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Control Your Pain with "Pacing"

"I've just got a little bit more to do. I'm hurting, but I can't stop now. Just a little bit more and I'll be finished." Or, "I feel so good today. That treatment really helped. I have all these projects to catch up on--the house is filthy, the grass in the yard is up to my knees, etc." You persist despite the pain and find yourself in intolerable pain. You can hardly move. You take your pain medicine and find that it doesn't help much. You may even end up in the emergency room. Your body gave you the warnings, but you were not taught to listen to these warnings. We were taught, "forget about your pain and keep going", or "be tough", or "no pain no gain". These old sayings won't work with chronic pain management.

There is a better way. It is called "Pacing". While pacing your activities, you accomplish more in the long run, while maintaining pain control. First, let's talk about the principle of pain management most important to you. Do not let your pain get high!!! Be proactive in your pain management. Take control of controlling your pain before it controls you. Keep your pain low. Don't let it increase significantly. Don't let your pain get high, then depend on your medicines or exercises taught by the P.T. to then control your pain. It won't work! Keep your pain low and don't depend on your medicines to mask your pain so that you can do things that are harmful to your body and detrimental to your healing. You have probably already experienced this. Possibly many times. Here is how pacing will make the difference for you.

First know the conservative measures, such as positioning, good body mechanics or rest, heat, ice, asking for help, or knowing that you are not ready for a certain activity, that help to keep your pain controlled, before your pain gets high. For example, let's say you have not been able to clean house for a while due to your pain. Start with one room and if you feel your pain rise even with half of the room, stop and rest before your pain rises significantly. Then do another room, or half room. Your physical therapist will help you to learn new ways to move and accomplish tasks without injuring yourself. You may not be able to do the vacuuming because this really hurts. Ask for help. Many are very independent and don't like to ask for help. The choice is often either to ask for help, live with dirty floors, or hurt yourself.

Pacing is a necessary component of your pain management and something that you can, and must do in order to maintain control of your pain. All too often we have seen patients start feeling better and wreck the good results by not using pacing.

— Richard Fowler, P.T.

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