Shame on me. In the twenty months since I have started this blog, I have scarcely addressed the issue of pain, perhaps because I have found it so difficult to treat this symptom in myself. Yet it deserves attention, because pain is one of the most prevalent, and difficult symptoms faced by Lyme disease sufferers.
While no strategy has fully cured me of my pain, I suppose I would be doing an injustice to my readers if I didn’t share the solutions that have provided me with at least some relief.
Also, by sharing what has NOT worked for me, you may gain insights into strategies that may or may not work for you, especially if you have back and neck pain related to Lyme disease, as I do. (Nerve pain, unfortunately, is not a topic that I know much about, so these strategies may not apply to you). However, if your pain is related to muscle and joint issues, then sharing my experience may be of benefit to you, and especially because many typical approaches to healing pain, especially back pain, don’t work if the pain is related to Lyme disease.
Take chiropractic adjustments, for example. For ten years (even before I knew I had Lyme) I visited at least a half-dozen chiropractors for my back pain, and none of them were ever able to adjust my spine so that it would stay in alignment. The minute I walked out of their offices, my vertebra always would shift out of place again. Thanks to the bugs.
I also found that acupuncture didn’t work well for me, and there is controversy about using acupuncture in chronic Lyme sufferers because of the type of immune response that it elicits. (Some Lyme-literate physicians, however, advocate it and some patients have found relief with it).
Massage therapy I found to be too temporary and too expensive a solution. I also discovered that deep massage made me feel worse, perhaps because it pulled toxins from my muscles.
And after awhile, I learned that as long as the bugs were still swimming about in my spine and my body was overloaded with toxins, the above strategies could only be minimally beneficial, at best.
Finally, I used to pop ibuprofen and muscle relaxants like candy, but drugs did little to alleviate my pain, as did five cortisone injections, which caused more problems than they solved.
Interestingly enough, what has been more beneficial for me than any of the above therapies has been learning to manage my pain by changing my lifestyle and diet. This, along with reducing my infection load, has significantly improved my pain symptoms, so that they have ceased to be a major problem in my Lyme life.
My path to relief started when I stopped working as a flight attendant in 2004 due to Lyme disease. Imagine trying to heal from back and neck pain if your daily work involves lifting suitcases and pushing carts! Further improvements occurred when I began to wear orthopedic shoes, used a water pillow to support my neck, and (begrudgingly) learned to sleep on my side, instead of my stomach. I also made an effort to sit only in chairs that fully supported my back. My current apartment in Costa Rica has a hardwood Dutch-style sofa, where I can sit and work on my laptop for most of the day without experiencing pain.
In addition, a couple of years ago, I found an excellent osteopath who taught me stretches which have since helped to keep my spine in alignment and which have prevented my muscles from going into continual spasm.
I surmise that taking copious amounts of magnesium, along with other vitamins, minerals, and fish oil, has also helped to reduce my pain, albeit gradually. Maintaining a sugar-free (okay, almost) and gluten-free diet has likewise been important, since sugar and gluten cause inflammation.
Finally, hot baths, Biofreeze (a menthol-based topical gel that works better than ibuprofen)and Epsom salts have helped me through difficult moments of pain, when I have been under stress or stupidly insisted on carrying a backpack whenever I travel.
All of the aforementioned strategies, along with reducing my pathogen load, have enabled me to live a relatively pain-free life over the past year. As long as I do everything “right”, I don’t suffer too much. But it took me many years of trial and error, of cleaning up my body and immune system, to get to where I am now. Yes, I can still induce significant pain to my neck and back if I don’t live carefully, but the day-to-day minor aches that I have now are nothing like the fires that used to shoot up my back, or the guitar-string-like muscle spasms that used to stiffen my shoulders.
Most importantly, I have learned that keeping my stress-o-meter in the “green” is vital in order for me to stay pain-free, because the first place that physical or emotional stress manifests in my body is in my upper back and shoulders.
If you are like me, you’ve probably found that one type of treatment hasn’t been sufficient for getting rid of your pain, and that multiple interventions have been required in order for you to feel better, especially if your pain has been severe. And that time and much patience have been necessary in order to achieve lasting relief from symptoms.
What has worked for me may not work for you, however, so if you still struggle with pain, you might also try some of the pain-relieving strategies advocated by Lyme-literate physicians such as Dr. Singleton, M.D. I described some of Dr. Singleton’s strategies in my earlier blog post on Inflammation (since pain and inflammation go hand-in-hand), so I won’t repeat those here, but instead mention some of the others he advocates and which are found in his book, “The Lyme Disease Solution.”
First, for moderate pain, Dr. Singleton suggests tri-cyclic anti-depressants, such as amitriptyline. A newer medication, Cymbalta, has also proven to be helpful. Anti-depressants relieve pain by balancing the brain chemicals norepenephrine and serotonin, thereby altering the body’s perception of pain. Another non-opoid approach is gabapentin (although its exact mechanism for the ridding the body of pain is unknown). Also, lidoderm patches, which contain a local anaesthetic, can effectively reduce pain when placed over the area of discomfort.
In cases of severe pain, Dr. Singleton recommends consulting a pain specialist for management of symptoms, as more powerful prescription pharmaceutical substances are not usually a good long-term solution for pain (although they can be useful in the short term).
In addition, Dr. Singleton advocates the following natural approaches for pain relief:
1) Homeopathic remedies. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, these pose no risks of side effects. Two of the most effective homeopathic remedies are arnica and traumeel. The former is an ointment that is used to soothe painful areas of the body.
2) Magnet therapy. Practiced worldwide since ancient times, magnets, when placed over painful areas, block pain signals to the brain, increasing endorphins and circulation, which in turn speeds up the delivery of healing agents to that part of the body.
3) Topical Emu Oil. This product contains high amounts of fatty acids, and provides pain relief when used as an ointment. Some products also contain glucosamine (which halts the destruction of healthy cells).
Dealing with pain can be difficult and trying. If you have found a strategy that has been beneficial for you, please post a comment below and let readers know what it is!
Otherwise, if you are still struggling with pain, I invite you to try one of Dr. Singleton’s strategies, or borrow a tip or two from my own experiences of having dealt with chronic pain.