Last updated 2020-09-05
Drugs can’t always do it all when treating chronic pain. 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.
My own story
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, in rough chronological order.
My early health and fitness goals
In my 20s— in the late ’70s— I’m catching the health and fitness bug from my mom and big sister. For me that means a mostly organic whole food diet. And taking up running with a neighbor.
My life goal is now to live to 105, healthy and fit. If I get there I’ll try for another five. Pain is nowhere in the picture.
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.
My drug-free 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?
Escaping chronic back pain, drug-free
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. In no time, we’re brainstorming drug-free approaches to chronic pain.
Continuing my physical work— in pain for now
Meanwhile I have a physically-demanding job— my least-toxic cleaning service, an earlier version of my healthy home service. 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. So I set aside the pills to try other approaches. Here’s what I learn only years later.
While medication and other treatments may help, it’s often not enough to control all of the symptoms and give your life back.Very Well Health, 2019
Update 2020-09-05— a coronavirus note
Now that coronavirus is in the picture, prescribing physicians are taking immune function into consideration.
People living with pain are often prescribed one or more 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.Pain expert Joe Tatta, 2020
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.
Looking 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.
Seeing massive progress on an anti-inflammatory diet
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 much research I adopt an entirely anti-inflammatory diet— my own primarily plant-based version.
This diet alone makes a bigger difference than anything I’ve tried before or since.
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. Bless that man! 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 that helps me escape living with chronic pain— drug-free— diet seems number one.
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!
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, or something to that effect.
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.
Escaping chronic ankle pain— again, 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.
Turning down a strong anti-inflammatory drug
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 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.
I don’t “get” acupuncture at all. But figure it won’t hurt.
Just by chance I know a leading acupuncturist helping my clients with their allergies and asthma. So I try her for my ankle pain— what’s to lose?
This acupuncturist 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 seems to increase circulation in my ankle— a lot. Gaining me time to try other approaches too.
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
What makes the biggest difference, for my ankle pain, is my anti-inflammatory diet that helped earlier with my back.
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 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 so can most other approaches.
Living with chronic pain? Get the proper help
No matter what I say, work with your health care practitioner. If one approach isn’t working, ask about others to try.
Plus, new science is always emerging— often worth taking a look at. On that note be sure to check out Joe Tatta, the pioneering best-selling author, Physical Therapist, Nutritionist and Pain Educator. I’m totally impressed.
Are you living with chronic pain? Tried drug-free approaches? What’s helping, and what’s not? Sharing your experience just might help others.
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