Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal and pelvic disorders—they’re a few of the medical conditions many women face, all of which can lead to chronic pain. Pain is considered chronic when it persists longer than three to six months and essentially becomes imprinted on the nervous system.
“In neuroscientific terms, pain is a necessary protective response from our nervous system,” explains Cheryl Van Demark PT, C-IAYT, Co-facilitator, Chronic Pain Self-Care Program at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). “We experience pain in situations of actual or anticipated threat.”
Van Demark – a physical therapist and certified yoga therapist from YRMC’s Physical Rehabilitation Services – emphasizes that chronic pain is real and each individual’s experience with pain is unique. She notes that a history of trauma, adversity or prolonged periods of stress can affect how we experience pain.
Learn How to Create Your Narrative
YRMC’s Chronic Pain Self-Care Program includes five weekly, two-hour sessions of approximately 10 group participants. Van Demark is joined by co-facilitators – a physical therapist, yoga therapist, nutritional counselor, pharmacist and behavioral health specialist – who share information and dialogue with the group.
A cornerstone discussion of the group is pain as influenced by perception. For example, a woman with osteoarthritis cannot change her medical condition, but she can change or develop self-care behaviors to improve how she lives with the condition.
“That’s called life on your terms,” says Van Demark. “You don’t choose the circumstances, but you can create your own narrative. Developing mindful attention to our inner dialogue allows us to include self-affirming messages and challenge unhelpful mental chatter.”
During the program, Van Demark and other co-facilitators foster a positive, supportive environment that has proven successful.
“We remind participants that they are wise and intuitive and they should expect to be treated this way by the people from whom they seek treatment,” she says. “Because chronic pain tends to influence all facets of life – activity level, sleep, appetite, relationships, to name a few – their treatment also needs to touch all of those facets. This calls for self-honesty and courage.”
Your Journey to Self-Care & Wellbeing
YRMC’s Chronic Pain Self-Care Program includes self-care and wellbeing habits to:
- Reduce stress
- Feel sensations of comfort and relaxation
- Use food as medicine
- Face fear of movement
- Mitigate suffering
- Cope with uncertainty
- Befriend the body
- Pace physical activity
- Develop self-compassion
The more participants repeat these behaviors, the stronger their self-compassion skills become. Many thrive under the encouragement of other group members. Others find inspiration by leaning into their personal religious and spiritual beliefs.
“This support is very affirming for women as some tend to go out of their way to support everybody else and put themselves at the end of the line,” Van Demark says. “This jeopardizes our personal wellbeing. Pain tends to become more persistent when our wellbeing is compromised.”
Following the five-week session, some participants opt for individual physical therapy sessions from Van Demark to work on specific areas of importance to them.