Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Struggle with Chronic Pain

In November of 2011, my husband and I were in a bad car accident that resulted in a broken tibia for me and a concussion and some bruised ribs for him. The Lord was certainly with us for it could have been so much worse.

 I decided (despite pressure from the orthopedic surgeon) not to have surgery and just let it heal on its own. BEST DECISION I EVER MADE. Although it was a long process and grueling at times spending 8 weeks in a full-height leg cast then 2-3 months after that in a leg brace, not only did it heal beautifully but now I don't have to worry about any pins and screws in my bones. Have not had any issues with it since it was declared fully healed on the x-ray. I could devote an entire post to this actually--the way I shocked the clinic staff instead of going the surgery route (which they claimed would help me be up and walking much faster). The healing process for a broken leg was a very stressful time for me, and sometime around the 4-month mark I developed some TMJ (or tmjd) and orofacial pain issues.

It could very well be that is was accident related, but I'm not sure I will ever know for sure. It affected the muscles in my jaw, mouth, face and head, down my neck and into my shoulders. It was like a constant tightness and aching and an inability to let the muscles relax, that eventually caused a lot of pain in the area. Soon, the stress of the tmjd pain was worse than the worrying over the healing of my broken leg. The stress-pain-stress cycle had begun and I was desperate for a way to break it.

I saw several different doctors, physical therapists, and other specialists and tried many different therapies. I took medication, did physical therapy, tried acupuncture and massage, cranio-sacral therapy, a night guard, adjustments to my bite, chiropractics, dry needling--you name it.

Nothing fixed the problem overnight, but over the years, my tmjd pain has very gradually become more manageable and less bothersome. (Thank you, Jesus!) I can say now that I have days, and even weeks, where the pain doesn't bother me at all and I don't have to use any pain management tactics (such as guaze pads to separate the jaw just a tad, essential oils, or cold/heat therapies). Even more recently my pain has reduced so much that most of the time it is gone. This could also be that now that I have children, they keep me so busy on my feet that I have less time to think about my tmjd pain, which I think has helped it to heal on its own somehow.

So what made the difference? Below I will share with you some things that I feel helped me the most.

1. Reducing my stress level as much as possible. This, for me, meant reassurance from doctors that it was not something serious as well as simply relaxing at the end of the day with a hot bath. It might have meant canceling some travel plans. It also involved medication prescribed for me by my orofacial pain doctor that helps subdue the nervous system to get it under control so that then the muscles can heal from other therapies and not be in a hyper vigilant state all the time.

2. Distraction from the pain. This is huge. Working outdoors on my homestead helped so much with this -- anything physical that involved working with my hands and focused mental concentration was a great distraction.

3. Exercise and physical activity. I cannot emphasize this enough! Exercise is critical to balancing the stress hormones in your body and sometimes during really rough months I can remember my body pump class may have been the only pain-free moment I had experienced all day. Gardening was also a fantastic way for me to get exercise and be outdoors which always helped my pain. Gardening is incredibly therapeutic, and I would argue helps a whole lot more than you may think in recovering from a traumatic injury.

4. Yoga. For me yoga has been wonderful in keeping my muscles stretched and it simply feels so good when I'm having a painful day. It also helps to reduce stress with the breathing techniques. My teacher does a slower-paced deep stretch type of class that lasts about an hour and twenty minutes, which I think is especially beneficial for my condition. It's not strenuous, but relaxing.

5. Hot and cold therapies and if necessary, a muscle relaxer. A heating pad, a hot bath, or sometimes cold packs applies to the jaw and face are helpful in times of acute pain. And occasionally, I might have to take a muscle relaxer. Some people may also find an anti-anxiety type of medication to be a more effective rescue medication for their pain. There used to be times when I was suffering in years past when that was the only thing that gave me relief.

6. Diet. I definitely feel better when I follow a gluten-free diet that is also well-balanced whole/traditional foods with plenty of vegetables, fruits, sources of protein, and low in sugar. My new primary care doctor, an osteopath, who also specializes in pain management, wanted me to try the autoimmune diet but I simply cannot go that far just yet. Right now, I think going gluten-free is enough really makes a big difference. I definitely have times when I cheat but I'm hoping to sick to a low-gluten diet in the future.

In a way for me the key was "less is more." I had times when I ended up more inflamed and flared up after receiving some sort of medical treatment versus when I had just let the muscles rest for a while without any prodding.

Try not to dwell on your pain or condition. And above all, don't spend too much time googling what's wrong because you will just end up scaring yourself and worrying more!


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