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Chronic Back Pain

My Healthy Journey: Chronic Back Pain

The Opioid Epidemic and Chronic Back Pain

Over the last year, the leading news story in health care has been the opioid epidemic. And chronic pain, particularly chronic back pain, has been at the top of the list of reasons why people use opioids long term. 

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks, and for many, it’s pain that can last the rest of their lives. Chronic pain can happen because of a genetic problem or disorder or an injury or accident. Many people who survive serious car accidents or workplace accidents deal with chronic pain for the rest of their lives. 

And back injuries are a leading cause of chronic pain. Business Insider took a look at a study that dug into the relationship between chronic back pain and opioid use disorder:

Amino - Chronic Back Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

Having back surgery increases your chances of relying on opioids to manage pain by over 7 times! Other back problems raise your chances by over 2 times. 

Obviously, these are also people who are likely to get long-term opioid prescriptions from their doctors.

How Doctors Treat Chronic Pain

For decades, the standard for doctors has been to treat this kind of ongoing pain with opioids. Now, with opioid drug overdoses skyrocketing, doctors are making changes.

Early estimates show that opioids took 53,000 American lives in 2016, more than those killed in car accidents.

Opioids don’t just turn off your pain receptors. They also let your brain release more dopamine, which can help relieve stress and anxiety and make you happier.

But when you take an opioid permanently, you can build a tolerance to it, which means you need more and more to manage your pain and to feel good. Both the pain relief for chronic sufferers and the way it makes you feel can become addictive.

Not to mention, opioids can change how often certain neurons in your brain fire, which means that when you’re not on opioids, you actually get more anxious and unhappy until you take more, causing serious withdrawals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised their guidelines to help doctors try other treatments first, and doctors are hard at work to find new ways to treat pain.

Waiting for Chronic Back Pain

So why is this part of my healthy journey? I have my own chronic back pain.

I’m lucky. I’ve never taken opioids for my back pain, so I’ve avoided those issues, but I do understand what it’s like to live with pain as a part of your daily life and why people would be willing to take opioids to stop it.

My father has had a slipped disc in his back my entire life. I’ve always known what back pain looks like. I also always thought it might happen to me. Not only can these issues be hereditary, but I also take after my father physically.

Combine that with the slouch of someone who hated always being the tallest in her class as a child and now sits in front of a computer all day, and I always suspected that back problems were coming for me.

My Chronic Back Pain

The pain started for me in college, when I was no longer playing sports or working out in P.E. every day. One year, I chose to live in the loop in Chicago instead of by my campus, so as part of my daily commute, I walked about an hour and a half. That was when I really started to throw out my back once in a while.

But it wasn’t until I worked at Starbucks after college that I really started to have serious problems regularly. Being on my feet all day and bending up and down with milk jugs all the time really started to take a toll on my back.

I’ll get building back pain on one side of my lower back. It can switch sides, and one side is usually worse than the other. And when it fully goes out, my knee on that side can sometimes buckle, which if I’m not ready for it, can actually knock me down. And sometimes it’s so bad that getting out of bed, getting up and down, or just falling asleep, is a challenge. 

Getting Help

I’ve always known this pain might hit me one day, and when it started, I talked to my dad a lot about what was going on. My symptoms match his exactly.

Since I knew what the issue was from my father’s medical history, I wasn’t really worried about getting an official diagnosis.

I also already knew that I didn’t want to take opioids or painkillers long term. I’m one of those people who rarely takes even Tylenol. And when I had serious opioids after I had my wisdom teeth removed, they made me feel disoriented and nauseous.

My older brother had a serious workplace injury when I was in high school. He broke his pelvis and some of his spine. He’d seen a chiropractor, among many other specialists, when he was recovering, and he still sees one sometimes to cope with his own chronic pain.

I decided to explore that as a treatment option instead. My new chiropractor ran some X-rays and told me that my pelvis is tilted, which lets my disc slip back and forth instead of holding it in place. 

Through a series of adjustments, he worked to bring my pelvis back in line, and brought me some real relief. 

Unfortunately, I’ve done some state-hopping since then, and while I’m still in better shape than I used to be, I haven’t had time to find a new chiropractor yet. 

Starting to Deal with Your Pain

So what can you do to tackle your chronic pain? 

  1. First and foremost, go see your doctor, especially if you’ve been injured or don’t have a family history of back issues. You might need surgery or other serious help.

