Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Devil’s Claw

Lots of things happening, and I have had a severe downturn with spasms in my face making things very difficult when it comes to eating and, well, functioning overall since it feels like my head is trapped in this perpetual vice. But I am still getting around and cramming as much life into my better than bad days as I can!

Nobody.

You are right Sweet Brown, nobody.

Like Fishfuddle, this has a scary sounding name, but unlike it Devil’s Claw is much less hazardous while just as helpful. Devil’s Claw, or for you people that like Latin names, Harpagophytum procumbenswhich is found through much of Africa and has been known there for ages and used to treat a wide range of illnesses, fever, malaria, stomach issues, constipation, but mostly used to treat various inflammatory pain issues. It was well known for treating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and it is its anti-inflammatory abilities that make this a great herb to use to treat a lot of pain issues.

Devil's claw, it would almost look harmless if you didn't know those light parts will dry hard and spiky.

Devil’s claw, it would almost look harmless if you didn’t know those light parts will dry hard and spiky.

The parts of the plants used are the large roots, but this herb gets its name from it’s seed case. Which looks like a wicked painful thing to step on.

Dem spikes.

It is also known by other names like grapple plant and wood spider. Which I think accurately describe this vicious looking spiked pod. It is a craftily designed shape though, which David Attenborough explains in his informative dulcet tones.

Africa was lucky enough to have this plant readily available and it was used in Africa for centuries. Then, later on in history, there was an uprising against the German colonialism and it is a pretty horrible story to read, but it allowed the interaction (according to myth) between a local healer and a soldier/farmer, a guy named G. H. Mehnert. It seems that this is a constructed legend that has possibly been debunked. What we do know for sure is that it did make its way to Germany, and then had a boom in interest during the 1970’s in Europe. It was quickly noted that it treated inflammatory diseases, and it grew in popularity, sometimes to where demand could not be met with supply in some areas.

It has started to gain more interest as it is studied more, and has had promising results in treating back pain as well as rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis like disorders. Of course there isn’t enough evidence to say 100% this is the best thing to do but it looks like this could be a new promising direction for new anti-inflammatories and treatment for back pain and even possibly migraines. The active chemicals that seems to be the source of the plants ability are harpagoside (an iridoid glycoside – which chemicals common in medicinal plants), procumbide (also iridoid glycoside) and plant sterols (which are basically plant steroids – think similar to cortisone). These have all been studied and results are, again not 100%, but looks good. The current theories are that like some NSAIDS the chemicals in Devil’s claw block the uptake of the chemicals the body releases to start inflammation, so that means it would behave similar to a COX-2 inhibitor. There is a caution though that comes with this, it has been found in some people to aggravate stomachs, and could cause irritation with ulcers. Also it can thin blood so if you are on blood thinners, or are doing anything were blood thinning could be dangerous, make sure you consult or notify your doctors, which ever applies best.

As I said earlier it is the tubers produced by this plant that has the medicinal properties, and you can actually find quite a few pre-made preparations in teas, pills, extracts and other forms. If you go this route, make sure you are following the directions on the box, or if you are taking extracts no more than 500 mgs of a 5% extract 3 times a day.

If you have the raw herb it is best to use this as a tea,which is a great way to deal with pain and inflammation that is chronic, you can drink this once a day and it is a fairly powerful anti-inflammatory, and mild pain reliever.

Devil’s Claw Tea for Pain & Inflammation

  • 2 – 9 grams of Dried roots, chopped roughly
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep for at least 8 minutes, maybe 10, and drink once a day. If you are using a pre-made tea, please always follow the directions on the packet.

Tea for Stomach Issues

  • 1 teaspoon of Dried roots, chopped
  • 16 oz Boiling water

Steep for 20 minutes and drink, can be used to alleviate constipation but does also calm stomachs if you have never had, or currently have an ulcer avoid this, or at least consult your doctor first.

Devil’s Claw Tincture

  • Mason jar
  • Devil’s claw root, chopped, enough to fill 3/4 of the jar
  • Grain alcohol, enough to fill the rest of the jar

Cover the dried root with the alcohol, allow to sit in dark undisturbed place for 4-6 weeks. Shaking every day (or when you remember). Strain and bottle in dark bottles, dose is 15-20 drops in water, spoonful of honey, or tea.

