Historically, pain in MS has not been well recognized or emphasized. We are now aware that an estimated 50-75% of MS patients experience pain at some time in their illness, and a sizable percentage live with some form of chronic pain. Pain may affect other potential symptoms in MS such as mood disorders, sleep disturbance and fatigue.
Stretching muscles and joints daily can be a big contributor to maintaining proper flexibility and reducing painful injuries to joints. Strength exercises can also relieve muscle pain. More importantly, strength exercises restore strength to a level that prevents, or lessens the chance of small and painful injuries. These are examples of “stealth” pain management techniques. Doing stretching and strengthening exercises only one day will not relieve your pain. But by working even 15 minutes a day, slowly, you realize pain is no longer a big factor in your life. This is “stealth” pain management.
The way you sit, stand, sleep and move can contribute to long term pain. This is true for all of us as we age, but this solution can be forgotten in those with MS. Sitting crunched every day at your computer can stretch muscles and joint ligaments, causing aching and muscle stiffness often noticed the next morning. Correcting this can be another “stealth” pain management technique.
Listening to your pain can be enlightening. Being your own scientist, looking for patterns and contributing factors, can help you discover one of the keys to your pain.
There are major differences between pain, suffering and disability, and they can each occur separately or together. Your patterns of thinking, emotions and behavior play a key role in the impact of pain in your life. You can learn to cope with your pain in a positive way. Here are several techniques which can help:
1) Exploring your “unhelpful” thoughts about your pain, since these are often automatic thoughts that aren’t necessarily true! They can often be disputed in your own mind.
2) Being a detective by always keeping a good record of not only your pain level, but your activity, emotions and sleep time. Looking back on these logs will help you to discover what works and what doesn’t.
3) Manage your stress level by learning muscle relaxation, breathing, visual imagery and mindfulness techniques and practice often!
4) Learn to pace your activity by slowing down, taking breaks and keeping a steady pace.
The bottom line is that pain is influenced by your thoughts, emotions and activity.