  2. Consider your treatment options. Surgery can be an option for many chronic back problems, but it has costs. It’s expensive and can cause its own set of pain problems. Opioids are highly addictive. Talk to your doctor about other options, like chiropractic treatment or acupuncture.

  3. Talk to your insurance company. Insurance companies want to stop the opioid epidemic too, and more plans are covering alternative therapies like chiropractic visits than ever before.

  4. Talk to your employer. If you have insurance through your employer, talk to them about making sure other therapies are covered on your group plan.

  5. Work with your care team on a treatment plan to cope with and manage your pain.

Learning to Manage Pain

So how do I manage my chronic back pain without drugs?

  • Set expectations. Knowing I would probably grow up to develop chronic back pain means I’ve always been ready for it. Accepting that pain will be a part of my life helps me feel in control.

  • Find a treatment that helps. For me, this has been regular chiropractic adjustments that help relieve tension and keep my disc in place. 

  • Get massages. I get the occasional massage to help relieve tension in the muscles in my back too. Many people with back pain get regular massages and swear by them.

  • Exercise and eat right. Even just a few extra pounds can put enormous stress on your spine if you already have back problems. And exercise can strengthen the muscles in your back. Focus on low-impact activities and strengthen your core if you’re already in pain.

    And choose your cardio wisely. Running outdoors or on inclines can be really hard on your back and pelvis. Try running on a treadmill, walking, or biking instead.

  • Try yoga, pilates, or tai chi. Yes, these are technically forms of exercise, but they’re more than that too. A new study found that yoga can actually help relieve back pain itself, but recommends gentle poses. And the routine they used is free online. I find it highly relaxing and a nice way to stretch and wind down, and you can do it as often as you want.

  • Get plenty of sleep. You’d be surprised how sleep affects other parts of your life. When I’m sleep deprived, my back is much more likely to go out. And since I struggle to sleep once my back’s out, it makes for a long sleepless week in that situation.

  • Try little treatments and tricks. I ice my back and use heating pads. I also take over-the-counter pain meds before bed if my back feels like it will go out during the night. If my back’s already out, lying on the floor (if I have someone handy to help me get up later) can help. Putting a pillow between my knees can also help while I’m trying to fall asleep.

  • Meditate. Meditation can help you clear your mind and refocus, and mindfulness can be surprisingly helpful in overcoming pain. There are easy apps you can try to get started too.

  • Talk to someone or journal. Chronic pain can be emotional. You hurt. You can’t escape it, and it can feel hopeless. Talk to a close loved one, journal about what’s happening, or visit a therapist. It can help you blow off steam, lighten your mental load, feel heard, and document your pain’s progression.

  • Practice self-care. Stress and tension can tighten up everything in your back. Find ways to reduce and fight stress in your life. And find little pleasures that you can focus on each day, like your favorite coffee, trading back rubs with your significant other, or cuddling your pet.

Most importantly, get help when you need it. Never let your pain push you so far that you can’t handle it or you fall into depression. Talk to your doctor to keep your mind and body healthy, even in the face of chronic pain.

Self Improvement Month

Self-Improvement Month

It’s Self-Improvement Month, and we can help you set goals and make changes to improve your health and wellness.

Your food choices are a key part of maintaining a healthy body weight, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and more. Get help making healthy food choices each step of the way.

Healthy Food Choices

 

Get moving to improve your health and how you feel. Studies have found that any kind of exercise, even deep cleaning your kitchen, can help.

Moving Many Ways

 

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? Finding a hobby you love and taking on new challenges is a great way to fight stress and channel your passion.

Pick a Passion

 

Take an adventure. Traveling is one of the best ways to broaden your horizons, and even if you don’t go far, exploration will be worth the experience.

Adventure Away

 

Become a mentor. Whether it’s to a new co-worker, your nephew, or at-risk youth, mentoring can help you and someone else grow.

Become a Mentor

 

Adjust and refocus on your goals. Figure out what’s working and what isn’t, and make a system to stick with them, like a dream board, planner, or journal.

Evaluate your relationships and how you can be a better friend, spouse, or parent to those you love. Focus on small ways to make improvements for each type of relationship.

Prioritize Relationships

Me Time Crafting

My Healthy Journey: Me Time

I feel like I have spent the last month drastically overhauling my physical life. And I have. But now, I’m ready to focus on making me time and self-care.

