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  • Dr. Terry Dornak, Psy.D.

Living Beyond Chronic Pain

I think there is a wide misconception that treatment for chronic pain exclusively include medication; however, chronic pain can impact a person’s entire functioning, and they often have to learn how to live again.

A significant component of chronic pain management is learning how to do tasks differently. If you experience chronic pain, some activities that you did before, may now cause you pain if you do them the same way. This does not mean that you have to stop doing all of them; however, it will help to learn how to do them with accommodations. For instance, an individual who enjoys gardening, but was experiencing pain in their knees and back, may have to garden for shorter periods of time and learn to sit differently. Many of my clients go through stages of grief when they are unable to do things they once loved. I think grief is sometimes, but not always, an unfortunate part of having a chronic medical condition involving chronic pain. A long distance runner who experiences severe nerve pain and headaches when running may have to stop running. You may have to process the loss of an activity you once loved; however this may be an opportunity to welcome the birth of a new activity, creating a new love. For instance, the long distance runner who stopped running may discover a love for yoga.

Chronic pain is an issue that is deeply misunderstood by many who are outside of the experience. I do not think that this misunderstanding is anyone’s fault; however, I do think that it significantly impacts those that experience chronic pain. Those who experience chronic pain often forget that friends and loved ones cannot mind read and know how that person is feeling by the expression on their face. If the friend or loved one misjudges and asks them to do something that they are unable to do, the situation may result in conflict. These misunderstandings are brought up very frequently in couples sessions when I am addressing chronic pain. In these situations, I help the chronic pain individual express how they are feeling and learn to address assumptions in what others are thinking and feelings. In addition, chronic pain individuals frequently do not ask for help when needed due to pride or due to lack of adjustment to their health condition. This is another common occurrence I find in both individual and couples sessions. A loved one may not know that they need help with a task. In therapy, it is important to explore and process this adjustment and the need to ask for help. Without asking for help, one may perform the task themselves and cause injury.

Although someone experiences chronic pain, that does not mean that they are unable to exercise. Two activities that are usually physically accessible for many chronic pain individuals are swimming and some form of yoga. Yoga has been modified for individuals of all ages from babies to seniors, and you can even do it in a chair! The idea of yoga is to gain mind and body awareness and do it at your own pace. Swimming can be done in a cold or heated pool, and water aerobics are offered at activity centers for all ages. Exercise is important in order to increase dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in the body and brain, which then decreases depression and anxiety and help you sleep.

I can go on and on about chronic pain and will likely do another blog soon about the topic, likely more focused. This is just a taste. I hope this was helpful to some. Many of my clients know that chronic pain is something that I am passionate about, and I believe a holistic and team approach is necessary in its treatment.

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