Earlier in the year I had the honour of being involved in shaping the Leva Clinic pain management programme into what it is today. My involvement in it was something that as a chronic pain patient I could have only dreamed of. For all of my adult life I have tried countless so-called ‘cures’, chronic pain exercise plans and medications to cope, but I felt none of it was actually realistic or helpful. Then entered Leva Clinic, with its patient centered and multidisciplinary approach, it was everything I’d ever wanted.
Helping to write the programme not only meant that I was able to share the things I’d learned, but it also led to me learning a lot myself. The 12 modules of the programme cover everything from sleep to medication and movement, as well as offering direct access to a health coach. The programme, as well as the incredible team at Leva, introduced me to a whole new way of looking at and coping with my chronic pain.
When you live with chronic pain ‘movement’ and ‘exercise’ can be scary words, I think we’ve all had experiences of health professionals claiming that exercise alone is the key to relieving our pain. Over time the more I heard this, the more I rejected the idea that exercise and movement could play any part in how I managed my pain. The programme really helped me to see that movement can mean absolutely anything though. On a bad day it can mean just doing a simple stretch, or even just walking to the bathroom. It doesn’t have to be running a marathon or going to the gym. I absolutely love swimming but it’s definitely a ‘good day’ activity, and I started to believe that if I wasn’t up to swimming one day then it was better to do nothing at all. How wrong I was!
I’ve started incorporating movement into my everyday life now, whether that’s climbing stairs in a more mindful way or spending 10 minutes using my pedal exerciser. I’ve begun to see the benefits of doing smaller things more regularly rather than solely focusing on spending 2 hours in the pool every week. It’s easy on the bad days to just stay in bed all day, but I’m seeing the benefits now of keeping my body moving, within its limits, so that I don’t suffer more stiffness and pain from staying still.
Another element of pain management that has also had a massive impact on my life is medication. I’ve been on opioids since I was about 16, it’s been on and off but for the most part I’ve taken at least one at all times, and it wasn’t until this year that I really stopped to think about whether they are helping anymore. Pain medication has been such a big part of my life for so long that the idea of coming off it hadn’t even crossed my mind, despite constantly telling those in my life that my medications don’t work.
Now, I’m not saying I’m about to stop all my medications overnight, not only would that be completely inadvisable, but there are definitely situations in which medication does help me. On my worst days, medication often does help me to get past the peak of my pain, and thinking about this has me considering making medication part of my flare up plan only. I’ve always known that on most days medication is not particularly effective for me, but it’s been in my life for so long that I’d never stopped to pause and reflect.
I’m currently recovering from heart surgery so a big medication change right now isn’t quite right, but I’m really excited to use what I’ve learned, and with the support of Leva’s amazing team, to make better decisions about the role medication plays in my life. It definitely does have a role, but I’m seeing that there are other tools that help me a lot more now.
I feel like this is just the beginning of an amazing journey for me, and that excites me because I know that countless others who do the pain management programme will also be starting a similar journey that will change their lives.