While I’m giving you advice on how to succeed at Rally challenges, I’m kind of doing them all at the same time. For the first time since high school, I’m exercising every day. And for the first time ever, I have radically overhauled my diet. Like I’ve said the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking at home every day and am eating more whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and I’ve cut out caffeine, processed foods and sugars.

So although there are still plenty of food mission posts to come, so you can use my new experiences to help you succeed, in my head, these are a little bit like old news. Been there, conquered that.

But as you can probably guess, now that I’ve settled into a rhythm, this isn’t actually what I spend all day thinking about. As a matter of fact, not focusing on this stuff is exactly how I got so unhealthy.

Now that healthy eating is more of a habit for me, though, I’d like to talk about something that feels more like real life to me. You know, the stuff that occupies my mind all day.

If you’ve been following along with me (from my writing to going all out for Halloween), you probably know that I like being creative. This job definitely requires a degree of creativity. I spend most days writing, picking out photos, and cruising Pinterest, which means that when I go home and crash into bed to watch Netflix with my dog, I don’t really feel guilty.

But I have spent my life going through creative phases. I like to learn new things, and I like to make things, which has made my life a long line of creative experiments. Over the years, I’ve mastered soap making, candle making, jewelry making, origami, juggling, the yo-yo, theater makeup, knitting, and crocheting, to name a few. And not only do these random projects (sometimes) leave me with nice, new stuff, creativity has many benefits.

I find that creative activities relax me. They let me disengage from the stress of my work and social life and just do something I enjoy. They also make me feel accomplished. When you write a blog post, take a picture, even make a nice meal, you don’t always feel like you’ve actually added anything to the world. But even these simple creative activities can make you feel like you’ve achieved something. That plain piece of paper is a heck of a lot cooler as a swan.

And I’m not the only one. As this CNN article talks about, we stress creativity in our kids because it matters. Even as funding for the arts falls in high schools, most parents with preschoolers still know finger painting and coloring matter.

Creativity helps you believe in yourself, learn to deal with failure, continue to learn throughout your life, and even know yourself better. And the more you exercise that learning portion of your brain through fun stuff, the easier learning things for say, work, can get.

And that’s why Rally also has a mission to help you remember to do something creative. This is one of my favorite missions on Rally because that creative stuff can get really lost in the shuffle of daily life as you get older, but it really is important to make time for it once in a while.

So here are some of the projects I’ve done or am planning to do that feed my creative side. Maybe they will inspire your own creative juices.

1. Write something

As I’ve said before, you never really know what all you can get out of writing until you start. Maybe you won’t end up with a finished product you can use, but you can definitely get something creative and fulfilling out of talking to yourself through writing.

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2. Decorate something

I recently painted a shelf gold for my new(ish) apartment, which I will show you when I talk about organizing . But if you’re anything like me (or my HGTV-addicted mother), few things are as satisfying as making something beautiful or helpful that you use in your house every day. If you’re looking for some cool and affordable DIY projects (and tips) for your home, explore this list.

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3. Make some art

I have the advantage of knowing how to use some software that lets me create some pretty fun artwork for my walls, which is great because drawing isn’t always my strong point.

But you can always find a quote that you love, make it look pretty, and hang it. And sometimes, with a nice frame, your doodles can look amazing on your walls, too. Or just spend a day scrapbooking and reliving some good memories.

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4. Grow something

I’ve never really thought about myself as a plant person, but it turns out, I kind of am.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with terrariums, and I own an orchid. I also recently bought a lavender topiary on a trip to Nashville. It smells amazing but requires regular trimming.

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But the biggest way I think I just have to expand my plant collection is by growing indoor herbs. There are loads of different kits online and plenty of advice. Fresh herbs are expensive, but they make every meal so much better! I end up throwing a lot of the ones I buy away because they go bad before I can use them all.

Home Herb Pots

Growing your own herbs means you can have a never-ending supply of the ones you use most, and they won’t go bad. I think I will go with mint, cilantro, basil, and rosemary, but you go with what you will use!

And of course, if you’re interested (and don’t live in a tiny apartment), growing a full garden can be amazing. It would be great exercise to work outdoors, and the fresh fruit, veggies, and flowers you get out of it can only add good things to your home.

5. Sew (or knit or crochet or …) something

There are tons of books out there to help you learn these sorts of things, and better yet, lots of free (or cheap) patterns all over the Internet. And nothing else I’ve ever made is as satisfying as the things I can wear. When people ask where they can buy something you made — there’s nothing better!

