There’s a reason we have an opioid epidemic. Humans don’t like to feel pain and our society has told us we shouldn’t feel pain. Physical or emotional. Emotional is usually what I focus on, but since physical pain is inextricably linked to emotional pain, it’s important to understand how mindfulness can help ease physical pain too.
Now I don’t blame anyone for wanting a quick fix. Especially those who suffer from chronic pain. Some relief to that suffering can be very helpful. If you can’t even function there’s no way to heal.
I also can’t relate to what those with chronic pain go through. I’ve been very, very, very (I could add a few thousand more verys, but you already probably get the picture of my gratitude.) lucky that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of physical pain in my lifetime. There was a nasty bicycle accident when I was 9 years old. After having mastered riding with no hands AND no feet, I thought I should up my game by doing that down a hill also with my eyes closed. I thoroughly understood the concepts of gravity and our balance system after that.
There were also some minor sports injuries. Until there was a major one needing surgery. And that’s about it until a few weeks ago. Since the unfortunate second bicycle accident of my life, my knee (Which is what I’d had surgery on a few years ago.) hasn’t felt the greatest and over the weekend I developed some lower back and hip pain that I think is related. This has left me currently walking a bit funny. Maybe a lot of bit funny. No matter how much yoga and stretching I do.
My initial reaction (And one I find myself coming back to when I’m not being mindful.) is one of anger, fear, and feeling sorry for myself. I want to fight the stupid dude who hit me with his bike. I’m upset that I can’t finish training for and compete in the half marathon I was training for at the time of the accident. I’m afraid there’s more serious damage to my knee and might have to have surgery again.
But here I am. Without a time machine. And feeling sorry for myself or angry isn’t going to change what’s already happened or heal me. So reluctantly I’m feeling my emotions and the physical pain. I don’t know which is worse, but I do know I need to be present in order to know what to do next to facilitate healing.
As much as pain sucks, it’s also vital. It gives us important information. It’s a signal to let us know something isn’t right. In this case, my body is injured. I don’t know to exactly what extent because I haven’t yet been to a doctor. I’m still hoping it’ll simply heal with time and rest without having to go through a medical system that in my past experience is at best slow and at worst negligent.
Most of the advice I’ve gotten from doctors for sports injuries has been to rest it until it feels better. Then slowly become more physical. I don’t think I need to pay for anymore of that advice. So for the time being I’m dedicating myself to being mindful of my injury and pain.
This involves actually feeling the pain. The dull ache in my knee that becomes sharper if I touch it or accidentally whack it on a stool at a bar. The stiffness, throbbing, and slight spasming at times in my lower back and hips. I simply notice it and allow myself to feel it. It’s difficult. When the pain is too great, I notice my tendency to tighten up. It seems to help the pain for a moment, but I know it actually makes it worse so I try to breathe and relax into it. Simply allowing it to be when really all I want is for it to go away so I can get back to life.
I’m not taking any pain pills (Other than Naproxen when swelling occurs.). They aren’t really my thing and I also think it’s important to feel the pain. Mindfully feeling the physical sensations allows me to more naturally know what I need to do to take care of my body. When to rest it, when to stretch it, when to try a bit more intense exercise, when to back off from that (Aka when my back started spasming.), when to ice it, when to take a bath, when to put Arnica on it, when to take the Naproxen. Perhaps eventually when to go to the doctor if it doesn’t seem to be healing.
There’s also this weird moment when you fully feel your pain, that the pain actually disappears and all you experience is a pulsating sensation. I haven’t yet figured out how to make that last, but it’s reassuring to know it exists from time to time.
As tempting as it is to simply numb pain with pills (or alcohol or other substance of choice), if I were to do that and continue on with life as usual, I’d create further injury without dealing with the source of the problem.
Mindfulness also reinforces the knowledge that I can continue to function with pain. Life doesn’t stop, it doesn’t end. Life isn’t always going to be comfortable. And if there isn’t something I can do to make the pain go away immediately and stay away permanently, I have no choice but to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Again, this isn’t fun. It isn’t easy. For me or for anyone else. I’m not sharing this to prosthelytize to chronic pain sufferers (Or any pain sufferers.) that I have the cure-all to pain. There’s so much I don’t know about pain. There’s so much no one knows about pain.
But mindfulness does help. And it isn’t just me saying that. There’s growing research to support how helpful mindfulness can be for the treatment of pain.
It makes sense because often with chronic pain, we either don’t know the actual cause or there isn’t yet a treatment that directly addresses the cause. This means people with chronic pain have to figure out a way to live with it until there’s more information and mindfulness helps with this.
Of course, I wish you all a pain free life, but since that isn’t even remotely realistic, this is all I’ve got for now.