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Are You Making Your Pain Worse? I Am…

Welcome to a new feature on the blog: Conversations with My Pain Doctor. I thought of doing this column for you because my pain doctor has some really interesting insights. After all, every day he sees many pain patients who are at different parts of their journeys, each struggling in their own way to live their best life despite their pain.

The other day, as we were finishing up my appointment, I was curious, and asked him:

“If there was ONE thing you see your patients doing over and over that stops their progress and ultimately makes them feel worse…what would it be?”

He didn’t miss a beat, and quickly said, “They don’t have a prevention focus.”

Honestly, my first response to that answer was…”That’s such a boring doctor answer, of course you would say that!!” But instead of stopping there, I asked him to elaborate. He’s definitely not a boring doctor, so I knew there had to be something else behind what he was saying.

He explained to me that many of his patients continue to do things, over and over, that cause them MORE pain. He told me a story of one back pain patient who decided to climb a ladder, get on his roof, and repair some shingles….only to fall down and really hurt himself. Another patient lifted something heavy without getting help and using a back brace, only to find himself in excruciating pain the next day.

It made me think about the Einstein quote….”the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”

Then he said, “They also don’t take care of themselves. They don’t put priority on uncompromising, this is how it will be, NO MATTER WHAT self-care.”

We hear this word thrown around a lot these days – “self-care.”

So I thought about that – what does “self-care” actually mean in the context of jaw pain?

For me, self-care means:

  • Leaving the room when the vacuum is on – it really hurts my ears (a side effect from surgery, I guess)
  • Going to bed at a decent hour, and taking the dog out before bed so she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night (it’s hard for me to get back to sleep).
  • Eating breakfast (if I don’t, I get headaches and my pain increases)
  • Doing yoga regularly (the benefits of this could be their own blog post…)
  • Saying No when I need rest (and then giving myself that rest without beating myself up)
  • Using my time productively so when I am relaxing, I can actually relax
  • Reading, watching a movie, or doing something else fun

And to be completely honest, I’m still learning what self-care means for me. As one of my wise friends said the other day, “This is something you’ll continue to learn throughout your life – it’s not like one day you’ll just get it and never deal with it again.”

Taking care of yourself isn’t a wimpy, weak thing to do. Quite the opposite actually. By taking the time to take care of you, you send a powerful signal to yourself (that you are committed to doing what it takes to feel better!) and those around you. People are much more respectful of your boundaries when you stick with them.

After my doctor told me a couple more stories, we talked about the concrete stuff.

What could patients do to “have a prevention focus” and ultimately, less pain?

1. Start by being really honest with yourself – what causes you more pain? What do you do even though you KNOW it isn’t good for your pain?  (See below for help with this)

2. Try not to beat yourself up about it…just make a decision to do better. Make a commitment to yourself that next time you will make a choice that enables you to feel better (not worse).

3. Continue to ruthlessly eliminate the things in your life that make you feel worse, one by one, choosing to make a new decision and create a new habit.

This conversation really made me evaluate…..What am I doing to sabotage my own health? What am I doing to make myself feel worse?




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