Lisa's Story

Chronic pain is awful. There is no other way of saying. It is like carrying around a sack of potatoes. A sack you can never put down, no matter how weary you are. No matter how busy your life is. No matter how much that sack gets in the way. It doesn’t even matter how heavy the sack is; it’s just always there.

I have spent a lifetime dealing with frequent acute pain. I was born with a rare spinal disability, which meant that my legs to be paralysed. Because the almost half of the bones in my spine were missing, I frequently had pain at the base of my spine if I am not careful. And by “careful”, I mean “keeping myself in cotton wool”. However, I chose to live a life and deal with any pain when it arose. But at the end of 2013, something else happened that pushed my acute pain to chronic pain, and the wind was knocked out of my sails.

I went searching for a way to manage my pain and still live my life. I’m an occupational therapists and research fellow, so naturally I delved into research publications and ended up in the worlds of occupational therapy theory, neuroscience and behaviour. Interesting ideas about the plasticity of the brain to rewire itself were emerging. I combined this idea about the brain making new connections and pathways with ideas from my occupational therapy training about habits and daily routines.

Based on this research, I started to use every day activities to address my pain. But more than that, I was able to personalise the activities, changing them according to my pain levels on each day/hour. Using these strategies, I reduced my pain to just a niggle here and there over several months.

I wrote my book, Breaking the pain habit’, for non-medical, non-science people who are in chronic pain. I have used neuroscience research and evidence in writing it, but I have tried to put that jargon into everyday language. IAnd I have done that for one reason alone: Living with chronic pain is hard. You already have enough to cope with without trying to wade through dry research and theory just to find some relief.

I spent months researching and reading about the mechanisms of acute pain, and the habits of chronic pain. The more I understood what was happening, the less fearful I was. Then, I began to read research about how pain changes patterns and pathways in the brain, and how it is possible to weaken those pain pathways. I tried many things to get rid of my pain. After a while, I realised that using just one technique, in just one way, was only being partially effective, so I needed to change it up and create a whole approach, not just isolated tasks. My experience has led me to develop these pain management strategies, which focus on the habits and brain pathways created around.

I have divided this book into two sections. In the first section of this book, we look at why we experience acute pain. I also describe how acute pain can easily slide into the lifestyle of chronic pain. Next, I describe the concepts and research about habits and brain pathways of chronic pain. Then, we examine how chronic pain causes physical changes in the brain. Pain habits create strong pathways in the brain, linking certain behaviours together, and potentially keeping us in the pain lifestyle. Finally, in this section, we begin to look at how brain pathways and habits associated with pain can be changed, and my pain management strategies begin to take shape.
The second section of this book provides a step by step guide to putting together your own pain management program. We focus on behaviours and actions, with the aim to refocus the brain and change the habits and brain pathways of chronic pain.

I decided to write this book to share these concepts. I want you to take those ideas that are useful to you, and build your own map to guide you out of pain.

Dr Chaffey can be contacted via email:

[email protected]

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