If you love fashion and want to learn to sew, I have the book for you: Famous Frocks by Sara Alm and Hannah McDevitt.

Famous Frocks Cover

My mom got this for me for Christmas one year, and it has patterns so you can make your own versions of some of the most famous dresses from this century. (They also have a Little Black Dress version!) It is a little pricey at about $20, but you get 20 dress patterns with it. That’s a whole new wardrobe!

Etsy is also the place to go to find cheap, wonderful patterns. For instance, I plan on making a  complete set of these cross-stitch cities from Satsuma Street for adorable nursery art the second my sister-in-law gets pregnant.

3 Pretty Little City Patterns

And there’s no place better for knitting patterns. If you like The Hunger Games movies, this pattern of Katniss’s amazing scarf from Catching Fire was just $5 and took me just 2 days to make:

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Creativity time is my me time. It’s when I get away from the hectic demands of my life and just make something. So the important thing is to take the time to try something new and make something you love!

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Reading and Writing for Your Mind

My Healthy Journey: Reading and Writing for Your Health

Reading for Your Health

I’ve said it before on here, but I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I’m not always very good at making time for it. I read a lot of news but not that many actual books anymore. Funny, because I don’t have any furniture in my apartment, besides the books on books.

Book CollectionAll the books on the floor are going to go on a shelf that’s not here yet… (Tootsie, my dog, was really confused as to why I was taking pictures of this mess.)

It’s been one of my goals to make it more of a priority again. In the past month, I’ve read both Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” (which has really wonderful and funny advice for young women), and I just started Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which makes me want to stop everything and write.

But there are lots of reasons to read and write every day. Rally, our wellness tool, has challenges for just that, so you can make your brain a priority. In one, it challenges you to read for 20 minutes, and in another, to write in a journal every day.

So what’s this doing for your health?

Reading has been shown to slow memory loss, increase concentration, and reduce stress. Not to mention, one study found that reading helped improve your social skills, your ability to understand others and their emotions, and your ability to feel for others. Reading can literally help you treat other people better!

Not to mention that taking 20 minutes a day to read with your kids can make an amazing difference in their education and development.

Read Aloud 15 Minutes InfographicReadAloud.org

Not sure where to start? This 2015 Reading Challenge from Popsugar gives you goals without locking you into a set of books you wouldn’t choose for yourself.

Popsugar's 2015 Reading ChallengeSo far I’ve got a funny book, a memoir, a mystery or thriller, and a book from an author I love that I haven’t read yet checked off for the year. What can you check off?

Writing for Your Health

And there are LOTS of reasons to keep a journal. Don’t believe me?  Here are 101 reasons.

I’ve never been much of a journal writer (my writing brain drifts toward fiction), but as I’ve said here more than once, I love lists.

And that’s the beauty of keeping a journal! There’s always a way to make it work for you. Here are some alternatives to the traditional “Dear Diary” format.

  • Don’t want to write about your feelings? You can keep a journal without it being personal. Keeping a work journal can help you stay organized and productive.
  • A bullet journal helps you organize and categorize your tasks, events, notes, and ideas quickly with lists.
  • Do you want to mix things up in your writing? If you want to paint a picture one day and write fiction or poetry another, there are creative journal tips to help you.
  • If you’re more of an artist than a writer, guess what?! Doodling boosts memory and creativity. And believe it or not, it’s a thing some companies are actually paying to teach their employees. Here’s why, how, and what you should be doodling.

I’ve been keeping a form of a bullet journal in my fitness binder on that handy grid paper I told you about. It’s really just a record of the most important things that happened to me that day that I can easily find later. I use other elements of this in my work to-do list and in organizing things like the social media topics I’ve done in the past. Below is a taste of what mine looks like, or this blog has really good examples of this in action.

Bullet Journal(Don’t mind the ghost talk in the middle there if you can read it. That’s just me noting  a plot idea for a fictional horror story.)

This lets me keep lists instead of trying to write a paragraph about things that don’t need any emotion or explanation. And my favorite part is it helps me organize things like character and story ideas, something I am known for jotting on anything around me until I have a strange collection of crumpled notes on things like napkins, CD sleeves, or even mail.

Head over to Rally, take your health assessment, and start meeting your goals for strengthening your mind!

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