Chronic Pain – A Many-Battled War Fought with A Broad Arsenal of Weapons

Chronic pain is something I avoid talking about for the most part. It can be like a scab to pick – once you start referring to it, it’s hard to stop. It takes 10-50% of my attention at all times, so if I invite it into my social setting as a conversation topic… well that’s just a dangerous boost in attention I am giving to pain. I prefer to keep thoughts about chronic pain in the hidden caverns of my mind (except when pursuing treatment <Husband, dear? Would you massage my neck?> or exploring treatment options <Oh, really? What is your physical trainer’s name? What does she charge?>), so that more auspicious and enjoyable topics can distract me from the little farm of fire ants under my skin.

I can’t really think of a time when my whole body felt #supergood, but I do remember a surprising amount of neck pain sophomore year of college. My boyfriend at the time even “strongly encouraged” me to see a chiropractor.  Maybe that was the beginning. It was shortly after the first of nine car accidents – none of which I caused. I don’t care to relive the details, but I was in fact the passenger in the majority of these crashes. (Coping mechanisms for driving-related PTSD is an important topic for another day.)

I have tried various activities and treatments over the course of the last 15 years and some have worked better than others. Recently, I’ve been motivated to put the full weight of my pocketbook behind treating chronic pain because I incubated and gave birth to a human child. Nine months of pregnancy and 32 hours of labor, holding and nursing a baby girl – these are endeavors that test the limits of the body.

The extra weight and aches of pregnancy was not not nearly as difficult as Zack and I anticipated. Trying to sleep at night was my greatest challenge, and I spent many a lonely night propped up on our couch snacking on Cream of Wheat and distracting myself from heartburn and hip pain with Parks and Recreation. But that was virtually my only complaint after morning sickness wore off!

But constantly nursing Felicity Grace, wearing her in the Bjorn, dealing with pelvic misalignment after delivery… this has all been much more challenging. So! There are several things that have helped so far. I will now take a minute to highlight these treatments and thank God for providing the funds, the social support, and the psychological health to pursue wellness these last three months.

In order of effectiveness:

1. Chiropractic Adjustments

Sierra at Kangaroo Kids recommended Grein Family Chiropractic to me as the absolute best place to receive prenatal and postpartum chiropractic treatment. After only meh experiences with chiropractors during college in Los Angeles, after my third car accident in Sacramento, on a whim in DC, and during pregnancy here in Clayton, I was entirely skeptical. But willing to try anything that came so highly recommended.

Thank God.

Dr. Grein is the most effective healer I have ever worked with. After one crania-sacral adjustment by Dr. Grein, it was as if I suddenly could walk straight after months of limping from pelvic mis-alignment. After the second treatment I felt 5 inches taller and like my back and neck were straight for once in my life. I felt normal. I can’t stress how shocking this was for me. Normal is something I didn’t think I would ever feel again.

It totally bums me out that I found Dr. Grein just months before I will move away from St. Louis. I guess I will just have to see her as often as possible before I leave… and then come back to visit my sweet MiddleTree Church friends every time I need a chiropractic adjustment!

2. Power Walking.

It seems the more I walk the better I feel. I love the Demun neighborhood where we live for walking. There is a great little route I take from our house through the Concordia Seminary to get Kaldi’s coffee shop (my favorite St. Louis institution for a decaf latte and peanut butter cookie!). Next door is the best crêperie in the entire world – Sasha’s Wine Bar. Eat the apple and brie crepe with mango chutney, and just try not to think about it every day until you get your next fix!

On one occasion I walked three hours just to get to the St. Louis Galleria Mall when Felicity’s puke-covered carseat cover was in the washing machine… then we walked around the mall for two more hours. Luckily, Zack was able to meet us there for a Panda Express dinner date and drive us home so we didn’t have to make the endeavor an eight-hour walk!

I am looking forward to stroller walks on Coronado island when living with my parents this Spring and in the town of Wheaton this summer when living with Zack’s parents. I hope we can find a great neighborhood for walking in Sacramento when we move in August!

3. Restorative Yoga.

Restorative yoga is something my Urban Breath prenatal yoga teacher Stacey recommended. After every class I feel so relaxed all over my body – no tension, no strain, no stress. I have also tried Yin yoga, but the stretches are a tad too deep for a body still coursing with relaxin hormones from breast-feeding. Maybe later.

4. Weekly Massage.

Zack gives me the occasional fix, and he gets five stars for making me feel instantly better every time. (Unless he is singing. He is a very distracted masseuse when singing. Like, seriously.)

I also found a professional who can find the right balance between deep tissue and gentle relaxation massage. Ingrid works at Wellbridge Athletic Club in Clayton, and sees me just about every week.When she doesn’t have a next client, she drags my treatment out past the 65 minutes I paid for while we talk about boys and career goals and wellness. Love me some Ingrid. Especially when she is using hot stones!!!

5. The Melt Method.

When all I have is a few minutes at home to treat back and neck stress, I use the Melt Method hand and foot rubber balls. When I have 15 to 30 minutes, I use the foam roller on the base of my neck, SI joint, and to floss the nerves across my wingspan. I bought the whole Melt product package a couple years back and memorized the most useful exercises from the DVDs. I highly recommend to anyone and everyone as easy, affordable DIY physical therapy.

6. Anti-inflammatory Diet.

This one is new as of two weeks ago. I haven’t yet seen results because I have not been especially strict, though I will say my pants are less punishingly tight. I am trying to ease into this lifestyle rather than approaching it like a temporary fix.

Clean Cuisine is where I have gleaned most of my information about anti-inflammatory eating. Based on the Mediterranean diet, meals involve heaps of fruit, vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, whole grains, and legumes; some lean meats; minimal dairy; and my personal favorite – 70% cacao dark chocolate. It has been fun to try out new recipes like cauliflower risotto and zucchini fritters. I always like a new challenge in the kitchen!

The main obstacle with this lifestyle (other than Chick-Fil-A impulse control) is keeping enough grab-and-go foods on hand to feed a nursing mama who needs all the calories in the world to stave off hangryness. Recently my friend Melissa and I tried out an affordable online freezer meal planning service called Once a Month Meals (OAMM). The website spits out a shopping list, step-by-step “preparation day” chopping instructions, and “cooking day” assembling instructions by integrating as many on-site recipes as you select. Melissa and I chose three: Spinach Turkey Meatballs, Thai Chicken Quinoa Salad, and Lemon Kale Chicken Soup. The experiment went well, and stocked our freezers with ready-made meals… but it was certainly a lot of work. The social aspect made it worthwhile, but I don’t know if I could accomplish this level of OAMM kitchen work without it!

So, that’s the line up! Are there lifestyle changes or wellness treatments that have helped you with chronic pain? Or are there things you are hoping to try out once you muster the attention, time, or money? I’d love to hear about it!
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