Just how does our body process the pain we feel? It’s just as complex as explaining the pain we each feel. Those of us living with arthritis know the realities of pain can be debilitating, defeating and overwhelming. It’s almost always there when you live with arthritis. Sometimes we can forget it’s there for a little bit and ignore it to a degree, but mostly it’s ever-present. How do you escape the pain? How do you cope? It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I get it. Sometimes it feels like a tune that keeps playing in your head on a never-ending repeat loop. You’re tired of talking about it and you feel like those around you are tired of hearing about it, or maybe they don’t even believe you.
When I’m asked what my pain level is, I struggle to answer. A lot of times I use sarcasm and humor. “Well, my pain level in which joint?” “My pain level today or on average the past week?”
I’m always telling other health care providers: If you’re not asking us patients what our average baseline level of pain is, on a daily basis, then asking us what our pain level is, in this one moment of time, might not be the best gauge. My baseline daily average is a 2. For me, that means I can get up and function, work and go about my day. But when I have a moment to be still, I can feel pain in my shoulders and neck. When I’m standing for more than 10 minutes or walking, I feel it in my feet.
In this episode about pain, it was so great to hear from an expert who understands chronic pain. Dr. Wesley Gilliam, a pain psychologist and clinical director of the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center in Rochester, Minnesota, talks to Julie and me about the importance of confronting our pain, how to cope with it and ways to manage it beyond taking medicine or resting. He shares how important it is to shift the focus from our symptoms to the things we want or need to do and setting goals to get there.
Measuring pain is more about function and not a number on a scale. Dr. Gilliam talks about the hard work it takes to manage chronic pain and improve function, and he helps us better understand the brain’s role in how we feel our physical pain. Listen to this latest Live Yes! With Arthritis podcast to learn how to address both the mental and physical aspects of chronic pain.
By Rebecca Gillett, MS OTR/L