Want to learn more about your pain? Talk about it.

It’s been a long time since my last post, and even longer since I’ve written about my chronic pain experience. In case you missed it, you can read my basic story here. I’ve also been very fortunate to have had several recent opportunities to tell my story on a couple physical therapy based podcasts, beginning with the Duck Legs podcast (episode 8) this past spring and more recently on the Pain Reframed podcast (episodes 14 and 22). Talking about my pain experience on these podcasts turned out to be not only a wonderfully cathartic experience, but also provided some additional insight and clarity to my pain as well as some of the challenges I faced while trying to find appropriate care and during my recovery.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the more I’ve talked about my pain experience in public, the more people have reached out to me looking to gain insight into their own pain or that of a loved one. I feel much empathy and compassion for these individuals, as I understand all too well how pain can quickly become all-consuming in the search for answers and relief. Pain is a highly individualized experience, and modern pain science tells us that pain is complex with biological, psychological, and social components. And the reality is that there is rarely a simple answer or solution to pain.

When I was in chronic pain, my family and friends quickly grew tired of hearing me talk about it, and quite honestly, I didn’t really blame them. It’s difficult to listen to someone talk about his or her pain day after day. And while it’s often true that focusing or dwelling on your pain can amplify or prolong it, it is also true that the act of explaining your pain to someone else can help you learn more about your pain and provide clues as to what provokes it and what relieves it. This information has much value as it can help you identify ways to manage or control your own pain, which is often a more effective long term strategy than one that relies primarily on external sources. Further, this increased self-awareness can also be particularly useful when seeking care from medical providers who are often under scheduling constraints and only have a limited amount of time to spend helping you.

To be clear, when trying to understand something as complex as pain, I feel that the act of actually speaking the words out loud has advantages over just thinking quietly about it. The process of forming the words when speaking (or writing) forces you to think more clearly to find the right words to describe exactly what you are feeling. And by the “right” words, I don’t mean to imply that you need to use proper medical terminology. Rather, use the words that come natural to you. For example, what movements or positions seem to make your pain worse? What activities are you having trouble accomplishing and why? What relieves your pain? Take the time to talk through and explore these questions and possible solutions, and speak them out loud or write them down. What did you learn about yourself and your pain? Take that information and make a change! Mindfulness is key (and the topic of an upcoming post)!

Hopefully, you have a close friend or family member who is willing listen to you, but if not, don’t be afraid to talk out loud to yourself! (Of course, you may want to do this in the privacy of your own home, or risk looking a bit odd in public.) I’m completely serious though…speak the words out loud. I think you will be surprised at how challenging it can be at first, but how valuable it is the long run in helping you to clarify your thoughts and emotions as well as aid in the identification of various recovery strategies.

Over the next few weeks and months, I plan to write more about my own recovery strategies, as tell you about my first triathlon. Yes, you read that correctly. I did a triathlon this summer as a celebration of my recovery from chronic pain. Woohoo! Stay tuned….

Thanks for reading,