In this article I’m going to be answering a very common question that I receive from my patients:

“How do I cope and live with daily, chronic pain? Is it possible to live a life that I enjoy?”

The short answer is yes, it is possible, but it does take some time and reflection to figure out what that looks like. 

I want to thank one of my email subscribers, Stu, for sending these questions over to me. If you have any specific questions you’d like me to answer in a post like this, please send them to nathan@kadalystpt.com

Living with pain

The Problem

“I’m struggling with continuing on like this… I don’t know how much more I can take!” This is a common statement that I hear with my clients and for good reason. 

Chronic, unrelenting pain can be absolutely debilitating. It can bring you to your knees, keep you in bed, and completely sap your energy levels. 

Slowly, it can start to take away things that you value in life. Your career, your relationships, your confidence. 

Much of this is preventable, not the pain per-se, but the severity of impact on your life. 

The Solution

  • Ensure you’ve ruled out red flags. This is important because we definitely don’t want to miss something more sinister. Given, many chronic pain conditions do in fact not have a sinister causative factor, it’s still important to make sure not to miss this. 

  • Work with a professional that can help you find a way of living that is enjoyable to you. 
    • An exercise routine that doesn’t flare symptoms up but makes you feel good. This can take several months to find a program that works for you, so, stay the course and give it time. 
    • A self-care routine that allows you to have some grace with yourself. Often times there is grief and loss as you’re unable to do the things at the same capacity as you used to. 

  • Try to get back to your normal activities as soon as you can even if you have some pain.
    • If it’s been ruled out that it is something more sinister, then getting back to your normal activities that you enjoy is a great way to continue living. 
    • This is hard, because it is a bit of a mental reframe. Instead of doing an activity pain-free, setting the expectation and acceptance that there may be some discomfort with the activity. This should be tolerable levels of discomfort though.

  • If symptoms have been ongoing for several months, you’ve undergone a solid rehab plan, and still, symptoms are worsening, it may be time to go back to your doctor, obtain some imaging, and see if there is something going on that’s more medically involved. 

In conclusion

I think the hardest part for most people from what i’ve seen, particularly if this is a fairly new occurrence, ~ 1 year or less, is that there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

The mental hack around this is to accept that it may never end and you’ll have to learn to be okay with that. 

This level of acceptance is different from “giving up,” I like to think of it more as, “letting go,” as we often don’t have much control over the outcome other than the inputs that we put in. 

My chronic pain story (brief)

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT easy. Accepting that you may always have pain seems like it’s giving up, which for most people, is not acceptable. When my clients accept that they will have some amount of pain, that’s it’s not an enemy to be fought, but something to befriend, usually something magical happens; the pain lessens. 

EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT.

I’ve had chronic pain twice in my life. Once when I hyperextended my big toe on my left foot in high school. I told everyone it happened in football, but really I did it in my backyard trying to teach myself how to do a front-flip. 

I was obsessed with trying to impress people with my physicality at the time. Didn’t pan out well! If that’s a lesson I don’t know what is!

I couldn’t walk properly for at least 6 months as the toe was so irritated and painful. I could only run and sprint (it was football season), if I took 8 ibuprofen before games (1600 mg), and taped my toe up to a point where it would barely move. This definitely wasn’t great for my stomach, but, what did I care? I was only 17.

This toe issue was quite severe for about a year and then slowly improved over the course of 3 years, however even 3 years out, sometimes my toe would have a sharp pain as I was running around the bases in college baseball. 

It was sensitive to cold weather, and even through my college career of punting and kicking I could sometimes feel it, particularly if the weather was colder, as it often was in Arkansas in the winter.  

So, from 2008 to 2014 I experienced chronic pain in my toe. 

Another chronic injury that I experienced was an adductor (inner thigh muscle), injury from sprinting around a track. This was agonizing. It took several weeks for the agonizing pain during walking to subside, but even still there was always an ache. 

I went from being able to deadlift over 500 lbs. to barely being able to lift 135 lbs. without it flaring up quite horribly. Powerlifting was my thing at the time and it’s what kept me sane during grad school. 

Naturally, this hit me hard both physically and emotionally as I wasn’t able to train like I normally would. 

This took 1.5 years to heal, as I didn’t put the correct rehab strategy into play until approximately 9 months into the process. 

In addition to the physical injuries and chronic pain, i’ve also experienced a significant depressive episode that lasted from 2016 to 2018 which was chronic in nature as well. In 2016 was when I injured my adductor as well, so this happened in conjunction with this depressive episode. 

I share all this to say in some way, on a personal level, I understand. 

But, I also acknowledge that everyone’s experience is different, and, eventually most if not all of my symptoms did go away. It took a long time, and a lot of work both externally and internally, but it worked. 

You might have a different experience than I did, and you might also have a different experience than my clients who have made it to the other side, or, as I prefer to say it, further down the well-being continuum. 

We are never fully broken or full-well, we are always vacillating somewhere in between. 

You may have pain forever, you may not, but that’s not possible to know. This is almost like asking the question “if God created the universe, who created God?” This is an unknowable answer. 

So I suppose the point of this ramble is to say, keep trying, give yourself grace, accept that you will have pain (intolerable pain isn’t acceptable — there are strategies to reduce this), and get back to your normal life as much as possible. I’ll be including a few excellent resources below that have been impactful for my clients and go into this topic with much more depth, understanding, and knowledge, than myself.