What can I do if my pain can't be "fixed"?

I have heard, over the years, several of my colleagues in hand therapy and other medical practitioners fret over a particularly “difficult” patient and say something along the lines of “I can’t figure out how to get them better” or even “I can’t seem to heal them”.

I personally think that this is a bit of a backward way of thinking. It may even contribute, albeit unwittingly, to a patient’s frustration. After all, if something causing us pain can’t be “fixed” then logically we are not only doomed to a life of pain and suffering, but we are also irrevocably broken.

This is a very one-dimensional approach to diminishing the experience of pain and increasing function.

Are there injuries or illnesses that can be remedied with surgery or medication? Absolutely. 

But what do you do if you find yourself in a situation that cannot be so easily "fixed"?

There is an emerging field of chronic pain science that suggests that pain should be addressed with a multifaceted approach. It is spearheaded by practitioners like David Butler and Dr. Lorimer Moseley in their book Explain Pain and Dr. Greg Lehman in his Pain Science Workbook.

Dr. Lehman compares a person's "pain threshold" to a cup with lots of different factors and experiences that can fill it up. An injury or an illness is just one of those experiences.

But so are outside stressors, such as problems with money, family, or work. Other, seemingly unrelated diagnoses can also create stress on the whole system and help fill a person's cup. The more the cup fills up with all the factors that make up a person's life experience, the more intensely the pain will be experienced and the more debilitating it will be.

This helps explain why two patients with nearly identical thumb x-rays revealing almost identical levels of arthritic change might have drastically experiences with pain and dysfunction. 

None of this is meant to suggest that pain is necessarily "all in your head" and coping with chronic pain conditions is simply a matter of positive thinking.

What it does suggest is that if you have an issue that can't be "fixed" there are things that you can perhaps do to empty your cup in other ways so you can live your life as fully as you can.

As a therapist, my role isn't necessarily to "heal" someone. I'm much more concerned with finding ways to get people back to doing the things they love to do. I want to give people the agency to empty their cup and, in doing so, perhaps allow them to heal themselves.

This is why I am excited by what we are doing here at Grace and Able.

So many of my patients over the years have told me that they are so sick of wearing their bulky medical splint and constantly having people ask "What happened to your wrist?" or "What did you do?".

For many people facing these questions, and the constant reminder of their ongoing pain it provides throughout the day, only heightens their experience of pain and dysfunction.

We hope that our splints can help alleviate this experience for people and help empty their cup just a little bit.