Chronic pain can be life destroying. Chronic is from chronos, meaning time. For Susan, this started four years before retirement, and in the two years since, she has morphed from being a full time professional teacher into a full time professional 'patient'. Numbness in two regions of the body after operations and immense, increasing pain have become an intrinsic part of her life.
So what does medical science have to say?
Susan started with a hip replacement at the age of 56, followed by a knee arthroscopy almost immediately after. Numbness in her feet followed swiftly on, and eventually another hip replacement upon retirement, further numbness in another area of the body and the chronic pain. There has followed numerous X-rays, MRI scans, Ct scans, nerve conduction tests, blood tests, a lumbar puncture, thermal threshold tests and bone density scans.
Nothing. No diagnosis. Nothing.
She’s seen four consultants with a referral to the fifth on the way, all flavours of physiotherapist - NHS, NHS HLP (High Level Professional), Private, Pet Detective, Saga Norén etc.
She’s been prescribed drugs, lots of drugs. Injections. And exercises. Oh how we Physios love to dish out the exercises. More exercises. Exercise classes. Then more exercises.
Nothing. No change. Nothing.
At this point many people would give up. That would be understandable. Logical almost. Susan hasn’t.
The pain persists. No explanation is forthcoming. And for the last nine months it has been getting worse.
“What have I done to cause this pain? Will I be like this for ever?”
“My before-sleep mantra for the last two years has been obsessive and negative, like a record that never moves from a certain groove: ‘What is wrong? What has gone wrong? What have I done to cause this pain? Will I be like this for ever ?”
“I was living everyday with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Recently, in desperation, I joined the gym to start regular swimming as walking, gardening and any other form of exercise, which put pressure on my back and leg was unbearable. It was a chance meeting at the gym with another of Kim’s patients, which led me to make the phone call which has connected us.“
My ego isn’t sufficient that I can believe all these other professionals have missed something. Perhaps they have but I think it’s unlikely. So Susan and I are going on a journey. A journey that starts with respect for her as an individual.
Necessarily our explorations must be empirical - a repeated cycle of testing and evaluation - guided by my experience and knowledge but led by Susan’s open mind, willingness to listen to new ideas and her ability to adapt and innovate.
“At the first consultation, Kim explained with a drawing and clear explanation what had been happening to cause my chronic pain. It was refreshing to meet a practitioner who sat at my side and talked rather than check me out and provide me with a list of exercises, which I knew would cause even more pain.”
“The Todd Hargrove book she recommended has been revelatory. It has turned all my thinking upside down. “Pain is a real feeling, but that does not necessarily reflect real (tissue) damage in the body”. This was just one of many statements which opened my eyes wide to future possibilities. This book, together with Kim’s support has changed my thinking and outlook.”
I wanted Susan to play at moving her body within its pain free range. Susan chooses to do exercises whilst listening to music and she lets her body become the conductor of the orchestra. Perfect.
We are having some success. Susan can now move pain free whilst lying down and has recently walked more than a mile with minimal discomfort. This is great news as Susan can now slowly start to build up by sharing enjoyable walks with friends.
“It is as though I have given my body permission to work towards change.“
“Knowledge and understanding of the cause of my pain has enabled me to take control. I feel empowered. It is as though I have given my body permission to work towards change. I have joined yoga classes and have started relaxing and putting my body into positions last experienced over 6 years ago. I had no idea that my body still had this level of flexibility.“
“The pain in my lower back and part of my hip and leg is easing, but I know it is still a long journey to gradually re-train the neural pathways and mend the nerve pain mechanisms. This will require regular practice and some considerable discipline, but I do know that Kim will be there explaining and cajoling me along my road to recovery in at least some of my complex issues.”
Susan has had a really tough six years but she is still determined to live life and enjoy it. She’s an inspiration to me and it is an honour to be able to support her.