What is success when it comes to treating or managing chronic pain?
This is a topic that gets debated quite a bit in chronic pain treatment circles.
What ought the end goal of treatment be? What success looks like. Is it being pain-free? Is it living well with pain?
It makes intuitive sense that the goal of chronic pain treatment should be be alleviate and eventually eradicate pain. But when I was in that camp I found that I had put my life on hold until I could attain success, until I was pain-free.
The emotional roller coaster of elusive cures
In that desire for a cure, for a successful pain-free outcome, I experienced a constant, exhausting, roller coaster of emotions.
When my pain was at it’s worst I was in constant hope of finding the person or method or therapy that would “fix me”.
I went through physical therapy, cortisone injections, surgery, more physical therapy, yoga, massages, acupuncture, chiropractors, posture-based movement therapy, changing my diet, mindfulness training…you name, I tried it.
This sound very similar to my own Journey Through Non-Opioid Pain Treatments.
But the pain would always come back. Often times less, but always back. And sometimes worse.
I failed, over and over and over again
Why? Because for the longest time I wasn’t aware that there was no quick fix, let alone that there really wasn’t a good fix at all.
But what if success looked different? What if it wasn’t being pain-free?
When my definition of success was being pain-free, I was continually set up for failure.
But things changed when I realized that maybe my pain was going to stick around for a while. When I started to learn about the science of pain and that my pain didn’t mean the tissues in my hip were torn up, ragged, tattered bits that could never work right again. When I learned that moving wasn’t hurting me, that it was helping me, even when I still had pain.
By accepting pain as part of my reality, I could finally get off the roller coaster and start living again, not in anticipation of a better future but rather with the intent of a better now. Today is our reality, not what might be tomorrow, not what once was a long time ago.
Success no longer meant being pain free, success was living the best I could right now
And my pain actually got better. Way better.
It’s not giving up or removing hope, it’s giving hope
Even though my definition of success changed from one of being pain free to one of living well with pain, it didn’t mean I’d given up hope that one day my pain will be gone for good. I just wasn’t banking on it happening in order to live a valued, meaningful, purposeful life anymore.
Why do I keep harping on this? I think it’s important because some folks worry that talking about living well with pain implies giving up. So I want to make it clear that it is the exact opposite of giving up, it’s giving living a chance again. It opens up the opportunity to live well right now without having to wait anymore.
It’s important how the message is framed and understood, though. I don’t think saying “this is never going to go away so learn to live with it” is helpful
But what if it’s more like “pain is a part of your current reality, let’s work out how you can still pursue the things that matter most to you right now, even it it’s presence, while you’re undergoing treatment”
This eases the burden on both patient and practitioner, doesn’t it?
Living well right now
That’s the kicker, folks. If I weren’t to at least acknowledge that the pain might be for keeps, I’d be stuck waiting to fully live and that’d really suck. Yes, my pain might someday be gone, but what if I don’t live long enough to see that day?
Many of us think the only way forward is to be rid of pain but, paradoxically, it may just be that the only way we can ever become pain free, if it’s possible, is through being ok with living with pain.
And when I stopped waiting and started living, life became pretty damn awesome again.
Bravo! I definitely also recommend her “About Jo” page where she further explains her journey.