Kymberly has managed many chronic illnesses for 25+ years, including sciatica, costochondritis, fibromyalgia, PTSD, endometriosis, and more.
Why Do I Hurt All of the Time?
Chronic pain can be caused by any number of illnesses and accidents, and it can ruin your life if you let it. Chronic pain is limiting and even debilitating at times. If you were a previously healthy person, you may feel that your life is over—you can't do the things you previously could.
Medication for chronic pain only masks symptoms for a short time. Many of these medications have nasty side effects, cost a lot, and can stop working if you use them often.
I'm not suggesting that you avoid medication, but I do think you should try to find the simplest, most effective coping strategies, with minimal medication use. It's better for your body and your wallet.
Cope With Pain Naturally
With persistence, helpful tools, and supportive friends, chronic pain does not mean the end of fun and happiness! It may be challenging and take some time and effort to work out what works best for you.
But you can learn how to best manage your illness and decrease the number and severity of your symptoms. You can choose to actively manage your illnesses to reduce pain, and discover ways to enjoy your life.
If you'd like to skip my story of a life with chronic pain, scroll down to "Pain Reduction Techniques," below.
I am not a doctor and I have never played one on TV. I do, however, have extensive experience in dealing with chronic pain (over 30 years)! Please see your doctor if you are ill or in pain for any length of time. It's better to be diagnosed before guessing what treatments are best for you.
A Personal Chronic Pain and Illness Story
From birth, years of abuse caused chronic UTIs (urinary tract infections), digestion and immune system problems. I picked up every bug that went through school—multiple attacks of chicken pox, bronchitis, colds, and then multiple bouts of shingles.
After being diagnosed with several chronic painful illnesses as a teenager, I found natural ways to manage the sciatica, but struggled with migraines, teeth grinding, and costochondritis.
Around the same time I developed excruciating pelvic pain, which was later discovered to be extensive endometriosis and adenomyosis.
Asthma, long bouts of hives and eczema, unexplained multi-month fevers, and various allergies returned time and time again.
I was forced to stop playing tennis and music instruments because of my inflamed chest, terrible, as these were my stress outlets, and helped manage depression.
Other symptoms turned up regularly throughout university—sinusitis, Raynaud's and Moreton's neuromas—said to be all part of a fibromyalgia symptom collection, although fibromyalgia doesn't cause inflammation.
Finally, I burnt myself out while working full time, trying to keep up with 'normal' healthy people, before making the healthy decision to downshift to part-time work.
After many years, I learned to slow down and manage most of my symptoms well. A few are yet to be quietened and I still have painful times.
This year (2016), I've been diagnosed with undifferentiated spondyloarthritis—it's kind of like rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation in joints). Unlike RA, it also affects skin, muscles, eyes, bowel, lungs, and especially the spine and chest. It actually explains many of the symptoms I've had since I was a child—they are all symptoms of spondyloarthritis, and not fibromyalgia. 30 years to reach a real diagnosis! I'm now trying many different natural things to limit the progression of this illness.
Depression Caused by Pain
It's easy to become depressed when in daily and severe pain. Even a long bout of illness can tip someone past sadness into depression.
If you have any of the following depression 'symptoms', please consult a doctor and/ or a psychologist.
- long-term sadness
- loss of interest or pleasure in life
- feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness
- anxiety or feelings of panic
- chronic insomnia or sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
- chronic lack of appetite and weight loss
- thoughts of suicide or death
Actress Jennifer Grey: Coping With Chronic Pain and Sciatica
Natural Pain Reduction Techniques
There are many natural pain management techniques, but they typically fall into two groups—mind and body approaches.
Learn about your illness or condition, and your limitations. Keep a log of your symptoms, feelings, and activities to find patterns—what triggers more pain, and what helps reduce pain. This is especially important for idiopathic pain conditions when the cause is unknown.
Knowing a lot about our illnesses helps doctors—we know when we need to see a doctor for a surprising change in symptoms, and what questions to ask them.
Also, learn something new, or dive deeper into a topic you find interesting and train your brain—it's a great way to distract yourself from pain and keep your mind active and positive.
Relax and Reduce Stress
Learning relaxation and stress reduction techniques can help increase our capacity to deal with pain and difficult circumstances.
Try using a combination of the following techniques:
- Meditation: Brain scans have shown reduced brain activity in the pain receiving centers during and after a mindful meditation session, resulting in reduced pain. Regular practitioners also report better energy levels and memory function.
- Progressive relaxation: Consciously relaxing each part of the body in turn releases tension, especially around painful areas.
- CBT: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a technique designed to examine and get rid of negative, warped thoughts and feelings. Especially useful for milder depression cases, and for chronic pain patients.
Find Some Hobbies
Do you enjoy reading, needlework, photography, listening to music, or another gentle hobby? Gentle hobbies reduce stress, provide relaxation, distraction from the pain and enjoyment of life!
Personally, I have far too many interests and hobbies. I have to prioritize them, spending my relaxation time wisely, lest I end up with no energy! In cooler weather, gentle and slow hiking is great, but during summer I fall back to photography and studying languages.
Build a Good Support Network
Surrounding yourself with supportive people, who understand your situation, is vitally important. Doctors, physiotherapists and other medical professionals are part of your support team—if they are not supportive, find new ones!
There are online and 'real life' support groups for most illnesses. Check the Yahoo! Groups listings to find active email lists for your condition, search for forums using Google, or ask your medical team for a list of local support groups.
Avoid people who complain about your condition, or who keep asking "Aren't you better yet?!?" Also, distance yourself or cut yourself off from toxic relationships. These only create stress and depression.
Don't forget to ask for help when you need it—that's what your support network is for!