If you purchase an extract or a powder, remember to check the percentage of harpagosides, and know the amounts you are taking. If you need an example on how to make your own capsules there is a tutorial at the end of this post about turmeric, another great anti-inflammatory.

There is also an indication that Devil’s claw can help with atherosclerosis, which is something that can happen if you have had a lot of cortisone. So this may be something good to start looking into if you relieve a lot of cortisone injections to help manage your pain.

Remember though everyone’s body is different, do your own research and experiments. Educate yourself no one will do it for you. Check for interactions with medications on places like WebMD, and always remember if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!

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Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” or in English “tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,” its an old Spanish proverb. It is one that you should take to heart though, the people you surround yourself with are important. If you surround yourself with negative people, it becomes like a negativity cancer and begins to eat at you from the inside. Surround yourself with people that are positive, and be as positive as possible and your spirits will always be lifted in the darkest hours.

This holds true for everything in life, but it is even more important if you suffer from any sort of chronic pain disorder. If you are in a low place, you need to have as much positive stuff around you as possible. This sounds like something that would be common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t so common. So how do you do it?

Watch What You Take In – Environment

 

Make it your cardinal rule.

Make it your cardinal rule.

Watch comedians, funny movies (or TV shows), or just movies (or TV shows) that make you happy. Read uplifting, happy, or silly books (Paulo Cohelo’s Alchemist is a great place to start), comics or mangas (or manwhas and all other variants) keep it funny nothing dark. Listen to happy music, or a funny podcast, but make sure it is lighthearted fun, dark humor, while fun now and then, can be OK, but never in a low point. No shows that get you emotional or make you cry or really experience anything but a positive emotion.

You may have to start censoring things, like songs on the radio – song too too sad? Turn that dial! I have started avoiding listening to or watching the news, especially these days news can add more things to be sad than happy about to your day. It may make me a poor subject to discuss current affairs with, but when your load is heavy why add more things to carry? If you DO watch the news, watch fluff pieces, you know cat dress up shows and that sort of thing. You need to wrap yourself visually, audibly and mentally with positive things. Like a warm, fuzzy positive security blanket that will keep the monsters of depression at bay. Put up things around you that make you happy, like art, or make you recall fond memories. Creating things gives the satisfaction of accomplishment, so it doesn’t matter what you make as long as you feel all “yeah I made that!” and are proud about it in the end (this means even if it doesn’t come out right the first time, there is always another go you can have at it).

Do things that bring you pleasure, even if they are small things. Those small things become huge things when you need something happy. Eat a comfort food meal, take yourself out to a movie, for ice cream, parks, zoos, museums, belly dancing shows, whatever blows your hair back! Just make sure it brings you pleasure. On bad days, look out the window every cloud and ray of sunshine is a personal gift to you enjoy it take it in and appreciate it. I have a lot of cardinals that live near me, and there is a superstition that seeing them means you will have a lucky day, when I see one I think about that and even something small like that can bring my thoughts from doom and gloom to happier pastures. Also, exercise daily, and that means even days that hurt. Do some amount of exercise every single day, even if the exercise is a lap or two around the house. Do some yoga, do some meditating, do some Tai Chi, just do something to get the body moving, this is the best way to beat the blues.

Watch What You Take In – People

I meant it, their negative will become yours.

I meant it, their negativity will become yours.

We all know a “negative Nancy” or a “Debbie downer,” or a general moaner and complainer that always is being negative about something. People who complain and want people to generally be as miserable as they are. This sort of person is definitely not the type of person you want to expose yourself to a lot during bad times, or even good times really. People who drag your spirits down when you don’t have enough positive of you own are worse for you than your pain condition (or depression) in my humble non-medical opinion. You need people that tell you the good things, the ones that make you smile and feel good around you to bring you out of your blues.

The people that are unhappy with life, and themselves and want to pull you down into their hole instead of pulling you out, have no business in your life, frankly pain condition or not. Sometimes, as in my life, that means some of your family. I haven’t cut them all out of my life but I do have some that have no re-entry policies, and if I become upset I attempt to extract myself as gracefully as possible from the situation. Sometimes you have to do this, and it does suck. But afterwards, you always know you made a good decision it will become so much easier to be positive without them dragging you down, like a stone tied to your foot while you try to swim. The effect is sometimes instantaneous, like a massive weight being lifted all at once or others it is long and drawn out and difficult – but so worth it in the end.

