Last updated 2022-12-02
Last edited 2022-12-03
Drugs can’t do it all when treating chronic pain. And should they, even? For my own pain, I took a leap of faith, going virtually drug-free. And here to tell you what worked for me— how I beat living with chronic pain.
Spoiler alert: the two biggest steps I took that helped were my plant-rich anti-inflammatory diet and the Feldenkrais Method of movement therapy.
But finding what worked for me was quite the journey. My story follows.
But first, my takes on pain drugs.
My integrative take on pain drugs
Don’t get me wrong— pain drugs can be lifesavers at times. After surgery, for example. And you can name others.
For my recent elbow surgery I was given a small bottle of narcotic pain pills. And took them every six hours as prescribed. But after a few days I stopped. And switched to natural home remedies, improving day by day and continuing throughout my physical therapy. I dropped off my remaining pills at a pharmacy for safe disposal.
And, as with many types of drugs, some pain drugs can cause side effects. It’s one thing to experience dizzyness, drowsiness or nausea. But potential systemic effects are on a whole other level. For example, this immune-related link I stumbled on.
People living with pain are often prescribed one or more [pain] medications. Unfortunately, many of these medications work by modifying the immune response critical for fighting acute infections and have an influence on the persistence of pain.Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, CNS, Founder of the Integrative Pain Science Institute 2020
Meanwhile, in the wake of the opioid crisis, debates continue about under-prescribing and over-prescribing. This crisis is too close to home, hitting my family too.
My heart and prayers for everyone impacted, along with their families, as they navigate these challenges. May more of those impacted get the right guidance, enabling them to make informed decisions. And peer-based prevention education.
How I Escaped Living with Chronic Pain— Virtually Drug-free
For a time in mid-life I lived with chronic pain. But thanks to my own research, trial and error— and getting key help along the way— I escaped, drug-free.
Now, heading into my late 60s, I’m here to tell my story. In present tense, roughly in chronological order.
My life-long mindset
My life goal, starting In my 20s, is to live to 100, healthy and fit. If I get there I’ll try for another five. My inspiration comes from my mom and my big sister, whom strived to maintain whole food diets. And were big on staying active.
I take up whole food cooking. And start running regularly with a neighbor.
Pain is nowhere in the picture. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Back pain and sciatica. Next it’s my ankle
Fast forward to my mid-thirties. I’ve come down with low back pain, after moving an impossibly heavy sofa for a client. Sciatica shortly follows.
Though not constant, sharp pain is recurring one time too many. If that defines chronic pain, I’ve got it.
Next it’s my ankle. While running I hit a pothole, my ankle twisting under me. It never sets quite right. Back to my ankle later– for now I’ll tell you more about beating my back pain.
Escaping chronic back pain, drug-free
Taking a big leap of faith
When living with chronic pain, going drug-free takes some faith. But then again, so does the alternative. With no guarantees either way.
Yes, I’m thinking positive. As in, “This pain’s just passing through town on its way out”. If I’m deluding myself, at least going drug-free won’t hurt to try, no pun intended.
So I take the drug-free leap. What’s to lose?
After a ton of research, trial and error, I’m pain-free! Following are the main steps I take, starting with my first.
Reaching out to a friend who gets it
A close friend once had chronic neck pain. Now she holds my hand on the phone, deep into the night. In no time, we’re brainstorming drug-free approaches to chronic pain. I’m forever grateful.
Working on my feet through it all
Meanwhile I have a physically-demanding job— my least-toxic cleaning service, an earlier version of my healthy home services. How will I navigate?
My clients, mostly with allergies and asthma, say they’ll wait for me. That no one else is offering the kind of support they need.
Taking a leap, I’m back on the job. Even before my back feels ready.
Yes I’m hurting. But my pain’s not worsening!
Clients remain patient as I gingerly limp around on the job. A long-timer offers me her own bed as needed—bringing me heating pads. Then gives me bonuses for few missed days.
I’m stunned, and deeply grateful. They’re all pulling me through.
Some health experts say you don’t want to stay in bed for most back pain, anyway. Because the back needs to move. But I don’t know this at the time. I’m just “inching through the fog”.
Trying pain pills— for a day
My doctor prescribes ibuprofen. This way you prevent a pain cycle right off the bat, she says. So you’re less likely to find yourself living with chronic pain.
I try ibuprofen for a day, with no real relief. Plus, what are the potential side effects? And what about acetaminophen? Check out Healthline’s quick-view comparison.
Anyway, I’d rather address any root causes of my pain. So I aside the pills to try drug-free approaches, with hopefully lasting results.
Trying ice and heat
Yes I do try ice, to bring down swelling. However, years later, ice comes into question, possibly interfering with natural anti-inflammatory processes. But don’t quote me on that!
After 3 days of ice, I apply heat to increase circulation. Easing my movements a bit.
Digging for root causes
OK, moving that impossibly-heavy sofa was a trigger for my back pain. But correlation is not causation necessarily.
So I turn to movement, then diet.
Getting Chiropractors’ movement advice
I see three different Chiropractors— purely for self-help movement advice.
I get helpful stretches, and told to keep my shoulders down— tips that help me to this day. [A few years later I learn two leading movement therapies— to read about them scroll down to “Escaping chronic ankle pain— again, drug-free” sub-heading on this same page.]
I’m urged to get adjustments too. But after two of these I’m feeling no lasting difference. More adjustments may indeed help. Still, I prefer trying a self-help approach first.
So I turn my focus to my diet.
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, getting massive results
My diet alone is making a major difference. Following is how it unfolds for me.
My Primary Care Physician had once prescribed turmeric for me, an anti-inflammatory herb. Now we try it again. Turmeric seems to help my pain somewhat— enough to inspire me to take diet further.
