For decades, Mary Sienkiewicz, now 42, could barely get out of bed in the
morning because of the severe lower back pain that radiated down her legs. This
past summer, however, she was able to Rollerblade through her hometown of
Sienkiewicz's pain, which she describes as a "deep aching and weakness
with pulsating and throbbing," began after a car accident in 1986. "I
lost my 20s and 30s because of this pain. If I ever did anything active, I
suffered for three to four days afterward," says the financial planner, who
recently returned to work after years of disability.
Chronic pain is complex. Research over the past 25 years has shown that pain is influenced by emotional and social factors. These need to be addressed along with the physical causes of pain. Chronic stress is one factor that contributes to chronic pain. The good news is that you can get natural pain relief by making relaxation exercises a part of your pain-management plan.
She didn't take the pain lying down. Since the accident, she had undergone
two surgeries to repair the herniated disc in her back and tried just about
every type of medication and therapy out there. Nothing made a difference for
All that changed when Sienkiewicz entered a four-week "boot camp"
for people in chronic pain at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC),
one of the nation's first multidisciplinary pain clinics.
"It was extremely intense," she recalls. With sessions Monday
through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the program is composed of aerobic
exercise to help boost the body's natural painkillers, called endorphins;
individualized physical therapy; biofeedback lessons; psychological counseling
to help the patient accept and function better with pain; and medication to
treat some of the underlying tissue problems and other issues, including
pain-related depression and sleeping difficulties.
"My pain went down from a level of seven or eight --- if not a 10 or
higher --- to a one or a two," she says. "It's not a quick fix, and if
you stop practicing what you learned, the pain will return," she cautions,
but that knowledge gave Sienkiewicz the incentive to continue with her
Integrative Approach to Chronic Pain
Clinics and programs with a multidisciplinary, or comprehensive, approach to
pain management are becoming more popular as people reject the traditional
pill-and-surgery model of treating pain because, like Sienkiewicz, they find
it's not always effective.
In a 2004 survey, conducted on behalf of the American Chronic Pain
Association, 72% of people with chronic pain said they had had pain for more
than three years --- including 34% who had had it for more than 10 years.
Nearly half said their pain was not under control. Such uncontrolled pain has
ripple effects on jobs, relationships, and the ability to lead a normal