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WHAT I DO: CATCH IT EARLY

We live in a culture which promotes the nobility of working through pain.

This past weekend, I had the briefest moment of lateral elbow pain, and it reminded me of the experience I had with tennis elbow 10 years ago. I remember trying to work through it, and really thinking that it couldn’t happen to me. I would just tough it out.  A year and a half later, it beat me into submission. Shots didn’t work. Medications didn’t help. Braces helped a little, but what…I’m going to use a brace in the OR? But I can tell you I wore one when I rode my horse, or cleaned house. I stopped lifting weights, which is probably what got it started in the first place. And then it hurt to do everything. I had to stop doing everything that hurt. I even had to resort to the dead-carp handshake. That’s when you just hand someone your limp hand, rather than give a nice, stout handshake.

Since then, I have listened to my body, and when I have a pain…a pain not related to having just bumped into a hard surface…a pain not related to a bone sticking out of the skin, or blood or pusI LISTEN!

Or better said…I FEEL! And this is what I do:

  • I immediately try to figure out what might be causing it.
  • If I can, and depending on what it is, I temporarily or permanently stop doing it.
  • I modify the way I do anything that hurts.
  • RICE
  • Maybe I’ll take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, since I can. Many people can’t take them, so don’t.
  • I stretched, and did not allow myself to get stiff. This is important. So many patients stop moving a joint that hurts, and then they get stiff. They mistakenly think that moving the painful area will harm it in some way. It’s unlikely. And a stiff, painful joint is even harder to treat.

So, back to my tennis elbow. I felt that pain, like twice in one morning. But I KNOW that pain, and I see patients with it every day. It can be disabling. I set to work trying to figure it out. I think I’ve been playing my guitar a lot lately. But I also lifted some heavy boxes a few days ago. I backed off on the guitar picking, because that’s a more aggressive style of playing the strings. When I went to the grocery store, I had them pack less in each bag, and I paid attention to how I lifted them. I used my left arm a little more. I got out my old wrist brace and tennis elbow brace, and used them all day. I iced my elbow, stretched and massaged it. I took some OTC NSAIDS. And today, the pain is gone! Hope it stays that way. Tomorrow will be the test. Shaking hands with patients and family members all day. If it starts hurting, I’ll put on my brace or resort to the dead-carp handshake.

You can use this basic method for any ache or pain that’s not due to an injury, or doesn’t involve deformed bones, pus or bleeding. It’s rare for me to see someone who has only had this kind of pain for a few days. Usually they’ve had pain for weeks, or months, and by then the problem is well entrenched. It’s much harder to treat.

Be more proactive when it comes to pain. In my opinion, it’s not so noble to work through it.

14 comments
  1. Pam Clements

    Your thoughts, knowledge experience in caring have impressed me since the first day I walked into your clinic. Thank you for sharing. It means so much!

  2. Lynda Plummer

    I’ve been trying to work through lower back and hip pain for the last eight months. I exercise regularly, usually a four mile walk, and do yoga and strength training. I do have scoliosis, and have had ablation done four times. The last time, 5 months ago gave me no relief. I have an appointment next week with a neurosurgeon. Hoping something can be done. I have a constant throbbing deep in my hip and am limping pretty badly.
    Also had steroid shots in the bursa, no relief there either.

    1. Barbara

      Unfortunately, this approach will not work so well in chronic conditions, especially when you have already undergone a lot of treatment modalities. The back is always complicated, although I have used this exact method for both mechanical back pain, as well as sciatica. But, I catch it early, and try as much as possible not to work through the pain.

    1. Barbara

      I like to tell the story of the dog who came to visit us for 6 months. He was walking on 3 legs, the fourth being tucked up under his hind end. I figured it was permanently damaged. He hung out, and we fed him. Then about 6 months after he arrived, he suddenly started walking, and then running on that leg! And then he took off…maybe for his real home. He knew he needed rest. Humans sometimes have a hard time with that. And for the most part, we live in a world where we don’t die if we rest!

  3. Roberta

    Thanks! I appreciate your comments. You always mention at least one thing I haven’t thought of recently, even if it’s not new and just a reminder.

  4. linda groner elmas

    Seeing you tomorrow. but, you’ve been my Doctor for 25 years and always the soundest advice. I trust you and Chad and know your advise is always solid. Thanks for being such a help over the years.

    \

  5. Lynda Plummer

    Thank you for your advice. I am going to try to rest as much as I can, and hopefully will get some pain relief. I really enjoy your blogs; you address so many of the issues that I have been experiencing, especially now that I’m in my sixties.
    P.S…… LOVED YOUR BOOK!

    1. Barbara

      Lynda,
      Thanks for reading my blog and my book! Glad you’ve enjoyed both!
      There are many benefits of rest, and sometimes you just need to rest some little part of your body, and not the whole thing!

  6. Martha Lenamon

    Like others who have taken a little time to respond to your advice and information shared in your helpful “posts,” I wanted to “thank you” for sharing your knowledge and personal experience in such a way that I feel like I’m talking with a close, personal friend about my pains and concerns and requests for advice based on your very own personal experience. It’s reassuring and comforting without making me feel like I do all the wrong things, or it’s just being 72 and I should be thankful I can still walk or move so just “live with it!” You make your information “relate-able” on multiple levels without feeling that I’m being lectured to. I moved to a very rural area in northwest Louisiana near the end of 2018 so I’m not quickly accessible to you like I was when I was in Austin. Your regular posts keep me connected to you “across the miles.”

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