I’ve never explained the situation in full detail, but I have made reference to a chronic pain situation that I have in my right pelvis/psoas/hip area.

The MDs, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturist, and movement specialists that I saw were never able to fully “diagnose” me with a single cause for my pain.  No one can say, “You have an X going on that is causing this pain.”

I believe that the pain is a result of a constellation of issues: a dysfunctional pelvic floor from years of dance and other movement coupled with two back-to-back pregnancies (babies were sixteen months apart), endometriosis, a leg length difference, and being thrown from a horse in my early 20s.  Whatever the cause, it actually doesn’t matter to me anymore.  I am no longer focused on why I hurt, although I was for a very long time.  Now, I just want to feel good.

The pain and dysfunction peaked in the fall of 2008 after my second child was born, and I have not been totally pain-free since.

However, with the help of a fantastic physical therapist, an amazing massage therapist and what I learned from Katy Bowman, the pain was improving and manageable when I got pregnant with Baby A in the fall of 2011.

My symptoms waxed and waned a bit during pregnancy.  With Katy’s stretching protocol, minimalist shoes, and those amazing massages, I kept the pain from increasing.

Then Baby A was born.  Then came the sleep deprivation.

I have been utterly amazed to watch my painful area degrade as the sleeplessness has progressed.  She will be nine months next week, and I haven’t had a full night of sleep since before she was born.  The pain, although not nearly as intense as it was with my second child, is constant and challenging.

What’s different this time is that I do have strategies to cope.  Instead of wasting my time figuring out the cause, I can go straight to the remedy.  So, for the physical recovery, I am set.

But – and you may think I am nutty when you read this – I’ve noticed a number of pain “triggers” that exacerbate my pain that are kind of beyond my control.

For example, I was walking at the nearby college campus the other day and I noticed that the area throbbed in a slightly different way than normal.  I also happened to notice that they were spraying pesticide all over the area where I was walking.  I have noticed other times when I was in the middle of some chemicals – like in the cleaner aisle at Costco –  that my pain got worse.

I have also absolutely determined that stress makes my pain exponentially worse.  When I have an argument with someone I love, when someone is a jerk to me in traffic, or when I get bad news, the area throbs and aches.

So, I was a little affirmed when I read about a study that determined, “Dwelling on stressful events can increase inflammation in the body.”

You can read the details here, but this is a sufficient summary for my purposes:

Researchers discovered that when study participants were asked to ruminate on a stressful incident, their levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of tissue inflammation, rose. The study is the first time to directly measure this effect in the body.

This tells me a few of things:

  • I am not insane when I think my pain heightens during periods of stress.
  • I have been working to reduce the overall inflammation in my body in the hope that it will have beneficial effects on my chronic pain situation.  This study makes that seem like a good plan.
  • We actually know precious little about the relationship between the mind and pain in the human body.

I can’t make Baby A sleep, but I can continue to try to reduce the overall stress level in my life.  I can also greet the pain that occurs during moments of stress with a bit more grace.  Instead of getting bound up in the despair of the pain, I can welcome it as a sign that my body is calling Uncle and I need to reduce my stress load.

I probably knew all of this intuitively already, but it is kind of nice to have some research to back me up.

Those of you with chronic pain, have you found a correlation between your emotional stress and how your body feels?

 

12 Responses to “Exploring Chronic Pain : Stress”

  1. on 14 Mar 2013 at 6:52 amSusan

    Kristine,
    I am feeling your pain of sleep deprivation as I had two years of little sleep after my two babies were born many years ago. I was a nursing mama and had one that had constant ear infections so we were up many times at night. Sleep does finally come…….and now I am in menopause years and I wake up at 4 am and can’t get back to sleep! Got to love those hormonal changes 🙂
    I am thinking I should just come and take your children to the park next week and let you take a nap! So wish you lived closer and I would do that for you, I promise! It seems like pain or stress or anything is worse when you have not had a night’s sleep. I am thinking I might just go stay with my daughter in law who just had twins and take the night shift so she can sleep. Seem like you can handle anything during the day if you have had your sleep at night! Hang in there……..sleep does come!

