronic Pain Toolkit
Successful pain management is multi-faceted and adaptive to individual needs. I put together this Chronic Pain Toolkit as a resource for those struggling to find nonpharmacological pain management to complement medically managed care. While this collection of strategies is not a substitute for medical advice or direction and is for informational purposes only, all too often practitioners fail the chronic pain community with a lack of direction provided to patients regarding non-pharmacological pain strategies. With balanced tactics against chronic pain outcomes improve and quality of life increases!
Thanks for reading! What are some ways you deal with chronic pain? What ways don’t work? I’d love to hear the contents of other Spoonie’s Chronic Pain Toolkit! Light and Love my sweet Spoonie friends! ❤
Content originally posted on Stomach-vs-Heart.com and migrated to OnlyinthisHead.com because of updates to SVH’s purpose. Read more about the changes coming to Stomach-vs-Heart here.
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❤ Thanks for reading and may your days be blessed with peaceful calming vibes❤
My goal is to provide valuable information thru chronic illness product reviews whilst intertwining the account of my EDS history and diagnosis. My hope is my work will serve as a beacon to the undiagnosed Zebras looking for examples of Zebra life as well as providing diagnosed Zebras with real erudition on the innumerable goods marketed to those enduring chronic disease and debility.
While an EDS diagnosis doesn’t include a cure, employing multiple strategies improves quality of life, invariably improving the overall prognosis of this insidious process. My mission at Only in this Head is providing sincere product reviews the chronic illness community can trust❤