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  • Sometimes It Takes A Village to Eliminate Pain

    Scene of a Thai village

    Wouldn’t it be nice if, whenever you had pain, tension, or reduced ability to move, that you could just call one person who’d make it all better?

    Sometimes that happens. Hooray!!

    But sometimes it doesn’t. *sad trombone*

    The Case for Seeing More Than One Practitioner

    Sometimes you need 2, or more, therapies/activities to get your body back on track to feeling good. It all depends what’s going on with it in the first place.

    Not only is everything connected, but rarely is one thing the lone culprit in chronic body aches and pains. In addition, practitioners from various disciplines will approach your issue from different angles. This means that your pain and dysfunction will receive a wider consideration in regards to cause, effect, and treatment than if you only see one person or use one type of therapy.

    How to Choose

    First, evaluate what you’re doing now. Figure out if it’s offering some relief from your symptoms or if it’s not effective at all.

    Second, act accordingly. If it’s helping somewhat, but not fully, add another discipline/practitioner to the mix. If it’s not effective, ditch it and try something (or someone*) else.
    *Sometimes it’s not the therapy, but the practitioner, that’s wrong for you; but that’s another topic altogether.

    Don’t Forget to Choose Yourself

    While you’re going through your list of possible providers and possible activities that might be able to help you, don’t forget to put yourself on your own healthcare team.

    You might be wondering what you can do, but honestly, nothing will truly get better without you.

    You might not have any formal healthcare education, but you can:

    • Make note of, and let your healthcare practitioners know, which positions or activities make your pain worse and which make it better.
    • Make note of, and let your healthcare practitioners know, if the pain or stiffness is better or worse in the morning, after work, before bed, etc.
    • Do any home stretching or exercises your providers give you
    • Keep moving within your tolerable limits
    • Honestly assess and report your stress level to your providers. Note any correlations between stress and pain or movement restriction. Your providers can help you identify effective stress management strategies, but only if they have a good idea of your stressors and responses.
    • Honestly assess your mental health as it pertains to your pain. Is your pain worse when your depression or anxiety increases? Let your providers know. They can make referrals to counselors and other mental health professionals if needed.
    • Honestly assess your support system. If you find you need help with something(s) and have no one to help you, talk to your provider(s); they may be able to help get you the support* you need.*Support can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

    Spoiler Alert – You’re Always the Key

    This doesn’t mean that you caused your pain! It also doesn’t mean that it’s your fault if it’s never fully resolved. Some injuries and conditions don’t get 100% better, but they can be managed.

    What it does mean is that healing is not passive. You have to be an active participant. You have to let your providers know important information and you have to take their advice, unless it makes things worse, in which case you need to tell them.

    Sometimes you play a key role by choosing, and continuing to evaluate and re-choose when necessary, your team of providers. Sometimes you play a key role by making a few changes to your behavior or beliefs.

    Playing a Key Role Can Look Like This

    Several years ago I had a client come in with excruciating shoulder pain after doing a large home project by themselves and pushing through fatigue and pain to get it done. By the time they walked into my treatment room, they couldn’t sleep very long at a stretch, had trouble dressing themself, and couldn’t do most activities without incredible pain.

    In addition to massage, this person was also receiving chiropractic care, but it wasn’t enough.

    During each massage session, in order to assess improvement, we’d talk about what made the pain better and worse, what things they were able to do without pain, and what sorts of things they wanted to be able to do pain free.

    As we talked about these things, they finally admitted that they were still doing the same thing that caused their pain in the first place. They were starting certain home chores, would find themselves in pain partway through, and would then push through the pain to finish the chore. We talked about how that had started their whole pain process. We also talked about possible solutions; things like breaking these chores into smaller chunks, taking breaks when they noticed the pain coming back, asking family members for help when needed, and reminding themselves what happens when they push through pain.

    In between each massage session, they experimented with the solutions we’d come up with to see which ones worked and which ones didn’t. They found that using a combination of solutions worked best. Eventually, the time came that we had our last session because they were pain free. They thanked me for giving them their life back. I reminded them that I couldn’t have done it without them. If they hadn’t stepped up and played a key role in their own recovery, they’d still be in pain.

    It Can Also Look Like This

    I had another client whose village, and place on their own team, looked quite different. This person had intense nerve pain which was a side effect of treatment for a very serious illness. They were on high doses of heavy duty pain killers and were seeing their primary care doc as well as a specialist for continued monitoring.

    When they came to my office they were using acupuncuture, which had helped for a while but wasn’t helping so much anymore. Their acupuncturist referred them to me for myofascial release (MFR). The first session of MFR resulted in a huge decrease in pain. Subsequent sessions also resulted in less pain. But, as sometimes happens, success plateaued after while.

    At this point, they went to a pain clinic. They were very clear with the doctors that they didn’t want to just treat their symptoms, they wanted to treat the cause and get off the pain meds. This client ended up trying a couple pain docs to find one that shared their outlook and supported their treatment desires. They ended up having treatment designed to interrupt the pain signals and hopefully reset the nervous system. It took about 18 months, but they gradually met their goal and were able to get off all their pain meds.

    In this case, the client played a key role because they kept looking for the best providers who were also on board with their goals. In addition, they were a fierce advocate for themself and refused to believe that their pain was destined to be with them forever without exhausting all their options first.

    Your Village is Unique to You

    The most important thing to remember is that your village is unique to you. By all means consult your friends, family, and support community. Use their recommendations as a jumping off point for getting started, but remember that you are unique and your village may look a lot different than theirs. Even if you have pain in the same place.

    There is no wrong village, unless it’s not helping you.

    It’s time to ask: Who’s in your village and who might you need to add?