Remember, you and your happiness is like one of those eggs you get in health class in American High Schools you have to take care of and fail if it gets dropped or cracked. It is fragile, and needs protecting daily and vigilantly. To not do so is to suffer at your own risk.

What if all that doesn’t work?

If you have been doing this and still are having issues, you may want to look into trying Cognitive Therapy it does a lot, and has done a lot for me and people I know in treating their issues (WebMD also has some neat info). If this still doesn’t help you may want to seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding one try searching here or here.


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Chronic Pain is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

I don’t often delve into how I feel about my own illness, some of it is that I mostly try to not think about it. Or try not to every day that I am not experiencing pain to forcefully remind me. It seems to be easiest to just not think about things unless you have to or it all becomes too sad. But to be brutally honest, some days I wish I had a better known and understood condition, I have had a lot of those days lately. I had to find a new chiropractor, and finding any health professional that has worked with someone, or is knowledgeable about my condition is hard enough, but finding people who understand what I have is even harder. You start to wish you have something that is known, anything that is known and treatable, you even begin to envy people with cancer. At least they are treatable and people know what it is, and how to treat you, or at least more would seem to. With CRPS I seem fine on the outside, and no one, but my husband and close friends, knows how hard I work to keep up that appearance. Sometimes I get the mottled skin, and swelling which can be hard to hide. The symptoms are so subtle right now to the casual observer, most would never know anything was wrong with me.

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Remember you can’t always see the pain someone is in.

This frustration is what leads to a lot of what I would call white lies, and the oh so common Southern method of avoidance by not mentioning things. You find yourself avoiding discussing your level of pain, or even saying you have something wrong, since that could lead to a depressing discussion. Or just simply avoid discussing things by answering the compulsory “how are you” questions with some version of “I’m fine,” which most of the time you really aren’t.

When people don’t seem to understand my condition, or when you feel like people can’t understand how you feel about everything that happens to you, it can be extremely frustrating. It is mostly stems from the fact that I have to patiently explain for the nth time what I have, and the why’s and the how’s. The frustration leads to isolation, since there seems like there is no one to talk to to who really understands everything, and a lot of people don’t understand your physical limitations which puts strains on relationships. You begin to become trapped in a double prison, the confines of your living space, and your corporeal prison. If you are at all like me, canceling on anyone already makes you feel badly, but also means you are not able to go out…yet again. Even though you really, really want to. It can be very upsetting to have to cancel things you want to do, even more so when it seems that you have to do it more often than not. Then sometimes people aren’t understanding of you having to cancel, or think you are doing it on purpose. Social life becomes crammed into the good days, and it sometimes hard to not over do things and end up right back where you were.

You start to feel like this

You start to feel like this

Even when it isn’t like that it can feel like it is, but the days you do get to do what you want are so precious it can seem overwhelming. Some days are better than others, and on those days do as much as you can, and try not to overdo things. This year has been a harder year than usual and it has been more difficult to deal with, luckily though I have looked and found a support group and am already feeling more positive about my predicament since there are people out there that are dealing with CRPS in most of their body, like me. I am glad I have more people that I can add to my wonderful support base that I am already more than thankful for.

Sometimes, people can take you discussing your symptoms as giving up, or that I have resigned myself to the worst. I have read about the symptoms and I decided that I will emotionally prepare myself for all that could come my way. Just reading the treatments, especially the ones about amputation, can be scary or a bit of a downer, but I would rather embrace them emotionally now than have them hit me when I am unprepared. That way if the worst ever does happen, I have already mentally prepared for it, and I hope by doing this to not be crushed under anything horrible hitting me unexpectedly. I have been told that my acceptance of symptoms can come off as me giving up. I think it comes from their fear of me giving up, or their fear of my decline, but ultimately it comes from their care for me. So because of that I try to not let it get me down too much, but I think it should be said that if you know someone who has a condition that causes deterioration for their body, encourage them to see that the bits lost does not make them less of a person inside. I have found from personal experience the more you accept them and are at peace with them, the less painful the loss will be. Life will not end with pain, or loss of  limb, or mobility, or anything really. Life goes on in different ways, as the saying goes if one door closes, another opens. Don’t ever give up, it is always worth the fight to keep going even if you have to accept limitations.

