5 Benefits of a Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program: A Patient's Perspective

Feb 22, 2013

The Institute for Chronic Pain (ICP) would like to welcome a guest post by Jen of Pain Camp. Camper Jen, as she goes by, is the founder of Pain Camp, which is a wonderful blog and website on chronic pain from the perspective of someone who has chronic pain and who has participated in a chronic pain rehabilitation program. Her site, as well as her personal story, is one of how to go from SURVIVING to THRIVING despite having chronic pain. Her spirit is admirable and her testimony is inspiring.

Her guest blog post today is on her experience of the benefits of participating in a chronic pain rehabilitation program. The ICP hopes that you check out Pain Camp. It’s well worth it. In fact, it has recently been nominated for 2013 National Association of Social Workers Media Awards for best website category.

Here’s the guest blog:

5 Benefits of a Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program: A Patient’s Perspective

I was 35 years old and sitting in my primary care physician’s office complaining of terrible headaches and neck pain. I’d been afflicted with the pain for over a month and there was no improvement despite chiropractic treatment and massage (unlike the times before). I felt like my doctor was not listening to me at all. In tears, I begged for an explanation. Why wasn't the pain going away this time? What was wrong with me?

I was diagnosed with chronic pain syndrome. It was March of 2011. For the following six months, I visited many different doctors and participated in many different types of “therapy.” I had several tests, procedures and medication trials. I was not getting any better. In fact, I was only getting worse, and I had the additional diagnoses to prove it.

After six months of that chaos, I was ready to explore another approach. I had already worked with the interventional pain specialists; opioids were not an option (I’m in recovery); and the majority of my pain related diagnoses would not be improved with surgery at that point in time. The only other thing to try was a chronic pain rehabilitation program (CPRP).

The particular CPRP that I went to was a 3 week-long program. There were eight patients in the program that stayed during the week and went home on the weekends. From the second I entered the facility, I was challenged. I was also given incredible gifts. Here are five of the most valuable benefits from my experience:

1) I’m not a victim! 

I struggled over the first few days with the structure. Despite having severe pain, I was expected to participate in daily pool therapy, exercise in the gym 3x/week, and get to classes (on time). It was clear that staff was not there to pity me, and the environment at the rehab facility was not one that supported a defeatist attitude.

I was not feeling validated in my self-pity so I met with the Clinical Director. She gave me a challenge that turned my perspective around. I was indeed allowed to feel my emotions and be upset (validation). However, I needed to put a time limit on them. I could allow myself a 30-minute emotional meltdown if I needed it and then figure out action steps to move on.

From that point on, I was more open to the information that I was learning in class. I became an empowered patient rather than one that was helplessly clinging to any hope of a “cure”. Yes, I had Chronic Pain. Yes, it wasn't a fair situation. And yes, I still needed to figure out how to live my life partnering with the pain rather than working against it.

2) I’m not alone!

One of my fears going into the program was that I wouldn't have anything in common with the other patients. I was younger and well-educated with a professional career. To my surprise, I did have those things in common with some of the other patients. Even more comforting was spending entire days and evenings with people who were just like me. They understood chronic pain from my perspective. They’d had life changes because of the pain. They were at a point of acceptance and ready to make changes like I was. We were all in the same boat.

The staff told us that they did follow up with the patients many years later. One common theme among the CPRP patients, even many years later, was that creating relationships with the other people in the CPRP was one of the most beneficial points. I would have to agree as I formed two very solid friendships during my time at the CPRP. I still get together with these two women. They understand my pain and they do not judge me. We positively support and encourage one another on the most challenging days. These two friendships were an unexpected and invaluable benefit from the CPRP.

3) I can function!

Before I was admitted to the CPRP, I was going to four to six doctor appointments a week and trying to hold my full-time job. I’d already resigned from my part-time position. I’d given up all hope that I would ever be able to engage in: exercise, housework, cooking, family activities, spending time with friends. These were just extra tasks that I couldn't afford energy-wise. I was miserable. The CPRP taught me that I didn't need to be afraid of exercising. I also learned proper body mechanics for household tasks. I was reminded of the importance of humor and how spending time with my friends again could aid in healing.

4) I will pace!

I have been told that I have a “Type A Personality.” Even with the pain, I was still trying to run my life at the pace of the hare. God help you if you were a turtle trying to slow me down. Over-achiever and giving 100% of my all to every activity in life. In the CPRP, I learned that by holding onto this harried lifestyle, I was making my Chronic Pain situation worse.

In the CPRP I learned it is crucial that I pace and conserve my energy. I have my days when I feel “well” (as well as can be) and then I have my more challenging days. On my “well” days, I need to be mindful of pacing so that I do not overdo things. Energy conservation is the key. On the more challenging days, I need to be mindful of resting and formulating a plan of action to resume activities. This requires more structure in my life and scheduling periods of rest and healing activities. These are things that I didn’t have prior to the CPRP. Making sure I get enough sleep, proper nutrition and restorative yoga is also part of my pacing routine.

5) I have hope!

When I entered into the CPRP, I was hopeless. I didn’t think that my situation could improve. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was full of fear. By participating in the CPRP, I was shown that there is another way of life for those with chronic pain. Yes, my life would be different and would have to change. However, the CPRP taught me that I was in charge of managing this new life.

Of course, there was a process of grieving my old lifestyle. I also had to grieve the loss of my dream to be able to work 60 hours a week, pay off my school loans and retire at the young age of 60. By grieving these losses, I was able to formulate new goals and dreams. I was able to develop hope that I would be okay with my “new” life with chronic pain by my side. I gained hope and that hope continues to grow every day.

While participating in a CPRP was certainly not on my life’s agenda, it was definitely a gift that was given to me. I am grateful that I was able to participate in a CPRP. I learned that I was not helpless, nor was I alone. I was challenged to develop new skills for living my life with chronic pain. I was given a basic set of tools to move from surviving to thriving.

It is my hope that one day the CPRP is the first stop in the patient’s care plan for Chronic Pain, rather than the last. I believe that the CPRP is what offers the most benefit to patients with chronic pain and can get us back to a level of functioning that is productive and has meaning.

Author: Camper Jen of Pain Camp

Date of last modification: February 22, 2013

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