Monday, October 21, 2013

Life-Hacks for Chronic Pain

Life with chronic pain is hard. Pain can limit nearly every daily task one needs to accomplish in order to live a functional life. Even the little things, like showering or making food, are Olympic level tasks when faced with intense pain.  Life hacking refers to any productivity trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. Life hacks are supposed to make the world easier-- something those of us with chronic pain can certainly appreciate. There are lots of general life hacks that can help people irrespective of disability that can be found on the web. Lifehacker and Lifehack offer a plethora of tips and tricks, as does the life-hack tag on Tumblr or Pintrest.

But for those of us with chronic pain, things that most people don't need help with become fiasco's that need their own special tips and tricks. Here are some of my favorite chronically ill life-hacks.

  • Make a hobby bucket. A hobby bucket is any closed or mostly-closed container that can house the stuff you need for he projects that you like to do. It lends well to fabric and yarn craft, art supplies, scrapbooking or study-stuff, etc. Anything smallish and not super fragile that will keep you entertained. The benefit of a hobby bucket over other types of organization is that your hobby bucket is made to follow you around the house. It's closed, so it can flop over on the bed or survive that accidental fall between the couch and the desk. A bucket with a hard plastic lid makes a great tray-table to use for work space if you're someplace without a fixed surface, like in bed. 
  • Make warm rice buddies. Rice buddies are portable, microwavable heat-packs, and they are a godsend for sore joints and cold feet alike. They stay warm for a long time, and provide a nice moist heat, or, you can keep your rice buddy in the freezer for a cold pack that never feels so cold that it hurts like regular ice packs. They're also incredibly easy to make and to customize; it's just plain white rice (regular, not instant!) sewn inside any sort of fabric sachet. The sachet can be as simple as a plain tube-sock, or can be a beautifully patterned pillowcase. If you'd like your rice-buddy to smell like something other than white rice, you can add essential oil or tea-leaves into the rice before sewing the sachet closed. More detailed instructions available at Instructables.
  •  Used closed containers. Sort of in the spirit of the hobby bucket, using closed containers for everything is a great way to avoid messes, particularly if chronic pain weakens your grip or challenges your balance. Use water bottles instead of glasses or cups, and Tupperware™or another similarly locking dish instead of bowls to prevent your drink or dinner from ending up all over the floor. It's especially thrifty to save and wash the containers that come into your house already with product in them (i.e. sour cream, cool-whip, etc) Great for getting that cereal from the kitchen to the table without simultaneously getting it all over you.
  • Shower Seats. Showering can be near impossible when you're battling pain and fatigue. Standing for long enough to get clean is often not an option. This is where a shower seat can save you. There are specially made shower seats available in the assistive device section of many drug-stores, or you can use any all-plastic stool you find. Put the shower seat in the shower, turn the water on, then get in and sit down-- be careful when first sitting, because your seat might slide around a bit. Now you're showering in comfort.
  • Utilize opiate potentiators (with your doctor's approval). Often, good management of chronic pain involves using prescription pain medication. However, tolerance and overuse are big concerns held by doctors. One of our duties as a pain patient, then, is to work with our doctor to find the minimum amount of pain medication that we can take and still live our lives. One tool in your arsenal of using less could be the use of an opiate potentiator-- a non-narcotic substance that helps increase the effects of opiate pain medication. This is something you must talk to your doctor about before trying, but if approved, they can be used to help ameliorate your pain on very bad days. Some common potentiators are acetaminophen, caffeine and ibuprofen.
  • Use speech to text. When your hands hurt, typing is frustrating at the best of times and impossible at the worst. This limits computer usage, and can leave you feeling isolated, bored and lonely. Luckily, both PC and Mac computers come with speech-to-text dictation tools right out of the box. This software allows you to speak into your computer's microphone and prompt the computer to both do commands and type for you. There's something of a learning curve as the computer learns to recognize the sounds of your unique voice, but they're pretty simple for the user from day one. Learn to access speech-to-text on your PC, or on your Mac. (If you're running Linux, you don't have an embedded dictation software, but an external product is available here.) 

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