How Do You Manage MS-Related Pain?
Many people with MS suffer from some sort of pain; complaints vary about the type of pain they experience. According to one study from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website, “55 percent of people with MS had ‘clinically significant pain’ at some time. Almost half (48 percent) were troubled by chronic pain.” Since everyone experiences MS differently, everyone’s pain is different as well. Some experience a brief, stabbing pain (L'Hermitte’s Sign), some a pain in the face (Trigeminal Neuralgia) and some a burning, aching or “girdle-like” pain known as dyesthesias. There is also chronic pain with a “pins and needle” type feeling, the pain of spasticity and back and musculoskeletal pain. Pain can be frightening and mustn’t be ignored but be addressed (if possible) calmly while finding solutions to managing it.
I recently read an article in the MS Foundation’s publication, MS Focus, entitled “More Than Meds: The Power Over Pain is in Your Hands – Mind Skills and a Self-Management Approach Help Stop the Hurting.” This article outlines a self-help approach for those people taking pain medications that are not achieving desired results. It outlines how pain is an extremely complex and difficult issue to fully comprehend, yet it has been clearly shown that there are effective non-pharmacological ways to approach pain that have been helpful to many people. I highly suggest you read this article if you experience pain and would like to learn more about alternative ways to deal with it. (You may find information about MS Focus here). Here are some suggestions by Dr. Ehde:
Self-Management: You can take more control of managing your pain by performing daily tasks that you, the expert of your own pain, can do. One of these is tracking your pain by self-monitoring it: what actions or feelings or stressors have you had, what have you been thinking about, etc. Try to keep a pain journal to track your pain at different times of day; this may help in finding a common denominator of what triggers your pain. You may find an online pain log atAmerican Chronic Pain Association or make design your own. Use your own scale of how difficult the pain is from 0 – 10. Make this log your own and use it to better understand your pain. Then you can set goals for yourself of how to better manage your pain and what activities you’d like to do. Make your goals small ones so they are more manageable. I know I tire easily after doing errands in the afternoon so I try to perform my errands in the morning. Small steps can help you better manage your day and your pain.
Relaxation Skills These skills can lower blood pressure and decrease tension in your body. Some methods are deep breathing, imagination, tensing and releasing certain muscle groups, self-hypnosis, mindfulness, positive self-talk and cognitive behavioral therapy (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones).
Staying Active Too much rest can actually increase pain. Whatever exercise you are able to do, whether it be walking, aerobic fitness, stretching or yoga, exercise can be helpful in managing pain. (Adapted exercises can be found online at www.ncpad.org) As always, talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Dr. Ehde explains that pain is best managed by using more than one of these strategies, yet you may find that a certain strategy is not for you. After you explore different strategies and find what works for you, stick with it and then practice, practice, practice. Be prepared for flare-ups by creating your own plan on what you will do if you experience pain.
So my Question of the Week is: What type of pain do you experience and how do you manage it? Let’s swap stories and learn from each other.
Ehde, Dawn, Ph.D. (Spring 2012). More Than Meds: The Power Over Pain is in Your Hands – Mind Skills and a Self-Management Approach Help Stop the Hurting. MS Focus, Vol. 14, Issue 2, Spring 2012, page 8.
Cathy Chester is the author of the blog An Empowered Spirit.