  2. on 14 Mar 2013 at 7:41 amKristine Rudolph

    I know it does – it did with the first two. But it is very hard to watch one’s own health decline and not be able to do anything about it!

  3. on 14 Mar 2013 at 12:42 pmK

    Didn’t know you had endometriosis! Me too. Causing my hysterectomy 6 weeks ago. But now it seems my pain is back even though I was told it wouldn’t be. I did seem to notice that in stressful times my pain seemed to be worse. I’m slowly trying to lessen stressors in my life and get rid of stuff. Maybe it will help. Would love to see a post on your thoughts/experiences with endometriosis. More women have it than you think and would love to see a cure.

  4. on 14 Mar 2013 at 1:27 pmSandi

    I know you said you no longer focus on the “why” anymore, but have you ever been checked for a hernia? It can cause many types of symptoms in women that are not commonly assoc. with hernias and are extremely difficult to diagnose if not outwardly present. I’m speaking from experience – I recently found out I have an inguinal hernia ONLY because it decided to show itself. I was told all types of crazy things by my doctors as to what was wrong, best one was “you are just getting older and it’s more difficult for your ovary to pop out an egg”. I’m hoping that much of the pain I’ve been living with for the last year and a half will go away after having the hernia repaired. Anyway, something to think about. Check out this NY Times article if you have time.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/health/17brody.html?_r=0

  5. on 14 Mar 2013 at 1:58 pmKristine Rudolph

    Very interesting stuff. I actually did have an umbilical hernia that was repaired during the endo surgery, but I was the one who found it. That procedure was pretty extensively exploratory so I feel pretty confident that they would have found an inguinal hernia if I had one. Plus, I do have multiple different factors that are causing my pain … it’s not just one simple cause … which I think is what a lot of people with chronic pain face.

    Definitely read up on alignedandwell.com on and Julie Wiebe’s website about intra-abdominal pressure. I fear that much of what we have had women doing for the last 30 years in the name of a “strong core” has caused a litany of problems from head to toe.

  6. on 14 Mar 2013 at 5:40 pmSheri Goff

    This is all so interesting…….you are an amazing person, Kristine. I am learning so much from you and you make it so easy with your links. And what an eye opener for me to connect my chronic pain with stress. A couple of stressful things have been going on of late and my bursitis legs have been acting up again! Hmmmm…….good for you for continuing to pursue the sources of your pain and doing PT and massage therapy. Too many people just suffer and think there is no answer.

  7. on 14 Mar 2013 at 5:47 pmKristine Rudolph

    I am so glad that you are enjoying the blog! I have to say, the more I learn, the more I realize three things: inflammation plays a bigger role than we ever realized, the mind-body connection is more than anyone can even imagine, and ohmygoodness we have so very much left to learn.

  8. on 14 Mar 2013 at 10:00 pmCarmen

    I am all too familiar with chronic pain and stress and e mind body relationship. My journey with chronic pain started about 14 years ago. I even went so far as to have piriformus surgery (it didn’t help at all!) and when I felt no relief from shots and went through multiple MRI’s etc I started studying the mind body connection in relationship to stress of all kinds (happy and sad). Dr. John Sarno was my main inspiration for learning about how intricately the mind and body are connected when it comes to experiencing pain. Look up The Divided Mind by John Sarno and “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace Pert. GOOD stuff! Great topic Kristine!

  9. on 14 Mar 2013 at 10:33 pmKristine Rudolph

    I didn’t even know they did piriformis surgery!

  10. […] The chronic pain I had largely eliminated in my pelvic area has returned gradually and steadily. […]

  11. on 21 May 2013 at 8:38 amK

    Thanks Sandi for putting in the link to the NY Times article on hernias. I’m taking to my dr appt in 2 days! Wonder if it is what my problem is!

  12. on 21 May 2013 at 8:55 amKristine Rudolph

    I will make sure to pass on your thanks!

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