September. Even as the days get shorter and summer wanes, September is a time of new beginnings. New school year, new schedules, new season. September is also Pain Awareness Month, and during this month we focused on new ways to cope with chronic pain, involving the whole family and exploring new therapies.

Pain Awareness Month was created to increase awareness and education surrounding chronic pain, a condition that affects 1.5 billion people worldwide. Partners for Understanding Pain created this month with the mission to:

  • Create greater understanding among health care professionals, individuals, and families who are struggling with pain management
  • Show the business community, legislators, and the general public that pain is a serious public health issue
  • Offer a comprehensive network of resources and knowledge about issues in pain management
  • Build understanding and support that can help people with chronic, acute, and cancer pain lead better lives

With education and awareness, we may be able to better deal with the high cost of chronic pain, another topic that hits close to home this month. Chronic pain is the number one cause of disability in the U.S., and the cost of that is high. Economically, the annual cost of chronic pain is approximately 560 to 635 billion dollars annually. This dollar figure doesn’t begin to explore the emotional and social cost of chronic pain, which can isolate the sufferer from their loved ones and lead to depression, anxiety, and other health conditions.

So how can families support their loved one who is suffering from chronic pain? How can they take care of their suffering loved one and themselves at the same time? This month we explored ways in which family members can balance caring for the chronic pain patient and taking care of themselves, a vital piece of the pain puzzle. Chronic pain caregivers are often responsible for not only the daily tasks in the household but also for being the breadwinner and the cheerleader. What can caregivers do to take care of themselves?

It is important for caregivers to remember to put on their own oxygen mask first.

Caregivers cannot be effective, patient, and kind to a suffering loved one if they are tired, stressed, hungry, or anxious. Plus, those feelings can also lead to chronic conditions in the caregiver, including caregiver stress. Caregiving family members need to take time for themselves, find a good support group, and plug into a network of resources such as the Caregiver Action Network (CAN). This collection of resources can be a lifesaver for long-term caregivers!

But taking care of a chronic pain patient either as the patient or the caregiver needn’t always be complicated. This month we looked at simple changes to make to your diet to help fight chronic pain naturally, and they are delicious enough for the whole family! Simple changes such as incorporating probiotic yogurt, adding mint to your diet, and getting enough pain-fighting fruit daily can make a big difference. Plus, eating more whole foods is a great way to stay healthy, and if it’s easy to incorporate, why not give it a try?

Speaking of trying new things, our September also focused on new potential treatments for chronic pain, including whole body vibration for fibromyalgia. In this treatment, patients either lie down or sit down on a machine that vibrated, causing the muscles in the body to contract and release. This machine helps the body simulate more active exercise, and exercise is a key component in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Because many fibromyalgia sufferers are reluctant to exercise, fearing that activity will worsen symptoms, this is one way to begin to incorporate low-impact exercise.

Researchers found that whole body vibration was most effective when combined with moderate exercise, so this month we looked at easy ways to incorporate physical activity slowly. These included:

  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Playing on the playground with your kids
  • Sweeping the house (instead of using a vacuum)
  • Parking farther away from store entrances
  • Meeting a friend for a 20-minute walk
  • Standing more than sitting
  • Working at a treadmill desk or working at a standing desk
  • Playing a team sport (join a kickball league!)
  • Dancing
  • Alternative workouts, like Zumba or yoga

The good news is that even moderate increases in exercise yield positive results!

Another treatment we explored this September was float tanks for fibromyalgia, looking at one project that is building case studies in support of this treatment. Flotation REST (reduced environmental stimuli therapy) was developed in the 1950s by John C. Lilly, M.D. and uses a water-filled tank that is approximately the size of a bed and heated to skin temperature. The water is saturated with Epsom salts so that the patient can float without any effort.

Patients remove their clothes, enter the tank, turn off the lights, and relax. The idea is that this sensation of zero stimuli will help patients focus inward, eliminating distractions and calming the mind and body. The Fibromyalgia Flotation Project (FFP) believes that spending an hour in a float tank will help sufferers reduce pain significantly. The project selected fibromyalgia as the condition for their case studies because the symptoms of fibromyalgia match the potential benefits of REST. Patients who participated in this therapy have reported good results, including lower stress levels, less anxiety, less pain, and improved sleep. The Fibromyalgia Flotation Project is looking for volunteer patients and physicians to participate, so contact them if you are interested!

It is important to keep track of new developments in diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain, but with so much information online it can be difficult. This month we looked at the best blogs for fibromyalgia and found a great mix of humor, real life stories, advice, and information. Many of these bloggers are parents, and some of them struggle with more than one chronic condition. We found their writing to be clear, engaging, and filled with tips and tricks for surviving (and thriving!) with chronic pain.

Finally, it would not be a complete September without taking a moment to remember and reflect on 9/11. Thirteen years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacking in Pennsylvania, the wounds are still there, but many organizations are honoring the memory of those who died. Calling for a national day of service, helping children whose parent died in the attacks, and honoring fallen first responders, many non-profits have stepped forward, creating support and healing spaces for the nation. We will never forget, but together we can move forward.

How was your September? What new information helped you the most, and what would you like to know more about?

Image by rosmary via Flickr


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