Adding Pain to Reduce Pain?

The other day I came across a Try Guys YouTube video where Zach Kornfeld (@korndiddy, apparently) tries out products that have been developed for people with chronic pain, things like a “bed of nails” (Zach describes using it as a peaceful pain), and home cupping products, home TENS units, etc. It got me thinking about the need to relieve pain.

Some of the products reminded me of when I was a kid and had a huge headache. To make the headache “go away,” I wanted to thump my head against a wall. Not hard. No brain damage. I realized that was pretty counterproductive and didn’t do it. The point is, if you have pain, creating a more intense pain to counter the original pain is tempting. Is that where self-harm comes from? People are hurting inside, and that external pain they inflict on themselves gives them relief from their inner turmoil? I’m having a little bit of a hard time seeing how some of these products are doing more than self-harm.

There were some products that helped to stretch muscles or massages, which seem more productive. One guest on the show brought a large bag of what she called her “little angels” – products to help with chronic pain. Included were a pair of mirror glasses, which allow people to lay flat, look forward, and see downward so they can watch TV without putting their neck in an awkward position. Useful – my dad broke his back and spent months in bed with a pair of mirror glasses to read and watch TV while he mended. Most of the products, however, didn’t seem worth the money or – frankly – the hope. The guest with the bag of toys suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, which a friend of mine was dealing with for some time. It’s a condition where essentially the nerves in your jaw connecting to your head get all bundled up and twisted. The pain can be unbearable. My friend has told me about several people in his support group who have committed suicide with this condition. He was lucky – he was able to have surgery to actually cure the pain. But I wonder when someone with that kind of pain orders a product and gives in to hope, does it make it worse?

Bottom line, none of these toys are cures. None will stop the pain. They may relieve the pain; they won’t cure the pain. The cynic in me says these are products put out there to take advantage of people with chronic pain, and since a lot of people with chronic pain are on disability and not necessary financially fluid, that’s a shame. These things are not inexpensive. At the same time, when I wrestle my cynic aside, I am a strong believer in the placebo effect. People can feel better when they convince themselves they feel better, just like they can convince themselves they don’t feel well. If putting a home TENS unit on your back gives you relief, there’s nothing wrong with that.

And then I look at the bottle of naproxen slowly going out of date on my bedside table. I have it there for one specific pain I get in my side, right about where my ovaries are (TMI, sorry). It’s the one pain that naproxen helps with every time. However, I don’t take it immediately. I wait for a few days. If that pain doesn’t go away in a few days, it won’t go away for a few weeks, it disrupts my sleep, and I take the pill. When I find something that helps, I have to be careful not to overuse it. Ibuprofen used to help – now it hurts me. More than anything, however, is I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve stopped hoping. That’s not a negative thing. I look out my window at the garden I’m putting together with baby steps, at my work and all the things I’ve done and will do. I’m generally happy and satisfied with my life. The hope was dragging me down. I’m not going to spend money on things that might help me for a few minutes. The most productive pain reduction for me has been to make choices about how to live, to accept the things I can’t do and to push myself to do the things I can even when they hurt. I don’t succeed all the time. I’ve been struggling, but none of the toys on Zach’s show will help more than that. Try Guys, btw, love them. They make me smile every time.

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