Back to Pain Management


            My wife sent me some articles about pain management, indicating to me either that she’s concerned about my well-being or that I complain too much, or possibly both. Apparently “just live with it” is no longer an acceptable plan on my part.

            In fairness, though, I usually bring pain on myself. For instance, there was the snow shoveling incident that caused both back and head pain, and also proved the old adage that getting rid of snow doesn’t help much when there’s still ice. Take that to the snow bank, you overconfident SUV drivers.

            This is why my snow shoveling now involves a helmet.

            Here are some steps to take if you want to reduce pain, according to people who are either experts or have a really good website designer:

            Massage. Apparently it reduces stress, and less stress means less pain. In fact, massage improves mood, sleep, and overall quality of life.

            Do not get your massage from a place that promises “special services” and only accepts cash. It may seem to reduce stress, but one ill-timed raid and you’d stuck trying to avoid a massage by a guy named Bruce wearing an orange or striped suit.

            Mindfulness training. This includes meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques that can reduce pain, stress, and anxiety. The problem is, I hear “training” and think “test”, which makes my stress and anxiety levels go up. It’s a vicious cycle. Let me meditate on that one.

            Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is all about changing negative thoughts and behaviors so they can cope with pain in less stressful ways, using self-talk. I tried the amateur method, by standing in front of a mirror and screaming FEEL BETTER! Which increased my stress levels, especially when the police showed up. Luckily they’d already seen me in my snow shoveling helmet and figured I was just a very special case.

            Exercise. Stress and pain can be relieved by exercise, which can also improve sleep.

            But exercise is what got me into pain to begin with!

            Heat. When something is newly injured it’s often a good idea to put cold on it, to reduce swelling. But for chronic pain problems a better idea might be a soak in a warm tub, pool, or Jacuzzi. If you can’t bring those into the office or car – and heaven knows I’ve tried – you can use a moist hot pack.

            Yes, I have used that as an excuse to buy a Jacuzzi. No, my wife didn’t let me. She’s concerned, not dumb.

            Ointments. Wintergreen, menthol, peppermint – sounds like we’re making candy, but they can help. My chiropractor gave me this green stuff that either helps the pain or distracts me with the feeling that my back’s on fire and freezing at the same time. Do not smear that stuff on and immediately put your clothes on over it. Just don’t do it.

            We’ll all know if you did. Everybody knew when I did.

            Diversion. On a related note, researchers say thinking of something else can simply take your mind off the pain. The old joke goes that if you have a headache, smashing your foot with a hammer can make you forget it. While that might be true, laughter seems to be a better choice.

            Music therapy also seems to help, so I’d suggest listening to Doctor Demento, Weird Al, or for those of you with a few years under your belt, Victor Borge or the Smothers Brothers. You could also listen to Justin Bieber and make fun of him, but that could backfire if you happen to be near a hardcore Bieber fan.

            Protecting the back. Back pain is a leading type of pain, except during election years when the pain moves lower. Choose a chair with a straight back and lumbar support. If that doesn’t work, throw the chair at a Justin Bieber fan. It’ll provide diversion.

            If you sit on the floor, keep your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. This might become necessary after throwing your chair.

            When lifting objects – such as a chair – don’t go overboard. Unless it’s overboard into warm water. Bad lifting technique is a leading cause of back pain, and I should know. I didn’t have Justin Bieber when I was a kid, but I used to throw chairs at the Bee Gees.

            There are, of course, many medications for pain. Some pain medications – this is something else I learned the hard way – can actually cause headaches, a Catch-22 reaction that caused me to nickname them “Washington, D.C.’s”.

            There are analgesics, which are simple pain relievers. There are NSAID’s, which also help with inflammation. There are alkoxides, such as rum, vodka, and whiskey. I’m fond of strawberry daiquiri, which both suppresses pain and helps with the stress. I sip them while in a warm bathtub.

            You’ll find that overusing any of those drugs – but especially the last batch, which is usually taken in liquid form – can cause bad side effects and rebound headaches.

            So there are lots of choices in your battle against pain: Don’t take it lying down, unless of course that makes the pain go away. Since I don’t dislike Justin Bieber, and I don’t drink much, I’m leaning toward listening to funny music while in a warm tub.

            Also, just to reduce stress and improve my overall quality of life, I’m going to take off my helmet and pretend it’s summer.


  1. Kind of hard to think of summer with a nor'easter wrecking havoc along the seaboard on a day like today...

    Heat's really good. I have a heating bag that I pop in the microwave, warm it up, and tuck it around the odd complaint.

    1. Emily has one of those -- filled with rice, of all things. It works really well, too, holds the heat after being microwaved. As for me, I'll take heat over cold any day.

  2. Poor you Mark. Sending positive thoughts your way.

    1. Aw, thanks. But I'm used to it ... which isn't really a good thing to say, now that I think about it.

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