Today I am very excited to introduce you all to my friend Ashley Spina. She will be sharing her journey with chronic pain and how she deals with the mental and physical components. Ashley has a unique story, and although her chronic pain did not originate from a chronic illness, she struggles with severe pain none the less. If you like this post make sure to subscribe and to check out Ashley’s social media platforms!
My name is Ashley Spina and I am twenty-two years old. Three years ago, my dad and I were in a car accident. We were hit from behind at a red light and sent through an intersection. Our car was totalled, and thankfully neither of us experienced any life threatening injuries, however, I have unfortunately suffered from chronic pain ever since.
Due to multiple issues in my back, neck and spine, including protruding discs, arthritis and degenerative disc disease, I now suffer from chronic back pain across my entire back and neck. And when I say chronic, I mean it. It is a constant, radiating, aching pain that never goes away. It affects my daily life in numerous ways, including sleeping, working, walking, the way I exercise, my flexibility, lifting heavy items, my ability to sit or stand for extended periods of time, my mental health, my self esteem and other aspects of everyday life that pain-free people would be able to do/experience without a second thought.
That being said, I have also learned a lot from my pain along the way. I have learned to make my health a priority, how to manage my pain, what my limits are, and how to be strong when facing adversity. I am grateful to have never faced life threatening injuries and to be able to still live a fulfilling life while maintaining and taking care of my health. I hope that by opening up about my story, I can help others who share similar struggles, especially young people with chronic pain.
1. Heating Pad
Heating pads are an extremely important tool that I use for pain management. I personally use a DJO Global “Theratherm” moist heat pack. After a long day at work or school, there is nothing I look forward to more than taking some time to relax with my heating pad on my back. They’ve also been a lifesaver on trips where I spend most of the day walking around and exploring. While heat increases blood flow to relax sore muscles, it can also cause inflammation. Using heating pads for longer than thirty-minutes at a time can extend inflammation, slowing the healing process and creating additional pain in the muscles. Over-usage also comes with the risk of what is called “toasted skin syndrome,” or erythma ab igne, which is patterned discolouration of the skin where the heat was frequently applied. So to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative side effects, I try to use my heating pad for thirty minutes a few times a day.
Last June, I made the decision to start seeing a personal trainer at my local gym. Since I’ve started training, I’ve realized how important exercising and staying active is for managing pain. While I still have a long way to go on my so-called “fitness journey,” taking the time to move and strengthen my body has been beneficial for not only pain management, but also my overall health, stress relief, mental health, and self confidence. Even if I can’t make it out to the gym, I at least try to do a bit of walking during the day – whether it be around the block or around the grocery store – just to get my body moving. Working out and staying active makes me feel good because I know that I am doing good for my body and my health.
In the past three years, I have tried nearly every treatment available in my local region. Physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, myofascial release – you name it, I’ve tried it. Not a lot of treatments have necessarily helped me long term, however, my weekly massage and chiropractic appointments help me to manage my pain as much as I can. Massage helps me to loosen my knots and release as much muscle tightness as possible, while chiropractic adjustments realign my spine to relieve some of my joint pain. Immediately after my treatments, I notice a significant difference in my pain level, and without these weekly appointments, I definitely suffer. It certainly takes time to go to these appointments, but they keep me in the best shape I can be in so that I can make it through the rest of my week.
I believe that my diet definitely contributes to my levels of pain. Last summer, while I was training to compete in a local pageant, I spent a lot of time focusing on what I was consuming. For a few months, I tried my best to develop a cleaner diet, consuming mostly greens, veggies, fruits and protein, and ditching most carbs, sugar and dairy. At the time, I noticed a pretty significant decrease in my pain. Not only was my overall digestion improved, but it felt as though a lot of the inflammation in my body had decreased as well. It is known by those who struggle with chronic pain and illness that carbs, dairy, sugar and fried foods increase pain and inflammation. I have a goal to eat to fuel my body rather than to feed my cravings, and eventually decrease the inflammation caused by my diet to a minimum.
As crazy as it may sound, sometimes distracting myself from pain just does the trick. As an art student, I notice that when I spend my time working on paintings and creating artwork, for a reasonable period of time, I can distract myself from the pain that I feel in my back. After a few hours my body does naturally become fatigued from standing, but to have some time that is focused on something other than my pain is so relaxing. I’ve heard about others that have had a similar result when listening to music or focusing on another activity. So, I think that focusing on a passion or an activity is an effective, positive and productive way to manage your pain. It’s still important to recognize and tend to your personal limits, but if you can activate your body and mind enough to distract yourself from pain, it’s an overall win-win situation.
I hope that these tips help some of you that deal with chronic pain. To follow Ashley’s journey you can find her on Instagram @LifeInStyleWithAshley.
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