September 2023

PD and Pain

When it comes to pain, I have a first-hand, up-close history, a practical acquaintance that is of long standing, going even beyond the over 20 years since my initial Parkinson’s diagnosis. At times I wonder if I’m sporting a cosmic “Kick me” sign on my back.

The highlights: three broken ribs, one broken wrist, and a broken femur. Not enough? Well then, I’ll raise you a broken knee cap. Still not convinced? How about a ruptured spleen, from that time a guy rammed me with his pickup truck as I was walking across the street?

With this unfortunate history, you can believe me when I say “Yes, PD can be painful.” Parkinson’s Europe reports 8 different types of Pain associated with PD. You can find their list here, along with suggested treatments

Among the most significant forms of PD pain is dystonia, the sudden and powerful cramping of muscles that comes with their involuntary tightening. This frequently affects your extremities, as with the unbidden curling of your toes or the tightening of your calves. Also of interest: frozen shoulder, A sharp pain in the shoulder which frequently predates a PD diagnosis.

I would add in the pain from Parkinson’s falls. This is a random distribution of misery, depending on the circumstances surrounding the fall, how fast you are going, what the surface you fall on is like, and how much you are able to mitigate the impact on your way down, through grasping at solid objects, stumbling toward more forgiving terrain, or orienting your landing to your most well-padded and least fragile body parts. A fall can result in minor bruises and scrapes, or major damage, like a broken leg or hip.

In my experience, most forms of Parkinson’s-related pain are episodic and treatable, although they can be recurring. One can generally grit one’s teeth and muddle through. Sadly, this is not true of what is arguably the most severe form of PD-related pain. It is the mental anguish of knowing that you have an incurable, progressive, and disabling disease.

How do you deal with that? Start by realizing that this particular pain is your reaction to the disease, not a part the disease itself. It is pain that is to a great extent self-inflicted. This means you can be in charge of this pain and not vice versa. Then, take action.

To be active in managing this pain will go a long way in itself toward disarming it. Institute an exercise routine, which can get the pleasure juices flowing, and, bonus, can delay the onset of disability. (Please confer with your doctor about what forms of exercise would most benefit you.)

And don’t overlook the role of humor. There is a connection between pain and laughter that is deep and abiding. One of the most effective ways of taking away the power of a malign force is to make fun of it. Nothing remains as formidable as it was once it has been laughed at. Mockery is pretty good medicine, and a powerful anesthetic.

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger

“It is the work of the creative to be a prosthetic imagination for the distracted and the dull”
– Maxwell Hubert Maxwell, playwright, butterfly collector, amateur surgeon and snob.