chronic pain, the Calli Institute, mental health therapyI joined the ranks of those who have had joint replacement, two hips in fact, over two years ago. I developed arthritis in both hips after a horseback riding fall in 2010. My friends and family noticed a change in my mood, locomotion, concentration and energy long before I was ready to concede I needed surgery.

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage”. Pain can be either acute or chronic and is a subjective experience for each of us.

Chronic pain can cause impairments in daily functioning, social life and family life. It is often accompanied by depression and can change the way your brain and body functions. Because of the subjective quality to pain, I was in denial about the level of discomfort I was experiencing. I don’t remember exactly when I started walking less, when I started having less patience, more bouts of tearfulness, less of an appetite and poorer sleep quality. I don’t remember when I started having less interest in reading, cooking and spending time with friends and family.

The pain became part of my normal life for almost a year and it was only when my primary care doctor noticed my lopsided gait and assessed changes to my quality of life that I consulted with a surgeon.

After I was diagnosed as a great candidate for surgery, I started an integrative approach to my health comprised of education, nutrition and sleep hygiene, mind and body techniques and social supports. I educated myself on arthritis and joint trauma, added smoothies and greens to my diet and cut down on late-night computer time. I also spent more time in mindfulness techniques and meditation tecniques developed after surgery. Talking directly about my pain with doctors, loved ones and others experiencing chronic pain helped me feel validated about my struggle.

Here are 6 Lessons I Learned from Living with Chronic Pain

  • Get to know your pain. What is normal and what as changed?
  • Explore your treatment options. Ask questions and consider alternatives.
  • Practice good nutrition and sleep hygiene.
  • Use a variety of techniques to relax your body and mind.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.
  • Know that you are not alone.