Have you tried swimming?
Any health problem can have an impact on your working life, and in the physical roles we have as vets and vet nurses this can make even the slightest issue a debilitating one. We might call them different things - niggles, a bit tender, a twinge - but pain shouldn’t be ignored.
While we take great care of our patients' needs sometimes we need to focus that care on to ourselves. It doesn’t always matter what the source is but the pain of any type needs to be noted and treated to ensure it doesn’t escalate.
We know from our patients we have 2 types of pain, acute and chronic and it’s coping with chronic pain I’d like to focus on here. As a long-term sufferer, I have tried almost everything to relieve my pain so I thought it might help to share some of my successes and my failures.
What is chronic pain
Chronic pain is defined as ongoing pain of over at least 3 months duration. The source of the pain becomes less of an issue and managing the pain going forward is of most importance.
In my experience, you usually don’t get diagnosed with chronic pain, you kind of need to work that out on your own while the medics focus on what the actual diagnosis is. This situation is getting better as there is now recognised funding for pain management clinics that don’t rely on your diagnosis to refer and treat you.
It does take a few people to help you get the right treatment for you so be prepared to spend a little time finding them and trialing what they advise.
By the time you get to 3 months or more of almost constant pain, you’ve probably got a medication regime worked out but it's worth checking with your GP and pharmacist if this the best combination for what you need. Always be aware of possible side effects and how to spot them. I’m on a lifetime of PPI meds after rather too long on a not very good NSAID because I didn’t realise there was another pain treatment pathway for me that wasn’t straight to opioids.
It took me some time due to funding issues but I eventually got on to a pain management clinic and I can’t praise it enough. There were options for group and individual talking therapy as well as more physio options and links to weight management and other groups.
The idea behind them is to focus on the pain and what you need at this point in your journey.
The talking therapy helped a lot as talking to friends/family/colleagues about the pain can be very dull. There are many helpful platitudes such as the ubiquitous ‘have you tried swimming’ which can really grate as it takes you fifteen minutes of careful manoeuvring to get in your underwear on a good day – I don’t have the skills currently to wrestle my way out of them, into a swimsuit and then repeat the process. So - thanks, but no thanks!
I didn’t need to use the other service as my level of self-care was quite high, but the referral times were short of what other group members said so this is really positive.
Pain management is one area where knowing yourself is of huge benefit. Pain is personal to the individual and only you can convey what it does to you and only you can determine if any treatments are working.
In my worst days I tried:
- Alexander Technique
- Tai chi
- Water aerobics
- More medication
- Different sleeping positions
- Chair raisers
- Walking sticks
- Table raisers
- Heat pads
- Cool pads
- Different diets
- Gentle walking
- Wii Fit
- An automatic car
- Change of job
- Sports massage
- Talking therapy
- New cushions
- New mattress
- Being honest with myself
- And yes – swimming – always the swimming!!
Some of these helped, some didn’t and some made things worse. As I’ve got better some have helped more than at previous times and I’m sure I’ll always be a work in progress.
For many of these, there were free introductory classes or session so you could try them before committing, which really helped weed out the good and bad quickly.
Managing in a physical role
With chronic pain as any pain, the way it affects you is personal to you and I can write everything I’ve tried but you may find it’s something different that works for you, and that is ok. It’s just that having the confidence to go on that journey is hard to get when you’re in so much pain.
Seek help from your colleagues and friends, you rarely look like you’re in pain. Give yourself boundaries that can keep you safe – if that means you don’t unload the order or mop the floor make sure you show the other skills you have that are useful in a team.
Do things to balance out the physicality of your role, you may wish to do regular massage or acupuncture to keep muscles moving and prevent them seizing up.
Neurological pain is harder to work with as our nerves like to pretend they are ok but really they’re just waiting to surprise you. It’s worth keeping a diary of activities and pain episodes to see if there’s a link.
It can be very hard being honest about your pain and your differing abilities so don’t expect this journey to be easy but sharing experiences can really help so feel free to share here what has and hasn’t helped you.
From then on it's your story to manage and tell and you can take what you need from this blog or ignore it completely – we’re all different but I hope sharing some of what I went through has helped and if not, there's always swimming…