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There is the other problem of when you mention a symptom some people jump to conclusions that it is something else and attempt to press you to be treated for something they think you have. Then you have to explain how CRPS is diagnosed and that it is a diagnosis by exclusion, which means you have to rule out any, and everything, it could be that is not CRPS. It is pretty a much less dramatic House episode, lots of tests and “well that is ruled out” sort of thing over months. I know inside that it comes from the hope that it could be the treatable option, and again from a caring place. It can be hard to deal with but, keep reminding yourself (as I do myself) that it comes from love and not to frustrate you.

Overall, yeah it sucks to have what I have, but I still very strongly feel my accident, and my condition, have made me a more peaceful and compassionate person. It has helped me find out who real friends are, ones that you want to keep around you, and the importance of keeping things positive. Try not to dwell on the can’ts, and dwell on the cans. Even I have bad days but there is always tomorrow, and I truly believe that.


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Hot or Cold for CRPS (RSD)?

If you ever played sports, you know that if you get an injury ice is the first thing you reach for. Which for most sports injuries ice right after you are hurt is one of the best ways to prevent swelling getting out of hand and reduce a bit of the pain. RICE should in some form be known to you. There are different forms depending on the injury as outlined here, but it is a good general guide to follow if you have an injury from sports or just over working the muscles or a trip or fall…unless you have CRPS.

If you have CRPS (formerly RSD) you may have some issues with hot or cold. I have issues sensing hot and cold as well as extreme sensitivity to cold. Winter is now my least favorite month. The minute I get cold my whole body tenses automatically and it takes extreme mental effort to force relaxation. At first cold really didn’t affect me much but as my CRPS progressed I became more and more cold sensitive, and now heat is my refuge from pain.

This is why I live in Texas, only 2 seasons hot, and not AS hot.

This is why I live in Texas, only 2 seasons hot, and not as hot.

Each person is unique in how their CRPS progresses and behaves, and this is very true with temperatures. “Cold” CRPS can occur, it is more rare in about 30% of recorded cases and as the name indicates the affected area is colder than normal. If you have “warm” or “hot” CRPS, which is the sort I seem to have, and is unfortunately more acute, and is characterized by a warm area or increased body temperature. I am apparently snuggle-y warm and a favorite of small children and cats because of this. People who have “hot” CRPS are in general advised to avoid cold and that is why you see this as the most prominent admonitions on sites like here, and here. From what I have found from my own experience this holds true. I tend to avoid cold and when I am hurting the first thing I think of is how I can make that area warm.

Some good warming suggestions that I have found that ease the pain are:

  • Warm/Hot baths or showers – you shouldn’t be scalding yourself but warmth can help loosen stiff or spasmed muscles, but no more than 20 minutes. More and it can cause issues.
  • Baths with Epsom Salts – I have a ton of these listed, pick on that fits your needs and like above no more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Heating pads – also includes rice, clay, microwaveable gel, and other heating pack type things. I love these and they sometimes are huge in alleviating pain. They also do great in helping with my migraine pain. Only downside is if you get up you have to shoo your cat or dog away from them. Those scamps!
  • Warming oilsclove, ginger, eucalyptus, capsacin, wintergreen, peppermint, and lots of other oils have warming properties. These draw blood to the area and make the area feel more warm which again helps muscles to relax and ease pain. Make or buy them and apply, always be careful to avoid the eyes and sensitive areas.
  • Exercisenot only is it good for you, but it gets the blood pumping to extremities and helps warm the more extreme areas (which is why you sometimes feel more stiff when you wake up and more limber after moving around).

It is good to limit heat exposure since applying heat and the removing it can shock the body with the temperature change and be just as bad as applying a cold pack. Remember if you have “cold” CRPS treatment will be different, and if you do not have CRPS make sure to use the appropriate RICE technique. If you are not sure about what to use, you should always ask a professional!