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Osteoporosis and chronic pain:  how non-medical intervention can help

Over 3 million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis and one in six of these will find themselves in hospital suffering from a broken bone. It is a serious issue which can have a devasting effect on the everyday lives of many, many people. And it can cause pain, but this does not need to be the end of an active happy life. 

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density. It is sometimes seen as a natural part of ageing and it does particularly affect post-menopausal women. But it can affect anyone, men and children included, so the advice I am giving can apply to anyone who gets the unwelcome news that they are losing bone density. The causes are complex, and sometimes the disease does not fully develop but can still cause problems and needs treating. Family history, certain medications, smoking and heavy drinking, having a very low weight and not exercising can all make the condition worse. 

Often the condition is only diagnosed when you break a bone. But sometimes it can be found through a bone scan. It you are found to have the condition you may well be given a medication such as Bisphosphonates which can slow bone loss.

Does osteoporosis cause pain?

A broken bone, or a fracture will often cause serious pain. If this has happened to you, a prescribed painkiller may be the  best route to deal with the immediate problem.

But the disease can also lead to chronic pain. That is pain which is not directly attributable to one physical cause, which lingers and causes problems. 

The reasons for this chronic pain are complex. It can be that because of fear you stop exercising and stiffen up, causing joint and muscle aches. Or it can be because, if you suffer from the disease you may, often subconsciously hold your body in awkward positions to try to lessen the pain. This puts pressure on your joints and strains your muscles. Closely linked to this is being tense in the body, often because you are afraid of further hurting yourself. If you are holding yourself stiffly you are going to increase chronic pain.

In all these cases non-medical treatments may be better than pain killers. Fractures, rather than more serious breaks, may also respond well to non-medical interventions. 

What you can do to strengthen your bones, and keep your pain under control at the same time?

One thing it is worth noting is that some of the things you can do to strengthen your bones, such as regular exercise, will also help with pain management. Obviously, you need to be careful. Do not rush into any exercise which could put you at risk of further injury and avoid putting pressure on already damaged bones. It can be a good idea to speak to an expert in the field of exercise and osteoporosis to get an idea of how to exercise safely.

The Royal Society Osteoporosis has a wealth of information on its wonderful site. This includes some excellent advice on exercise, which come along with videos. https://theros.org.uk/information-and-support/osteoporosis/living-with-osteoporosis/exercise-and-physical-activity-for-osteoporosis/

These exercises cover strengthening your body and also improving your balance, which of course is very important as the last thing you want is to fall. 

Do TENS machines help?

Many people find using a TENS machine helps relieve their pain. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is a small battery-operated machine which uses a mild electrical current to ease pain. The current flows through pads, which you put directly on your skin, near the affected part of your body. You will feel a tingling sensation as the electrical impulses work to reduce the pain signals going to your brain. 

I do sometimes recommend TENS machines to my osteoporosis clients and many do benefit. There is a disadvantage, however the TENS machine only works when it is actually in use. So, I do try to use other longer-lasting techniques, such as hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and techniques which can distract from the pain.

Dealing with pain can affect your whole life

I always try to work in a holistic way with clients who are suffering the effects of osteoporosis. That can sound like a bit of jargon and nothing more, so let me explain what I mean. 

The onset of osteoporosis can seem very life-limiting and can also make many people who are diagnosed suddenly feel old. It is undoubtedly a big life change and often an unwelcome one. When I see clients with osteoporosis in my pain psychology and hypnosis clinics in Milton Keynes or in Bedford, or via video call,  I always give them time to express how they feel and how their diagnosis is affecting them emotionally. If we are going to work to get some emotional stability and find a place of contentment in this situation, we do need to acknowledge that the situation exists and face up to it. 

Time to stop and reflect 

As I explore what is going on with my client, I try to help them find a new path in life where they can feel happy and in control. Sometimes this experience can be a very positive one in which the client learns a lot. It can be a time to stop and reflect on things and what they want out of life. For example, it can be that they recognise that an unhealthy lifestyle, smoking and drinking too much, for example, has contributed to the problem. Changing these behaviours can make the client feel more in control. They may find that these changes improve their health in relation to osteoporosis but it can also make them feel much better about all areas of life. 

The client is not just the disease

I then help my clients to understand that they have a condition, they are not the condition. They are still a whole person, with all their uniqueness, their interests, their quirks and strengths and weaknesses. 

In order to improve the life of the client I work with their uniqueness, with them as an individual. 

Get absorbed 

Here is an example, which I use very often. I know that one of the best ways of coping with pain is to fully immerse yourself in something which interests and delights you. It is always worth me asking a client: ‘what do you really like to do?’ Sometimes people have become so busy, so distracted by the everyday things of life that they have forgotten what these things are! Having a diagnosis and having to deal with the pain which osteoporosis can bring can be an opportunity and well as a threat. It can be an opportunity to find, or more often rediscover what truly brings you joy in life. 

Finding and doing whatever brings joy can work for most clients on so many different levels. Many will quickly find that when they are completely absorbed in their hobby or interest they are no longer focusing on their pain and the pain retreats into the background. This is good, is it not?

But it is not the only benefit that awaits these clients. Doing something they really enjoy can give a general sense of fulfilment and lift their spirits. As one of my clients put it: ‘you would not believe it but I find making a quilt is good for my soul. And I like all the compliments I get too!’ 

A good thing can be good in all sorts of ways. This is a way in which non-medical interventions can, while not always replacing drugs, add something which no drug can. That is a wider sense of well-being and purpose. 

Move away from the stressors

The next thing which I know and want to pass on to my clients, is how bad stress can be for the control of pain. Can you guess what is coming next? Yes, avoid stress.

I am not pretending this is easy. I often work for several sessions with clients to work out how they can do this. 

If you are in this situation ask: can you avoid the situations which are causing you stress? If you can, this can be a life changer. If there is something, or someone causing you anxiety and stress it is now time to stop it. There can be different ways of approaching this. Sometimes it can be the time to cut out the person who drains and upsets you from your life. Or it might be you just need to be gently assertive and make it clear what you want and what you will not put up with. It does not have to be people; it can be situations. If you are doing something which is making you stressed is their any way you can stop doing it, or at least lessen it. 

Here again we can see how changing something to lessen pain can have wider and positive implications on life. 

Take centre stage

As I work with clients, I often notice how they change their viewpoint on their own lives. They begin to take centre stage in their own story. They begin to feel more in control as they decide on a better eating and exercise regime and perhaps stop doing some things which they do not like. 

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or a pre-condition then contact me. You can still have a happy life in which your pain is controlled and you feel fulfilled. Take the opportunity. 

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