Chronic pain sufferers know that pain affects every part of your life. It saps your energy and strength, decreases your motivation, prevents you from doing some of the things you could before, makes it harder to get through the work day, interupts your sleep, and much more. Here are just a few stats on how living with chronic pain impacts your daily life:
- Half of people with chronically painful conditions will have problems doing household chores
- Half will miss out on important social activities
- One in three people with chronic pain may have to change jobs because of pain
There are many ways to treat chronic pain. It turns out that our pets are pain relievers too.
Clinical trials have shown that therapy dogs can reduce pain in adults and children. There are trained therapy dogs, and even therapy cats and rabbits. I don’t believe a dog needs special training to be a therapy dog. I think most dogs are naturally born therapy dogs. They give us unwavering love, are loyal, and comfort us when we’re sick, sad or in pain. They also bring laughter into our life, and laughter is the best medicine. My dog is a rescue. He’s a 5-year-old cockapoo, a cocker spaniel/poodle mix. He has the intelligence of a poodle and the stubbornness of a cocker spaniel. He has a ton of personality and seems to know what you’re thinking and what you want him to do. He doesn’t always do what you want him to do though, hence the stubbornness.
My husband and I rescued Archie 4 and a half years ago. His former owner was not a nice person. When he developed Parvo as a puppy (which could’ve been prevented with an injection), the owner wanted to put him down instead of paying any vet bills. Thankfully, the vet took him in and saved his life. He nearly died from the Parvo, but he is a fighter and pulled through. I fell in love with him the minute I saw him. He was a disaster. He’d never had his hair cut or washed. He looked like a sheep dog, his hair was so long. He was scared of people since he’d been in isolation for two months, kept in a metal kennel with small windows so he wouldn’t make the other animals sick. He took to me faster than he took to my husband. We adopted him once he was out of the woods.
I didn’t know then how good a fit he was for our household. Archie is like me in a lot of ways. He’s a fighter. He’s stubborn, caring, loving, and addicted to treats. He is full of energy and personality. He’s easily districted and a touch on the crazy side. He has been by my side as I battle fibromyalgia and chronic pain every day. He listens too me when I need to vent and complain. He licks away my tears. He snuggles with me when I’m feeling terrible. He pushes me to get up and go exercise when all I want to do is lay in bed from the pain. He gives me sad eyes and makes little harumph sounds until I get up and we go for a walk. The walk makes me feel worse at first, but then my muscles start to relax a bit. I always feel better after exercising and he is good motivation for me to exercise daily. If he doesn’t have exercise, he can be wild and tear around the house to burn off his extra energy.
Dogs are a great comfort to chronic pain sufferers. They provided much needed emotional support and companionship. It’s so easy to feel isolated by chronic pain. The people in your life do their best to empathize, but they don’t really know what it feels like to be in chronic pain. If you look into a dog’s eyes though, you see understanding staring back at you. Archie just knows. He knows when he can push me to get up and exercise and he knows when I’m in too much pain to move. He’s a great cheerleader and a furry shoulder to cry on. When I’m having a high pain day, he’ll look at me as if to say “How can I help you feel better, Mom?” Sometimes he helps by making me get out of bed either to go for a walk, feed him, or let him outside. You can’t stay in bed all day if you own a dog. You have to get up and tend to your dog’s needs, which is a good thing for both of you.
Sometimes Archie helps me just by sitting on my lap, providing warmth and comfort. Dogs are a great distraction too. They do the cutest, goofiest things sometimes. They make you laugh. They’re antics distract you from your pain, if only for a moment. And that moment can be precious to a chronic pain sufferer like me.
We can learn a lot from our dogs too. Stretching is very important for pain relief. Our pets can teach us pain relieving habits. Dogs get up in the morning or from a nap and the first thing they do is stretch their back out. He knows the importance of keeping your muscles stretched out. Simply petting your dog can loose stiff muscles and joints. People with chronic pain should stretch 15 to 20 minutes each day. Daily exercise helps reduce pain too. In a study on the affect of stretching and exercise on chronic low pack pain, pain dropped by 44% with exercise versus 35% with pain medication. Walking our dogs helps us get the exercise we need and maintain a healthy weight, which can also help reduce pain.
Please sare your therapy dog stories. Has a pet made a difference in your life?
*Inspiration and statistics from this post came from “Pet Therapy & Chronic Pain,” by Dawn Marcus, MD, in Pain Pathways magazine, Summer 2012 issue.