Pain Management: What Works?

Last updated: November 2018

Like many of you out there, I have some degree of pain every single day. The last time I had a completely pain-free day was sometime in early 1997, I'd say. That's quite a long time, and it's a heavy burden to bear when there seems to be no end in sight. While I loathe the inconvenience and energy-sapper of scheduling/remembering/keeping several appointments, usually monthly, I feel that chronic, debilitating pain is too big a part of my life to not try to improve.

So how do I make this pain better? My major "trouble joints" are my feet and ankles, and especially the right foot and ankle. Staying off my feet all day isn't really an option, because I need to work and, you know, walk. Painkillers? I've tried pain medications in the past (Vicodin/hydrocodone) and the risks of taking opioids on a daily basis are too great, I feel, to be a part of my treatment plan. My mother has also been kind of flipping out over the death of Prince recently and is paranoid I'll turn into an addict--but that's another story.

I've tried acupuncture several times for extended periods which helped my chronic headaches but didn't do much for my RA pain and swelling. Meditation? People keep recommending that I do this, which I don't feel that enthusiastic about, especially when I feel like I have 50 squirrels racing around on wheels in my head. I'm willing to give it a try, but I honestly don't think it can help that much when you feel like you have several burning knives lodged into your joints. I'm relaxed...the pain is leaving my body...I don't feel the knives anymore...What? Shut up, YES I DO!

The only thing that seems to help my foot and ankle pain (and swelling) is strapping cumbersome, uncomfortably cold ice packs around my ankles with bandage wraps. These ugly, homemade remedies work pretty well until the cold packs and my joint numbness wears off. If I lived next to a freezer all day, every day, that would be great (not really!). But seriously, trying to live my life with giant blue "icees" attached to my body isn't ideal.

Running out of options, that brings me back to trying out a pain management clinic again. In May I returned to a pain clinic where I had previously received treatment about two years ago. The reason I stopped going there was mainly due to health insurance issues. After very briefly trying out a different pain clinic this past Fall (affiliated with the University of Minnesota), I decided the first pain clinic was a better fit for me. My current clinic establishes a pain management "team" for each patient, requiring patients to see a doctor, psychologist, and a physical therapist. The University clinic did not offer all of these treatment options, except for physician appointments.

Now I'm back trying to juggle a bunch of appointments at the pain clinic, which isn't easy. Driving back and forth more than once a week to this one clinic becomes exhausting, which probably doesn't help my pain. How ironic. Can the clinic just send a taxi or a helicopter to pick me up and bring me home, or something?

Since I'm just getting back into the swing of things, I can't tell yet if any of these appointments are helping or if the inconvenience to my schedule and life is worth it. Are pain management clinics worth it? I'm not sure. So far my experience at two of them hasn't been an emphatic 100% "yes." I'm hoping this time around that my physical therapy treatment will noticeably help my headaches, but I've become realistic to the limitations therapy has regarding my ankles. I've had physical therapy so many times on those ankles, I can't even count or remember anymore.

What do you, my fellow RA and pain sufferers, think about pain management clinics? Helpful? Hurtful? Somewhere in-between? The pain in my joints is strong and often nearly unbearable, however having to run to so many appointments quickly becomes a big pain in my you-know-where.

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