The Best Gear for Managing Chronic Pain
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which means my chronic pain manifests in many different ways. I have joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, nerve pain, and more. Here's my list of the best gear I've found for managing my chronic pain.
Braces and Compression for Joint Stabilization
I have joint support for just about every major joint in my body. I have sets of two, so if both my knees hurt, I can wear a brace on both knees at the same time.
Most of my braces are the compression type for light-to-medium support because I feel like that works best for me. Here's what I use (Note: As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see my Disclosure page for more information):
Hand and finger pain:
The finger splints are neoprene. They provide support, warmth and compression. The gloves are good for compression and warmth.
Knee and elbow pain:
These are self-explanatory. I wash them and put them in the dryer to keep the compression level. Over time, the elastic wears out. But I’ve had them for years and they still work.
I’ve tried the typical “carpal tunnel” braces but I found that the angle they hold my wrist at just makes things worse. These compression braces with adjustable tightness work much better for me.
I like these ankle sleeves because the typical compression sleeve has a cutout for the heel. It usually cuts into my foot; this one is enclosed, like a sock.
Because I've sprained my ankles many times, I also have a rigid ankle brace I got from an ER after a nasty sprain. It's similar to this one:
The problem is that it’s very bulky, so I can’t wear it with most shoes. I was on crutches most of the time I used it.
I also keep a few ACE bandages on hand for more complicated injuries, like if my shoulder needs some support.
I can’t use a regular pillow. I usually have to replace them once per year, but I nearly always get the same one.
Car seats are usually uncomfortable for me. I found these gel seat cushions that work well. I pair them with the adjustable lumbar support in our truck’s seats, and sometimes I use the seat heater if I’m really hurting.
I also use lumbar support when I’m sleeping. I roll around a lot and this helps keeps my lower back aligned.
Ice and Heat for Flare-Ups
We have two ice packs that we always keep in the freezer. I also have a heating pad that I use all the time. It's long enough so I can use it on my spine from lower back to neck all at once. It also has an auto shut-off after 2 hours.
If I’m on the go and need some heat therapy, I’ll use ThermaCare wraps. My skin doesn’t like adhesives, so I use the ones with velcro.
Sometimes I use a topical agent called BioFreeze. This is good for when I’m not at home or right before bed to help me sleep better.
I know my neck pain gets worse when it's cold, so I have various scarves that I use both outdoors and sometimes indoors. I also have fingerless gloves I put on when typing to keep my joints comfortable.
I used to have an electric blanket too. It died on me, and I haven't replaced it so far, because my dysautonomia makes my body temperature change so often during the night. But it was great. It would stay on for 10 hours at a time, turned off automatically, and had different temperature settings.
Books about Pain Management
In my former life as a healthcare worker, one of my jobs was at the clinic of Dr. Peter Abaci, a renowned and innovative pain specialist. While most other pain specialists will ply you with drugs or burn your nerve endings to manage symptoms, Dr. Abaci wanted to do something different and sustainable that worked.
Each employee got a free copy of his book, which was very informative and talks about drug-free ways to manage pain. I watched as people went through his holistic, comprehensive program and came through with their lives changed. People who were injured at work and ended up lying on their couch all day would graduate from the course and be able to go back to their jobs.
Take Charge of Your Chronic Pain was his first book (the one that I read), and since then he wrote Conquer Your Chronic Pain, which came out a few years ago. If you're looking for a way to manage pain without narcotics (which he shows through research will only make your pain worse), then take a look at his books and website.
My next recommendation is a book by Pete Egoscue, a physical therapist/sports injury expert. He developed a series of exercises to use based on which part of your body is hurting to create instant relief. Then, he teaches ways to strengthen these body parts, so you don't have the same pain again. I found some of the exercises beneficial, especially the ones for lower back pain.
The last book is one I just found. After nearly six months in physical therapy since my diagnosis of EDS, I'm doing worse, not better. I was searching online and saw a journal article that mentioned this book.
I think they might have gotten a few things wrong in the article about EDS, but I was intrigued when they said the physical therapist who developed the exercise protocol specialized in treating patients with EDS. The single patient mentioned in the study had excellent results.
I know this book is pricey, and the caveat here is that the author is very insistent that you bring it to work with your care team and do the exercises only with a physical therapist. So while I can't recommend it yet (it just got delivered today), I will be reading through it and give you an update later. But I didn't want to wait to let people know about it, because as far as I know, this is the only book of its kind, and it has excellent reviews on Amazon.
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