Coping With Chronic Pain: Inflammation and Autoimmune Symptoms: Having chronic Lyme, I’m constantly finding ways of coping with chronic pain and managing inflammation. With Lyme being an inflammatory condition, the two are indistinguishable; for me, inflammation equals pain; and pain management equals inflammation suppression.
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Is Inflammation Painful?
Acute inflammation can cause pain of varying types and severity. Pain may be constant and steady, throbbing and pulsating, stabbing, or pinching.
Pain results when the buildup of fluid leads to swelling, and the swollen tissues push against sensitive nerve endings.
Other biochemical processes also occur during inflammation. They affect how nerves behave, and this can contribute to pain.1
Inflammation research: It’s now being discovered that chronic inflammation is wreaking serious havoc on most people, and that untreated chronic inflammation leads to autoimmune diseases. I personally have been fighting inflammation for years (the first couple decades I had no idea, but it’s been present for most of my life), and show several autoimmune symptoms now in my early 40s. Some symptoms of autoimmune issues are:
- Body pain, arthralgia, myalgia
- Chronic fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Frequent infections2
I have all of these symptoms and a few more (brain fog being one of the worst). Most days are good now, but in my late teens through my 30’s it felt like my body was falling apart, and I had no idea what was wrong. I’m able to keep a lot of symptoms at bay most of the time now, but I still flare when my diet is off, my exercise is lacking, or if I’m needing to tame back some spirochete activity with antibiotic herbs.
While everyone’s journey with chronic pain is different, I hope sharing my experiences with coping with chronic pain can help others to deal with these issues. There’s more to this topic than what I have listed here, but here are 4 of my main go-to’s for coping with chronic pain:
Coping With Chronic Pain: Diet, Herbs, and Inflammation Research
Keeping inflammation down is a huge part in coping with chronic pain. Chronic Lyme disease involves a lot of inflammation, which triggers autoimmune symptoms. Celiac disease can be both a result and a trigger for inflammation, and is one of the many autoimmune symptoms I battle daily. Staying away from food triggers, eating a diet that’s anti-inflammatory, and taking herbs that fight inflammation are my three main ways of coping with chronic pain on a dietary level.
Jen’s Dietary Trick for Coping With Chronic Pain:
- Herbs are my biggest help in coping with chronic pain. They fight inflammation, contain antioxidants, and help with my specific symptoms (namely PMS pain/nausea, brain fog, and gut issues – plus a few more!). Visit this link to see my herbal protocols and dietary management.
- I eat a low carb, gluten free diet to keep inflammation down and limit my pain levels. I’ve found that gluten triggers gut inflammation which moves to my lumbar area and increases my back pain. I’ve also found that sugar increases inflammation and triggers restless leg and nerve discomfort in my lower back, hips, and legs.
- That said, my diet is less than perfect! Sometimes coping with chronic pain means enjoying a meal or dessert that’s not on my regular menu. I’m a sugar fiend lol – I love all things sweet, so I’ll admit that it’s really hard to stick to my diet, and I do have flares on occasion from not sticking to it! That said, it doesn’t take long for some veggies and herbs to make things right, as long as I stay away from gluten – it’s the biggest trigger for me.
- Most of my protein comes from chicken and fish. I do eat pork and beef, but not as often. Vegetable soups and chili filled with veggies (mushrooms, peppers, butternut squash, lentils, and more) is a great way to get extra fiber and antioxidants into my diet. Having a weaker stomach, these types of meals are lighter yet filling as well.
- I rely on left overs a LOT. Running a small farm, gardening, blogging/artwork – these things all take up a lot of time. Keeping up with household chores and maintaining my diet on top is more than my health allows at times, so one big coping with chronic pain strategy is efficiency: and left overs are the very definition of efficiency!
- Over the counter medicines as needed – ibuprofen, Midol, and Excedrin tension headache are always in my medicine cabinet. They’re not used daily, but during a flare see quite a bit more use than on normal days.
- Researching diet, constantly searching out new (and hopefully easy) recipes, and keeping up with inflammation research and Lyme research
One of my tactics for coping with chronic pain is gardening: it helps with exercise and provides herbs and fresh whole foods into my diet. Since I love being outdoors, it also helps my anxiety (see “The Most Important Part” section below).
Coping with Chronic Pain: Exercise for Inflammation and Keeping Muscles Limber
Muscle issues go hand in hand with chronic pain for many reasons. Exercise can be a huge help in limiting inflammation:
In human clinical trials, it is shown that energy expenditure through exercise lowers multiple pro-inflammatory molecules and cytokines independently of weight loss.2
That said, inflammation can be a huge hurdle in getting exercise:
Sometimes your immune system mistakenly attacks and inflames your muscles (your doctor may call it myositis). This could start to break down muscle fiber and make you weaker. It usually happens slowly, most often in your torso, shoulders, and hips. In some cases, you might find it hard to do simple things like walk, bathe, and swallow.3
I fight small bouts of myositis quite often, and have since I stopped high school sports my senior year in high school. I used to be a runner – back in middle and high school I was on the cross country and track teams and loved it, but after I turned 16 I started getting really sick and could no longer keep up with sports.