After extensive science-based research I adopt an entirely anti-inflammatory diet— my own primarily plant-based version.
The switch is easy enough in my case. In my mid-twenties I’d already adopted a whole food diet, central to this new diet. So it only takes a few tweaks— swapping a few foods, plus adding “superfoods” and other whole food supplements. And shrinking my intake of sugar and other highly-processed foods by 99%.
Next I learn how to really cook— thanks to my sweetie Mike who teaches me. Bless that man! His diet is basically Mediterranean. Well, his Italian mom and grandma taught him as a kid. Always have good cooks in your life. 🙂
I can’t say it enough— of everything helping me escape living with chronic pain— drug-free—diet is number one. Plus movement and strength training, which I’ll talk about next.
Movement and strength— retraining body and brain
I’m learning better body mechanics. And practicing constantly.
My demanding physical work is transforming from mechanical to a fluid dance. With ripples throughout my entire life.Regina
Core strengthening supports my spine. Simple crunches, back lifts and stretches work for me. Sure, I attend a Pilates class— but continuing would take more time than I have. Maybe I’ll take it up again in the future.
Weight training builds my bones, and supports my joints including my spine. Helps my sciatica, too!
More mindset— prayers and visualizations
Prayers seem to help. Promising God I’ll continue taking good care, doing my own little part.
Sending colorful pleasure signals to my back helps too. Retraining my brain signals— my take as a non-expert.
Sitting less time
Yep— sitting 10 hours on my “days off”— writing about cleaning for health— I learn is part of the problem. Experts call this spine compression, one of the worst things things you can do to your back.
By the way, I’d operated my own cleaning service an entire decade before my pain started. But cleaning never hurt my back when I’ve known how to move. Nope— too much sitting is a big culprit for anyone.
Big ankle injury, not setting right. Again, escaping drug-free
While running I hit a pothole, my ankle twisting under me. Following are the steps I take to beat chronic pain— drug-free.
Getting the boot
An urgent care doctor stabilizes my ankle with a boot— awesome.
But somehow my ankle not setting quite right, as a P.T. notices a year or so later. Not uncommon, she says. But is that a problem? No one seems to have the answer.
Resting, icing, compressing, elevating (RICE)
The same urgent care doctor shows me R.I.C.E, which reduces swelling by reducing circulation. This gold standard is questioned years later in favor of allowing more circulation.
My next doctor prescribes Naproxin. But common side effects include “dizziness” and “difficulty breathing”.
Naproxin may help many sufferers. But I need to be high functioning. Physically-demanding work might be easier done with pain, maybe, than with potential symptoms like that. But that’s just me, I’m guessing.
As with ibuprophen, I set aside the Naproxin. And continue my journey, searching for a drug-free approach. Limping through my work for now.
Trying a pain clinic— but told “you’re not in enough pain”
Some pain clinics are increasingly offering drug-free approaches, even beyond physical therapy.
But here’s the thing. Some pain clinics may not offer drug-free approaches unless you know what to ask for specifically— if they even have the right practitioners on staff.
I’m excited to find a pain clinic teaching classes in the Feldenkrais Method of movement therapy. But the clinic declines me, claiming I’m not in enough pain.
So I have him watch my walking I need help with, that’s affecting my other joints. I figure that a key point of movement therapies, is to prevent further injuries. Right?
Rather than appealing the clinic’s decision or resorting to pain pills, I research non-invasive treatments and DIY approaches.
I’m on my own. For results, read on.
I don’t really understand acupuncture. But figure it won’t hurt to try!
Karena Goldfinger to the rescue, a leading acupuncturist. A mutual aquaintance in the health food industry had introduced us years before. Now I reach out to her for my ankle pain— what’s to lose?
Karena takes more time with her patients than most, delving into all possible causes and contributing factors. And offers practical tips accordingly, including about diet, shoes, movement therapies and more.
Wow— acupuncture increases circulation in my ankle— a lot. Gaining me time to try other approaches too. Plus, when my joint pain starts up again, acupuncture clears it up fast.
Karena helps patients with allergies and asthma too, by the way. Love that holistic approach!
Getting instant relief with hydrotherapy wraps
No kidding— these wraps are phenomenal for my ankle pain. And drug-free!
The wraps work by reducing swelling and increasing circulation, both key in healing. I apply my wraps at home several times a day, per my R.P.T’s instructions.
Retraining my brain with movement therapies
The same movements that helped my back, that I write about above, are helping my ankle now. Namely, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais.
As I delve deeper into these methods, I realize I’m retraining my brain. From living in chronic pain to functioning— drug-free.
Stepping up my anti-inflammatory diet
Yep, my anti-inflammatory diet, that helped earlier with my back, is rescuing me again.
This time I dive deeper, fine-tuning my foods, “super-foods” and whole-food supplements.
My journey continues
Heading into my late 60s I’ve long been virtually pain free.
I’m still drug-free too, for pain purposes at least. Again, drugs can be life savers for some conditions under proper care.
On rare occasions my pain symptoms start in again. But no worries— every time, I’m able to trace my pain back to likely causes or triggers. For example, occasionally sneaking in inflammatory foods like sunflower or safflower oil. Or sitting too long at the keyboard.
Making adjustments on the spot helps me stay pain free. And drug-free.
Lifestyle change— ultimately at the core
Escaping chronic pain, drug-free, can take major time and effort. With no guarantees. But for me, completely worth the investment.
By treating all fronts, I’ve been virtually pain free since.
Fingers crossed, as nothing in life is guaranteed. 🙂
Living with chronic pain? Get the right help
Are you living with chronic pain? Tried drug-free approaches? What’s helping, and what’s not? Sharing your experience just might help others.