I am a lawyer in my late 20s who has had chronic pain in various parts of my body (back, hips and neck) for the last 5 years. The pain started after I underwent major back surgery to correct my curved spine (scoliosis) 5 years ago.
The surgery technically went well. My spine is now straight and the five lower vertebrae fused well. However since the surgery, pain has moved around my body in varying levels of intensity.
At times the pain became debilitating. I would only just manage to get through each work day, by taking painkillers, lying down rest breaks, and collapsing into a bath or bed as soon as I got home. Socialising and outside-work activities became impossible due to the pain.
I tried everything to get rid of my pain – painkillers, physiotherapy, pilates, hydrotherapy, osteopathy, remedial massage and psychology. Nothing seemed to help long-term.I struggled to understand why I was in pain when there was no discernible physical cause for it. Although the pain was very real to me, I felt like the pain was “all in my head”.
I then developed anxiety. The anxiety made the pain worse. My pain made by anxiety worse. I felt like I was trapped in a viscous cycle.
I then discovered neuroplasticity. In a nutshell, the brain’s neurotransmitters can learn patterns such that pathways to pain can be memorised and triggered, even when there is no physical need for your body to feel pain. So my brain’s neurotransmitters were just hyper-excited and overactive, which makes me feel pain when there is no need. Understanding this really helped me to understand what I needed to do to overcome my pain.
To rewire my brain, I have found a number of techniques helpful, including:
- Feldenkrais physiotherapy (to teach the body to move in new, “unlearned” ways)
- Managing my anxiety through breath and yoga
- Investing in a “Spire” device which measures your respiratory rate and buzzes to remind you to take deep breaths – this has been key in helping me identify
my anxiety triggers before the anxiety starts (eg. social media which causes my Spire to vibrate like crazy!)
- Yin Yoga
- Self-love, eg. long hot baths with Epsom salts, lavender oil, candles and classical music or binaural beats.
The process takes time and requires commitment, and I have still have good and bad days. But as soon as you can increase the number of minutes per day when you are not in pain through these practices, I can assure you that the time investment is worth it.