I continued running into my early 20s, but had a hard time with it – weakness, fatigue, and muscle soreness that lasted for over a week were the biggest issues back then. I now have issues with inflammation in my right knee (Lyme arthralgia) making it impossible to walk if I do too much work or exercise, and it seems I can’t run 1/2 mile without triggering it now. So my exercise comes from working on my farm, gardening, and some lighter exercise activities:
- Yoga – this one is huge for reducing back pain, easing muscle spasms, and keeping a strong core (which also helps to limit back pain).
- Horseback riding – my favorite exercise for inflammation! Good for the body and the mind!
- Walking – low impact and great for cardio if you keep a decent pace.
- Limit sedentary activities – I can take 1-2 days of being inside most of the day doing sedentary activities (blogging, artwork, or the rare day off from farm chores!), but notice substantial weakness in my muscles and an increase in back pain if I stay sedentary for too long.
- If I start to notice weakness creeping in or stiff muscles, I try to get light exercise in the form of walking or yoga to start strengthening back up and move inflammation out of my muscles.
Coping With Chronic Pain: Clothing and Equipment:
- Back On Track and other infrared items are a huge coping with chronic pain strategy for me:
- I use their fingerless infrared gloves most of the year, but especially in fall/winter/spring when the nerves in my hands are most likely to be painful (cold weather sends sharp pain through my skin in my hands, face, and ears)
- BOT elbow brace is amazing for when my tendons in my wrist, forearms, and elbow joints are acting up.
- BOT back brace is great for cold weather and reducing back pain. Since my neck and back pain flare going into colder weather, this is a necessity in late fall and winter when working with my horses.
- BOT dickie bib – I think this was discontinued, but it’s my favorite of all the BOT products. They still carry the neck cover, but I find it restricting when I’m working; that said it’s fine for late evenings when I’m resting.
- Shoe insoles and comfortable shoes – gel insoles are the only way I can get through the day without feeling like my feet are bleeding. I need square toed shoes or shoes that have room in the toe box, and usually can’t tie them (I wear slip ons a lot or just leave the laces loose) due to pressure, even from a loose tie, causing my feet to swell. While I should wear boots when working with horses, I can’t find any that suit me at this time.
- Loose, stretchy clothing – see my pic below. I’m reducing the amount of restricting clothing in my closet to basically zero. This is the only way to keep my hip bones from being extremely painful, as most of my inflammation issues are centered around gut and lower back issues.
- Gloves for skin that tears/blisters – this isn’t necessarily related to coping with chronic pain, but if you have sensitive skin or any other area of sensitivity then finding small ways to combat issues is helpful. My BOT gloves help with skin tearing on my hands, and leather gloves help with blistering.
- Heating pad for my back and neck.
Coping With Chronic Pain: The Most Important Part Is To Breathe!
Live in the moment, not the future or the past. If you’re dealing with anxiety from Lyme, inflammation, or other causes like I am, then you’re already prone to reliving bad memories, or worrying about future issues. This can lead to more anxiety, less activity, and more inflammation (triggering even more anxiety as the cycle spirals out of control).
Understand that you’re different, and that it’s okay to be different. Coping with chronic pain makes you different, but it doesn’t have to break you. Living in the moment and finding ways to breathe and relax can help break the anxiety cycle: play with your pets; watch the birds; go for a walk… Do something that makes your mind feel good without over-taxing your body. One of my coping mechanisms is visiting local parks or driving around to see abandoned structures; these put my mind in a better place and gets me moving.
< Left: Coping with chronic pain: exploring nature, parks, and abandoned areas to keep my body active and moving. Another plus side is that it gives me fodder pics for another of my blogs: Trails, Art, and Abandoned in the Midwest!
Coping With Chronic Pain: Miscellaneous
- Limit negative interactions with others – especially social media!
- Focus on what’s important, eliminate what’s not; the more areas of my life that that I incorporate this idea into, the better I feel.
- Build efficiency in daily life so that work and effort goes further (work smarter, not harder!).
- Debt can be a huge stress trigger, and stress is a trigger for inflammation. Be mindful of how much stress is allowed to accumulate through debt and monetary means.
- Eliminate procrastination – it’s so easy to put off small things when not feeling well. Doing one small thing to keep projects from piling up and causing stressing is a useful coping mechanism. Usually this will lead to a desire/ability to do more, but even if it doesn’t and I’m not feeling well enough to continue, I’ve eliminated one small thing off my list and limited sedentary time.
If I’m having a flare, fighting chronic fatigue, etc. and don’t have the energy or pain tolerance to move much, then researching things of interest can be a useful past-time:
- Research herbs and healing items/procedures, along with other ways of coping with chronic pain. This can help you realize you’re not stuck in your current situation. It can also lead to getting up and organizing herbs or other items, knocking one thing off the to-do list, and making everyday life a little easier.
- Example: one of my big research projects is horses with the muscle disorder PSSM. Find something that’s important to you and learn everything you can about it! This can stimulate you to some type of action, reducing sedentary time and building mental stimulation.