- Staying hydrated is one that many people, healthy and unhealthy struggle with. Drink enough clean water each day. Most chronic pain sufferers do better when avoiding sugary sodas, alcohol and too much caffeine.
- Eat healthy. Limit your calorie intake, eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins, with little sugar and saturated fat. Chronic pain sufferers often move less, we need fewer calories than more active people and we can easily put on weight.
- Track what you eat and map this against your symptoms to work out if you have certain food triggers that increase your pain. A food allergy test is useful for those people with ongoing digestion problems.
- Get your vitamins and minerals. Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain sufferers are often very low on vitamin D, and low on potassium, magnesium and B vitamins. Don't just start taking supplements though, get tested for deficiencies first!
Natural Anti-Inflammatories in Food
|Details / Sources|
Vitamins and minerals
A, B6, C, D, E, magnesium, potassium
Herbs and spices
cayenne pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, turmeric, basil, oregano, rosemary
Fruits and vegetables
asparagus, berries, kale, lemons, limes, oranges, tomatoes,
Meats, fish and oils
oily fish and flax seed oil (omega-3), extra virgin olive oil, pastured eggs, grass-fed meats
Move Your Body to Reduce Pain
Exercise is often impossible to consider for chronic pain sufferers. But the hormones released during exercise help to reduce pain, increase happiness and keep the body's systems functioning. So it is really important to keep moving and stretch regularly!
- Find an exercise that maintains your interest, and is gentle enough that the benefits outweigh the pain of the movement.
- Try swimming, bike riding (even in your living room), walking or a cross-trainer.
- Tai chi is good for gentle stretching and mobility. Many chronic pain sufferers find relief with the gentler forms of yoga.
- Pilates is a little more intensive, but has great results for mobility and posture correction.
- Physiotherapists can help you design an exercise and stretching routine for your particular illness and pain.
Consider Losing Weight If It Will Improve Your Health
Slowly dropping to and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce chronic pain. Stress on joints, muscles and organs are decreased, and the bodily systems work more efficiently at a healthy weight.
It also helps with reducing inflammation levels in the blood; obese people often have more generalized inflammation and raised CRP levels.
One gynecologist surgeon told me that fat cells increase the amount of estrogen in the blood—that's bad for endometriosis.
Stay in Motion
Don't stay in one position for too long - the muscles and joints can become stiff and sore when in the same position all the time. Sciatica is a problem for many who sit all day, then go home and sit on their couch all evening. Take breaks—get up, walk around, stretch.
This is especially important for anyone with an inflammatory illness of the joints or muscles, such as rheumatoid arthritis or spondyloarthritis. Non-moving joints don't let the fluid drain properly, and worsen the inflammation.
Tip: McKenzie exercises and learning the Alexander technique can help with sciatic and back pain.
A good night's sleep is the key to managing my pain levels the next day.
Invest in a good bed and pillows, darken, quieten and cool the bedroom, and develop a relaxing before-bed routine to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If you have chest or back pain while sleeping, like many costochondritis or sciatica sufferers do, look for a thick fluffy pillow to hug, or a thinner pillow to place between or under your knees. This will correct your sleeping posture, lowering pain.
Breathe to Reduce Pain
Perhaps, most importantly, don't forget to breathe, even when experiencing pain!
Most people hold their breath or breathe shallowly when in pain. But this slows the flow of oxygen and nutrients around the body, slowing healing and increasing pain.
Breathe mindfully, and consciously try to let the pain go.
It's doubly important for costochondritis sufferers and anyone who has problems with their shoulders and thoracic spine. When you breathe deeply, the muscles all around your spine, rib cage and shoulders stretch and relax, instead of staying tense and building up pain.
What tips and tricks do you have for managing your pain or illness? Tell us your story and ideas in the comments below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Martha on October 16, 2018:
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia since 1998, for me it seems that it's getting worse, I'm experiencing this really bad headaches, but it seems like it's literally my brain hurting, I was on Lyrica it just made me more depressed and I gained so much weight, now I have high blood pressure, nothing seems to work I hardly get out, I have to make a tremendous effort just to go to the store. I'm going to pain management but it's hard for the doctor to prescribe me what he thinks will work, because my insurance doesn't cover it, so I'll probably end up with pain pills, because that's the only thing my insurance will cover.
John B. Adams, DO, FIPP from Jackson, MS on December 26, 2014:
Good suggestions. There are many non-pharmacological options that can often empower people suffering with chronic pain.
John B. Adams, DO, FIPP
manatita44 from london on July 18, 2013:
Lots of good advice. Some of them I use already. Your pain story is touching and amazing. Your health food and other recommendations are great advice.
Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on February 03, 2013:
Melovy - Thanks! It's great that natural techniques work well for you - do you also do any stretches or exercises that help?
ib radmasters - A great way of explaining, oil and vinegar! Love it! Thanks for stopping by!
spartucusjones - Thank you! I have many friends with various forms of chronic pain, so I wrote this with their input, and hoping to help anyone who has pain. Normal medical treatments can become so expensive, movement, meditation and relaxation can help reduce those costs!
CJ Baker from Parts Unknown on February 02, 2013:
Very informative hub! Prior to reading your hub I knew very little about chronic pain and the different forms of alternative treatment. I also appreciated the sharing of your personal experiences.
Brad Masters from Southern California on February 02, 2013:
Interesting look at alternative pain relief.
Our bodies are like vinegar and oil, you have to keep moving to mix them together.
Yvonne Spence from UK on February 02, 2013:
Some good suggestions here, particularly meditation, relaxation and mindful breathing. I have chronic pain in my shoulder, and all of those help. You list of anti-inflammatory foods is also very useful.
Voted up and useful.