Reprinted with the kind permission of Sarah Borien and A Life Less Physical
I try and blog at least once a week, but a new job and a bad flare has meant that, unbelievably, it’s been almost a month. For that, patient readers, I apologise. You would think that after nine years of chronic pain I’d know my body well enough to see a flare a mile off and kick it in the ass, but it doesn’t seem to work like that.
No matter how long we’ve suffered from fibromyalgia, our flares knock us down just like they did at the beginning; quickly and with force.
However, whilst the force of the flare is pretty much consistent, the way I cope with it most certainly is not. Back in May I wrote this post about changing my approach to chronic pain management in the hope it might have a long term impact on my symptoms. After watching Dr. in the House, a BBC programme where a GP moves in with someone with a complicated illness, I decided to try a multi-treatment approach to managing my pain.
Dr. Chatterjee suggests that there are five areas to consider when faced with chronic pain, and he thinks that responding to each category rather than just one is more likely to improve your pain. I’d ruled out the focus on neurological conditions after my MRI scans came back negative, but that meant I still had four areas to address. I promised I’d update you in a series of blog posts, so here we go…
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The first box I tackled was the musculo-skeletal issue by booking an appointment with an osteopath. Over the years I’ve tried physiotherapy, body-stress release, esoteric therapy, reflexology, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, and no doubt a couple of others at some point or another. However, I’ve only ever had one or two appointments before giving up because I’ve never noticed a significant change to my pain – and I’ve never enjoyed the appointments.
I decided to give osteopathy a go because I’ve never done it before and there’s some evidence that shows it helps with back pain and migraines. For those who don’t know about osteopathy, the NHS describe it as “moving, stretching and massaging a person’s muscles and joints … it’s based on the principle that the wellbeing of an individual depends on their bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissue functioning smoothly together.”
When I first walked in to my osteopathy appointment, I wasn’t completely in the right frame of mind. I was running late so I arrived a bit flustered and I was on the defensive because I knew that, yet again, I would have to explain my entire pain journey to someone new who would likely talk about emotional trauma, the validity of fibromyalgia, or claim he could cure me in a matter of weeks.
However, he did none of those things. In fact, he was pretty great.
My osteo does three things I absolutely love. He’s not big on small talk; we only have half an hour together so he makes the most of that. He’s quick, to the point and knows I’m there to get stuff done so that’s what he does. He also refers to my knowledge and expertise, and asks me questions so that his medical knowledge can complement – not contradict – what I’ve been doing. Finally, he’s nice. It might be irrelevant to some of you, but I want someone to help me through this very complicated pain journey who is kind, who doesn’t patronise me, and who doesn’t get pissed off with me when I don’t do my exercises – which, to be clear, is a lot of the time.
I’ve been seeing him every 3 weeks for the last five months and the main question is: has it helped? Well, I’m still flaring so my gut response is no, but we all know it isn’t that simple. Maybe I would have flared sooner if it wasn’t for the osteo, or maybe the flare would have been worse.
There are a couple of reasons I keep going back.
This is the first time in almost nine years that anyone has done any physical manipulation to help me. My osteo looks at my ability to move at the beginning of each appointment, he focuses on the areas that are bothering me the most, and he explains what he’s doing and why. All of this is about my physical pain, not the history of any mental anguish. I’m often pretty exhausted after an appointment, and some of his manipulation makes me feel a bit nauseous but the physical response makes me feel like he’s doing something. My neck pain has improved over the weeks I’ve been seeing him, my headaches have eased and the approach he is taking seems logical.
Private osteopathy in central London is pretty expensive and I’ve wondered – on more than one occasion – if this is a total waste of time. And it might be. But I want to keep trying because I made a promise to myself to try a number of things and see if the combined approached works. (Alongside osteo I’m also doing some pretty excellent stress-relieving activities and starting exercise too, but more on that soon…)
If you’re considering alternative therapy then these are my three no-nonsense tips, based on a) the fact I’m quite enjoying my current experience and b) I’ve hated my past forty-five experiences. Written down they seem like common sense, but apparently it’s taken me nine years to realise this.
Find a therapy you understand and that sounds logical, not one that has to convince your inner sceptic. If you’re open to all alternative therapies then that is excellent but if you’re not, do your research and follow your head.
Find a treatment you enjoy. There’s nothing worse than lying with needles in your face wishing you were anywhere but lying with needles in your face.
Find a therapist you actually like. It’s important.
This is approach one of four. I’ll be back with number two very soon.
Sarah Borien lives in a country cottage in Oxfordshire with her husband and their two cats. She has had fibromyalgia since 2009 and is passionate about finding and sharing new coping strategies. Sarah authors her blog, A Life Less Physical, and has written for New Life Outlook (Fibromyalgia).