Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Strategies and alternatives for coping with fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder and other chronic illnesses

Learning to Live with Pain – Being Proactive

Posted by wendyburnett on May 2, 2010

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
Kahlil Gibran

Have you ever watched the Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters”? They do some really interesting stuff on there, and this past Wednesday (April 28th,) they tackled a pair of “myths” about pain:

  • Women have a higher pain tolerance than men. and
  • Cursing increases pain tolerance

It was pretty interesting. They set up a bowl of ice water that was kept at just above freezing (1 degree Celcius) and attached to a timer. They then tested an equal number of men and women, seeing how long each person could keep their hand submerged. The subjects were not told that the men and women were competing, and for the first test, they were not permitted to curse while their hand was submerged. Anyone who cursed or managed to keep their hand submerged for the full three minutes of the trial was eliminated and replaced with another person to keep the numbers even. The test was repeated for all the subjects, this time with cursing, and the times compared to the times from the first trial to see if there was a change.

The results were a bit surprising. Not only did the women average longer times, but on the second trial, cursing increased the times by an average of 30% for both men and women. The first result wasn’t what surprised me though, after all, if men had to deal with labor pains the human race would die out in no time. What got me was the confirmation that cursing actually helps. I knew that I feel better when I cuss the pain, but I always figured it was just me, I never realized it works for other people too.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with learning to live with pain, which is the subject of the next ChronicBabe Blog Carnival. The point is, you have to find what works for you. That can take some time and experimentation, and will depend on several factors like what types of treatments you’re comfortable with, any allergies you may have (or develop,) your personal body chemistry, your financial circumstances, and maybe even your religion/spiritual path (after all, if you believe cursing is a sin, it’s not going to be an option for you.)

The 4Ps of Living With Pain

Living with any kind of chronic illness requires you to be proactive (which is basically a fancy way to say “be prepared.” The Boy Scouts have some pretty good ideas . . .) You don’t want to wait until the pain is unbearable, you want to have a plan in place to deal with it BEFORE it happens. I call it the 4 Ps: Plan, Prepare, Prevent, and Practice.

  • Plan: This needs to happen when you aren’t in a flare, on your “good” days. Experiment with various methods of pain relief to see what helps and what doesn’t while the pain levels are fairly low and you’re able to do a bit more. Know what the signs or triggers of a flare/episode are, and decide what you’ll do when you recognize that you’re about to have one. (Putting the plan in writing is a very good idea, since confusion is often part of a flare, and writing it down will help you remember what to do and help your family know what THEY need to do to help you.)
  • Prepare: If your major pain relief is prescription medication, make sure you have some on hand and decide how to handle it if you run out (a friend or family member that can pick up a refill, a pharmacy with a delivery service, etc.) If you use alternative methods, make sure you have supplies on hand, or your practitioner is available for “emergency treatments.” Prepare a few extra servings when you cook and freeze them for days when you can’t cook, keep frozen dinners and other “easy” food on hand, make sure you always have Epsom salt for soaking or mix aromatherapy blends ahead of time so all you have to do is use them. All of these things will make bad days easier and keep you from having to do without because you aren’t able to make/get things. ANYTHING you can do in advance will help when you’re in a flare and don’t have the energy to get up and do things.
  • Prevent: There are many things you can do to to prevent or minimize flares, but they’re things that MUST be done on a regular basis, even on days when you feel “good.” Things like meditation, stress reduction, supplements, diet, gentle exercise, yoga, and massage, just to name a few. It can take some experimentation to figure out what works and what you can do.
  • Practice: As soon as you realize a flare is starting, put your plan into action. Continue as much of your preventative activity as possible, and start using your pain reduction and pain control techniques immediately. The sooner you start, the better your chances of heading off the worst of the pain. Don’t wait until the pain is unbearable, because that will just make it harder to get rid of and make the flare last longer.

There are so many options to try that it can take a while to find the combination that works best for you, within the limitations set by your personal circumstances. It can be a frustrating process, and the first thing you’ll have to learn is patience, since many things you try won’t work, and some things you want to try won’t be affordable. (Even worse, once you find something that DOES work, your company could change insurance providers and the new insurance won’t cover what you need, or you could lose your insurance entirely.)

Don’t lose hope though; even without insurance, doctors, and prescription medications there are still things you can do to reduce your pain levels; and some of them are FREE. (There will be a follow-up post at the end of the week about some of the complementary/alternative methods you can try for pain control/reduction and some stress reduction tips as well.)

**If you are reading this post anywhere other than it is because it has been stolen. Please click on the link provided to return to the site of origin.


9 Responses to “Learning to Live with Pain – Being Proactive”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wendy Burnett. Wendy Burnett said: New Post: Learning to Live With Pain – Being Proactive #pain #fibro #fibromyalgia #chronic_illness #fms #cfs […]

  2. cinderkeys said

    I’d read the thing about cursing and had a similar reaction. Wow, I knew I was getting something out of responding to pain that way, but didn’t know it worked for other people too.

    Thing is, cursing is great for when you drop something on your foot. I don’t know how well it would work for pain that doesn’t subside quickly. Be interesting to see if that made its way into plans like the one you’ve outlined above.

    • Susan –

      Cursing also works very well for things like hurting your hand trying to unscrew a cap; sharp shooting pains when you move wrong; muscle cramps; banging your (not)funnybone; and all those random sharp pains that just sort of happen. (I’ve also found it helps when my bird decides he wants to scream and make my head feel like someone is driving sharp spikes into it with every shrill, piercing scream.)

  3. I didn’t see the program on pain and I’m so glad you wrote about it. I’m going to try cursing at the pain instead of snapping and snorting at my husband! Great post.
    Judith Westerfield

    • Thanks Judith – Mythbusters does all kinds of interesting things. Until this one, my favorite was the one where they blew up non-dairy coffee creamer. IMPRESSIVE! (Kinda scary too, I haven’t been able to use the stuff since. LOL)

  4. Very interesting. I never thought to curse at the pain. I often curse at my hubby instead. He doesn’t really like that much. LOL!


  5. AnnaTW said

    Hi Wendy! I’ve been wondering about the “cursing reduces pain” research too, and figured that the effect may wear off when we have pain every day… hmmm, how many curse words do I know…? I really like your concise and informative 4 P-s, and wonder whether I have your permission to copy them to my blog (with credit and backlink of course) 365 pain-free days?
    All the best from Anna

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