Unfortunately, for many people in sobriety, a lot of us have experienced a whole slew of painful and pretty traumatic experiences due to our drinking and using. Ranging from car accidents to fist fights, to horrible drunken falls and even the emotional scars that leave us with crippling anxiety and depression. It can sometimes feel like our bodies are aging at twice the rate we are.
While the rest of the country is still taking prescription drugs that we used to abuse, how are we supposed to counteract the chronic pain that we have now? Advil and Tylenol help to a point, but what about actually RESOLVING the issue, rather than just putting a bandaid on it (Que, flashback to old life.)
Here are five ways to help counteract and treat chronic pain in sobriety.
For those of us with the bad backs, the bad knees, the tendonitis, the whatever else you have, it is really rewarding to know that it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Chances are, most of our chronic pain is due to unhealthy movement patterns that we don’t even realize we have but have been doing all along. They are called motor mechanics, and they are often the whole reason why we experience the pain we do.
For example, I am guilty of crawling out of bed sometimes like a gremlin, rather than propping myself up on my top arm, sitting up straight and putting my feet down. I am also guilty of hunching over the computer screen and always standing with my hip to one side, balanced on one leg rather than two.
Because of these poor motor mechanics, I have a horrible back due to a jacked up sciatic nerve and muscle tightness in my lower spine. It prevents me from rock climbing and lifting weights at my maximum capacity, which equals one depressed sober sister.
Physical therapy reverses these effects by re-training the body to use the correct motor mechanics, repair nerve and soft tissue damage, and re-strengthen the weakened areas. PT is often covered by health insurance, and many states don’t require a doctor’s referral for physical therapy except for Medicare patients, and many offices offer an “initial evaluation” to determine if physical therapy will help you.
Exercise and Stretching
Granted, if your pain prevents you from being able to exercise, re-read the physical therapy portion. However, studies show that even for people who experience chronic pain, mild exercise such as swimming, yoga, walking, and even low-intensity weight training do wonders for increasing blood flow, strengthening those weak areas, and frankly, making you less depressed. Exercise is especially helpful for people in sobriety because of all those factors.
We took advantage of our mind-blowing machines we called bodies for a long time when we were using. Now that we are sober, we should treat our temples better! Take them for a jog, a swim, or even just do a little stretching! Stretching keeps the ligaments and myofascial (muscle fibers) loose and healthy. Stretching pulls blood rich oxygen into our muscles which helps them stay healthy and ready for action.
I am not in any way, shape, or form, trying to push any sort of diet onto anyone, as I’m a big believer in reality. However, studies have shown that healthy diets that are rich in Omega 3’s, good fats, and lots of greens have the ability to actually reduce inflammation in the joints and soft tissues.
Think about it; you eat food, your digestive system breaks down that food and sends it all over your body to be processed further into the building blocks that actually MAKE you. Piling sugars and energy drinks and all that bad stuff, means your body has to work a hell of a lot harder to find the good stuff. You literally ARE what you EAT.
If meal prepping or whatever isn’t your style (because honestly, who has time for that) try adding an extra serving of greens to one meal a day, and cutting one Red Bull. Try it for a week. Notice any changes. Over time, add another green and replace the cookies with some grapes. Reducing inflammation reduces pain, sometimes we can do more good for ourselves by putting in the right stuff than any amount of Advil ever can.
So, after everyone figured out that opioids were killing people (finally) many hospitals around the country started looking into alternative measures for relieving chronic pain. Dry Needling has become one of those options. Unlike acupuncture, which focuses more on energy systems throughout the body, dry needling focuses on specific trigger points (aka knots), inflammation, and damaged soft tissues that lock up and cause irritation.
It is done by a professional, obviously, who takes a tiny hollow needle, penetrates the skin, and pretty much “needle and threads” the individual myofascial (muscle fibers) that are inflamed. Your muscles are made out of thousands of little strings of muscle fibers that, when damaged, lead to pain, sore muscles, backaches, tight jaw, etc. etc. Dry needling helps to separate and re-align the fibers to allow a healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood to restore the damaged area.
Word of warning, dry needling is a pretty uncomfortable sensation. However, I myself have had it done on my lower spine, and in my shoulders, neck, temples, and jaw muscles (hello, anxiety headaches and jaw clenching). It can feel a little sore after but with some ice and rest that night, it feels right as rain afterward.
The majority of our society view massage as a luxurious treat to be had only for special occasions. However, massage is actually a fundamental tool in helping to relieve chronic pain, especially when combined with other modalities of therapy (PT, dry needling, etc.) Massage is all about reducing stiffness, creating healthy blood flow to the area, and alleviating tight muscles, joints and ligaments.
Massage can actually be helpful in even just identifying where our pain is actually coming from. Many of us with knee or foot pain assume we just have a bum knee or foot, when in reality it could be caused by tightness in the hips, radiating tightness down through our muscles and ligaments, creating pain in the knees. CLINICAL massage therapists are very well trained in the anatomy and will be able to help identify the root causes of pain and help to reduce inflammation around the areas that it is actually stemming from.
Dealing with chronic pain in sobriety can be stressful, and can even lead back to using dangerous behaviors in order to cope. It doesn’t have to be a battle you fight alone. There are countless tools and resources to use to help overcome chronic pain, and you don’t have to live with it forever!