How I live with Chronic Pain and Cervical Dystonia – Part 3

By Leah Dwyer

This is part 3 of the story. If you are yet to read part 1 and 2 you can find them here: How I live with Chronic Pain and Cervical Dystonia -part 1  and How I live with Chronic Pain and Cervical Dystonia – part 2

Chronic pain has been my life for 9 years. During those 9 years I spent a lot of time, money and hope on various ways to dull the pain. Learning about pain has been one the most important things I’ve done to modulate my pain. Helping others by spreading that knowledge has been my goal since becoming a massage therapist. I’ve never hesitated to honestly describe the good, the bad and the ugly of chronic pain.

I was recently interviewed by The Age and Channels 7, 10 and the ABC regarding the up-scheduling of codeine on February 1 in Australia and my personal chronic pain experience. I have tried many things to manage my pain and codeine was one of those things.
For me, codeine seemed to be effective for a long time and then it became very ineffective. I needed more and more to just knock the top off of my pain. Codeine was originally formulated for acute pain not chronic pain but unfortunately over the years it became a staple of most medicine cabinets. Acute pain is defined as pain lasting between a few moments to 3-6 months. Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than six months.

I’m sure you’ve all felt acute pain when you’ve stepped on a Lego piece or even broken a bone. As horrible as it is, pain is a crucial human survival system.
Think of your Neanderthal cousin Grog. Grog has caught a rabbit and has thrown it into the fire. The first time Grog tried to get the meat out, he stuck his hand in and immediately withdrew it. “Aaaargh! Grog hand feel terrible! Grog get stick to drag hairy tasty thing out”.
Imagine if Grog didn’t feel pain. His hand would have burnt, the burn would have become infected, it may have healed but it may not have; Grog didn’t have running water and soap! The worst case scenario is that his hand would have become infected and he may have died. Pain in Grog’s case protected him from possible death. Acute pain taught the early humans very valuable survival lessons. Acute pain is your brain’s way of protecting you, teaching you a lesson or immobilising you to allow your body time to heal. So what’s the deal with chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 3 months. There are many reasons why pain may last long after tissue normally repairs; chronic conditions such as Dystonia, cancer, an overactive nervous system and various other possible reasons. The International Association of the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.

Let’s stop right there…Unpleasant! Whoa! Persistent pain is a heck of a lot more than “unpleasant”. It affects all aspects of your life. It is not just an aching back or neck. It is truly a biopsychosocial experience. It can affect your family, career, finances, your mental health and your standing in the wider community. People with chronic pain can often feel helpless, confused, angry, depressed, rejected, isolated, and desperate.

If you’ve ever thought that your pain felt like a never ending disease then you were correct. Chronic pain experts are currently researching whether chronic pain is a disease in its own right. So is this a disease that can be treated and cured?

Chronic pain is very difficult to treat but it can be done. Aaaahhh. Here we go, a little bit of hope…
One of the things I’m acutely aware of is that chronic pain costs people a lot of money, time and hope. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, wasted years worrying about absolutely everything and plumbed the very depths of that little well of hope inside me. Hope is one of our greatest human strengths. Give someone hope and they can get through almost anything. Hope for me came in the way of knowledge, intelligent practitioners and a good pain killer.

Knowledge can be a powerful analgesic. There are some things we don’t know about pain but there is a lot that we do know. These are some of the first facts I learned about pain:

1) All pain is 100% real regardless of the cause.
2) Pain is an output of the brain and it is felt in your body.
3) The brain can produce pain when there is damage, no damage, or even no limb (phantom limb pain)!

I’m passionate about learning everything I can about pain. I recently attended a two week pain management workshop at Royal North Shore Hospital given by some of the best pain specialists in the world. Specialists in all areas of pain spoke about everything from the psychology and sociology of pain to the neuro-immunology of pain. I learned a lot about pain but more importantly I learned that there are a lot of intelligent passionate people researching and working with chronic pain sufferers. There is a lot of help out there in the form of books, programs, websites and courses. You are not alone!

And here’s where you come in! I am passionate about explaining pain to people especially chronic pain. As a former English teacher, IT project manager and all round science nerd, I have a wealth of information in my noggin. I have lived with chronic pain for 9 years and I can honestly say that knowledge has been my saviour. Know pain, know gain.
Tell me your pain story and I will do my utmost to help you understand your pain from a body and brain perspective and why it may be persisting. I give a deeply relaxing massage using long, slow, firm but not painful strokes in order to calm your nervous system and brain. A calm brain and nervous system often produces less pain. I don’t cause pain for the simple reason that when your brain begins to produce pain it means that it sees me as a threat. Once your brain decides I’m a threat it will begin to contract your muscles in order to defend you. This is out of your control, so if you are lying there gritting your teeth and weeping inside, the Grog brain does not care what you think, it will defend you. I’d like to remain friends with your brain and you! The brain has a very old area called the brain stem which acts completely on instinct, I call it the Grog brain after our common hairy cousin with a taste for wabbits!

I’m available Tuesday 2-9, Wednesday 2-9, Thursday 8-2, Friday 8am-8pm and Saturday 2-8.
My next post will focus on the latest evidence of how massage works and why. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you soon and although I can’t feel your pain, I do understand it and empathise greatly. 🍁

More to come…

You can learn more about Leah’s Remedial Massage services on her Remedial Massage page here.

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