CRPS,  Distraction

#PainHack: using distraction to dial down pain

Distraction is one of the recommended techniques for diverting attention away from pain.  In this post I outline what has worked for me and the limitations of adopting this approach.


I have tried all the recommended medication options for CRPS.  All failed.  Some spectacularly.  Instead, I have to rely on other options when I’m in pain.  Let’s be clear here: my pain is not ‘managed’.  I despise that term.  I have learned to live a life of constant pain which, at times, I can ‘dial down’ using various techniques and with varying success.

I rely heavily on distraction.  There are conflicting opinions as to the efficacy of distraction.  My own experience is that distraction can be of help but it is important to remember that it won’t remove the pain and it is of no help in getting a good night’s sleep.  It is also challenging to use distraction when you are exhausted.  That is when the type of distraction used is important.  I rely on several different kinds of distraction and I deploy the type most suited to the level of pain and exhaustion I am experiencing.

Listening to podcasts is one of my techniques and it is the technique I deploy when I am too exhausted for other activities or in too much pain.  I have different kinds of podcasts for different things (for example, doing housework versus being in severe pain) and I choose the podcast best suited to how I feel at the time in the same way you might choose what you want to watch on television.  In order for a podcast to work you must become engrossed in it.  This is not the time to be listening to something that may be work-related or very dense and requiring a lot of brain power.  You want something pleasant, easy to focus on, and something you can get carried away with.

A few years ago I stumped up the cash for a pair of very comfortable bluetooth headphones.  They have a reasonable range (and I don’t have a large home) so I can set up my mobile phone in a central location and get on with whatever needs to be done.  I also don’t have to rely on having pockets (to hold the phone) or worry about the headset for my phone getting tangled while I work.  If I’m lying down I don’t get tangled up in any wires if I roll over and I have been known to nap with them on.

Finding a hobby can help.  You want something that isn’t going to be too difficult to focus on and something you can dip in and out of.  I can get very engrossed in genealogy.  I have been researching for a very long time (nearly twenty years) and I am at the point where I am comfortable with it and I don’t regard it as taxing.  I couldn’t, for example, read a long research report.  My hobby has the added bonus of being able to do it in bed in my pyjamas.  You want to choose a hobby which is going to reduce your levels of pain and not provoke them.

Reading can be a good distraction but it depends on how tired you are and what kind of reading you are doing (and how you are doing that reading).  Don’t try reading an eBook if you prefer the actual thing.  If you have a bedside table stacked with political biographies opt for something lighter in tone.

Hug a cat. Or have them hug each other.

Television is a tricky one.  Pre-injury I hardly ever watched television and I hate being stuck in front of it.  However… if curling up on the sofa in front of the television is the best you can manage, it’s what you have to do.  I have a collection of go-to DVDs that I watch.  It doesn’t manage if I miss a bit of what I’ve probably watched several times before.

Everybody procrastinates on the internet.  Lose yourself in a new website but avoid websites that make you feel angry.  We live in a world of confected outrage.  Don’t get sucked in.  Instead of yelling at someone on social media, watch dogs tobogganing or Miriam Margolyes on the Graham Norton show. I’ve been known to spend an entire day in my pyjamas cry-laughing watching Graham Norton clips.  It’s good for the soul.

I often curl up with my cats.  I’ll write another post about the benefits of pet ownership when you have chronic pain.  My ‘Girls’ seem to have a sixth sense when their Momma is having a bad day and they have been known to sit on my chest and stroke my face with their paw without an invitation.

Garden to plate

Engaging in light activity can help with pain.  I know this might sound a little crazy but stay with me here.  I’m not for a second suggesting you should go for a run when you are in extreme pain.  If light activity is not going to cause more damage (which it doesn’t in my case) I highly recommend having at it.  I have chosen gardening and housework as my activities as I am within range of my sofa/bed and can stop immediately when I’ve had enough.  I have modified how I garden to accommodate being in pain and will post a series of #PainHacks about this.  Gardening gives me a great amount of satisfaction and also supplies me with fresh fruit and vegetables.  Labelling housework as an exercise and rehab activity is a good way of motivating yourself to do it and, in conjunction with a podcast, can lower your pain levels when you are absorbed in what you are doing rather than being absorbed in how much pain you are experiencing.

If you’ve never used distraction as a technique it is important to be very open-minded and not be negative about it to begin with (and therefore setting yourself up to fail).  Choose the kind of distraction with care.  If that kind of distraction doesn’t work choose another kind.  Be aware of the limitations.  It will not cure you.  It will not take the pain away completely.  What it may do is reduce the level of your pain and provide you with a natural high from the enjoyment of the activity you’ve been engaging in which may help you complete tasks you’ve been dreading.  Spend some time cry-laughing.  It will be time well spent!

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