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Controlling Neuropathic Pain
Tips From an Occupational Therapist

by Erica K. Jacques

Joint protection means performing daily tasks in ways that lessen the load on your joints, particularly those in your hands and wrists. Joint protection is all about physics: using larger-handled objects, for example, or replacing knobs with levers, which require less force to operate. There are joint-protecting tools for just about any task or hobby, from eating to gardening. (See “Sources of Aids for Daily Living.”)

Work simplification also involves making tasks easier. Rather than focus on reducing the stress on joints, however, work simplification aims to eliminate some of the steps or effort required in routine tasks. Some examples of this strategy include switching to wrinkle-free clothing, using automatic cleaning devices (such as those for showers and toilet bowls, or a robotic vacuum cleaner), and choosing pre-chopped vegetables for cooking.

Both of these strategies may require some monetary investment — after all, new gardening equipment and a new wardrobe generally don’t come cheap. But if a purchase helps you get back to a hobby that you love, or even if it makes your daily routine a bit less strenuous, it’s probably worth it.

Pain has a tendency to make people feel grumpy and edgy — meaning that the frustration caused by neuropathic pain can be about far more than the pain itself. Holding this frustration inside is almost always a bad idea, and it can be enormously therapeutic just to vent. One excellent way to do this — even though it may sound a bit hokey — is to write about your feelings.

A major advantage of using a journal over, say, a good friend to vent is that the journal never gets tired of listening to you gripe. It never judges you. You can use the strongest language you want, and no one ever has to hear it. A journal is a safe place to write anything you need to get out of your system — just be sure to keep your journal locked or hidden away if you want to keep your thoughts private. After you have vented in your writing, you can then call a friend and talk about something more pleasant.

Another advantage of journaling is that you can track your pain. By noting what you are doing when your pain gets worse (or better), including what time of day it is and details such as what you’ve been eating, you may discover patterns that you might not otherwise notice.

Relaxation is a powerful pain-fighting tool. Think about it: When you’re in pain, do you feel relaxed or tense? Are your muscles at rest, or clamped up? Is your nervous system calm, or do you feel anxious and edgy? By consciously working to control these reactions to pain, you can sometimes reduce your perception of the pain itself. To use an analogy, the fire alarm may be disturbing you as much as the fire — and you’ll feel better if you manage to turn it off.

Naturally, different people find different activities relaxing. If you have a tried-and-true method of relaxation, that activity may be a good remedy when your pain starts to act up. If you don’t have an activity in mind, though, here are a few ideas.

Go to a gentle yoga class. Yes, you will be moving, and moving hurts. But in yoga, you focus on the breath (distraction!) and slowly relax the muscles and the mind. You finish by lying down and simply breathing. Be sure to choose a class for beginners (avoid any class with the word “power” in the title) and to inform the teacher of your condition beforehand. He may help you modify a few poses to increase your comfort.

Don’t have time for a whole yoga class? Turn on some peaceful music. Use headphones if you can, to help block out the rest of the world. You can also look for a CD or a free podcast that provides guided imagery, in which you slowly let go of all of your tension while imagining you are somewhere peaceful and safe. Using guided imagery — or any other form of guided relaxation — at home may be an attractive alternative to a public class.

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Also in this article:
Sources of Aids for Daily Living
Tips for Using Heat and Ice



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