Living with Pain: The Pain Ninja

Living with Pain: The Pain Ninja

Tamara Staples

“I am a Pain Ninja! A Pain Ninja is a stealthy warrior who specializes in covert and unorthodox warfare against pain.”

So says Tamara Staples, a newly minted pain coach, or in her words, a Pain Ninja. After living most of her life with lupus, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Tamara took the pain relievers oxycodone and oxymorphone for 15 years. They helped somewhat, but ultimately she developed a tolerance for them.

She took herself off opioids after developing gastropharesis, a paralysis of the stomach that prevents food from moving from the stomach to the intestines.

Tamara, who lives near Portland, Oregon, wants to make clear to readers that she is not against opioids. “It’s not up me to decide for others. Some simply need that type of treatment,” she says.

Like many people frustrated with the treatment of their pain, Staples began to look beyond the frontiers of Western medicine for a solution. Her first stop was a small online group of people like her who lived with the ravages of fibromyalgia and CFS. Tamara is now co-leader of a private Facebook group that’s grown from 30 members to 350.

Natural Methods to Control Pain

Tamara began a self-survey of things she had learned that helped her combat pain and lethargy. She had in the past studied and practiced both meditation and breathing techniques. To her surprise, she found both methods lowered her pain and anxiety. With this success, Tamara searched for more models for the Ninja treatment of pain.During her search, Tamara discovered the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) that she shares with others living with pain. On her website, Staples writes that “EFT is a very effective tool for working with pain and emotions. It is a form of acupressure based on the same energy meridians used in traditional Chinese acupuncture to treat ailments for the last five thousand years. The beauty of it is that you can do it yourself at any time and there are no needles involved.”

EFT is relatively easy to learn and, unlike most forms of psychological treatments, it can be practiced alone. EFT has also shown some effectiveness with those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Breathing, visualization and hypnosis can work well in breaking the pattern of obsessing over pain and trauma. They help refocus the mind away from chronic pain and the negative, often paralyzing emotions that come with it

Turn Pain into a Sensation

Another technique, while meditating or in a light self-hypnotic trance, is to change the word “pain” to another less emotionally charged word, such as saying to oneself “That’s not pain I’m feeling, but a sensation.”

“Pain” and “sensation” involve very different emotional vectors. Repeating the word “sensation” can also help in mantra meditation and self-hypnosis.

Tamara employs another meditation technique called “intentional resting,” in which a person in pain doesn’t simply rest but rests, paradoxically, with an intention. For example, someone with a headache might lie down with the conscious thought of resting the “headache.” Tamara says this technique can be employed with any area of pain in the body and can help make pain manageable in as little as thirty seconds.

Tamara has gathered all of the techniques that have worked for her and now offers her Pain Ninja services through a course that she’s developed. She works with a person in pain in once weekly sessions of 60 to 90 minutes, most often by phone and using the internet to offer video and audio instruction.

She starts out by helping the client understand the origins of their pain and its impact. Tamara and the client will then construct a plan to help manage the person’s pain. She makes herself available for check-ins with clients to help insure that the pain management program she offers is working. “They can call me during rough spots,” Tamara adds.

Insurance Coverage

These and other natural healing methods have been lumped together as alternative or complementary medicine. They’ve been criticized as being untested and unscientific, but many people living with pain say that they’ve had varying degrees of success using them.

Insurance companies often do not cover complementary methods, leaving people with pain having pay for them out of pocket. However, with more research there is hope that they can be found to be viable and will then be covered by insurance. Tamara recognizes that insurance will not pay for what she offers, so she has set her fees low so that anyone can afford her coaching.

There are two  hurdles facing complementary practitioners and people with pain: The first is getting funding for the necessary research and the second is the political struggle forcing insurance companies to cover these treatments. These are two large, but not insurmountable hurdles that the pain advocacy community needs to champion.

It would be a victory if those opposed to opioid prescribing could join pain advocates in advocating for more research and insurance coverage of all promising complementary treatments for people living with pain.

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn lives in the east bay of San Francisco where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog can be found here

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