This is the latest update on my chronic joint pain and on my efforts to lesson that pain. In my last update I saw a delay in the local pain clinic services due to lockdown last spring. They got back in touch with me last May with a letter informing me of an appointment with the pain clinic doctor I saw previously. This was to be a phone appointment due to still being in lockdown. I was not expecting to hear from her, but was pleased they still had me on their list. The appointment was really just a check up to see how things were going and to make sure I still wanted to be on their list when services resumed again. It was reassuring to be told that I could pick up where I left off after lockdown.
The next communication from the pain clinic came in September. I had a month to get back in touch and book an appointment with a pain specialist physiotherapist or they would assume I no longer wanted their services. I got back in touch almost instantly. Later that month I had my phone appointment with the physiotherapist. She explained they were still unable to offer services in person, but were doing some things online. She asked about my pain in detail and together we decided that the tai chi would still be something I could benefit from. As suggested I had a go at some of the tai chi videos on the pain clinic website. From the first try I felt it was something I would enjoy doing. It seems to be about mindfulness with exercise which builds on things I have done previously both as a drama student and in laughter yoga classes that used mindfulness as a wind down at the end.
Meanwhile as I was waiting for the first tai chi class, I started using Wii Fit. I got a second hand Wii for my birthday with Wii Fit. Having previously tried a Wii some years before and have seen Wii Fit I thought it might be a good way for me to motivate myself to get fitter. Since mid September I have been trying to use Wii Fit for at least fifteen minutes most days, often longer. I have found it extremely helpful to get me stronger and fitter. It uses yoga, muscle exercises, aerobics and balance games. It lets you work at your own pace and teaches the exercises one at a time, helping me to gain confidence in my abilities gradually. Some exercise classes throw you in at the deep end and expect you to already be reasonable at things, with the Wii it lets you start at whatever level you are at even if that is absolute beginner. I like how you score points and get feedback so you can see the progress you are making and what you need to work on more. At the end of each training session you can take a body fit test and it will see how you are doing fitness wise overall. My overall fitness scores have definitely been improving over the months.
Then in October and November I had two video appointments online with the physiotherapist from the pain clinic. She introduced me to tai chi with the basic stances and a few of the easier moves. I practised between appointments and felt like I was getting the hang of it well. Since I seemed to be enjoying it and benefiting from it, the physiotherapist put me forward for the group course. Over eight weekly sessions it teaches tai chi adapted for pain management.
I had some technical issues at first trying to find a device that would work the application they use for the classes, since my tablet refuses to work with a rival companys video chat. (They do assume you have the right technology and for some people this could be a serious issue.) However I figured out a way to do it on my phone, although rather a small screen it did work well enough.
The classes lasted about an hour each and gradually taught us the moves of tai chi building each week a longer routine of movements. There are a few kinds of tai chi and the pain clinic use Shibashi Qigong which has eighteen moves in total. Some of the moves combine with others making it easier to remember them all. The classes also focused on body awareness and being present in the moment in a mindful way. We shared at the end of each class together with how we were getting on with the tai chi during the week and how it was helping us. There were about six of us in the class and we all agreed that tai chi was of some benefit to chronic joint pain.
Tai chi is more of a work out than you may think. Despite being fairly slow paced it stretches out muscles, helps posture, and improves breathing technique which eventually can improve lung capacity. I find tai chi mentally beneficial as well. The mindfulness is relaxing which is turn helps my muscles to relax; this is especially helpful for my tense shoulders.
My shoulders are one of my most painful areas, especially the right one. The physiotherapist says this comes from years of having had a limp that caused me to walk more on my right side. Also previously having used walking aids such as crutches and a stick have probably not helped my shoulders. Whilst doing tai chi I can actually feel my shoulders lowering and they feel as if they are less heavy.
Now that I have completed the tai chi course I need to keep up the practise of it so that I continue to benefit from it. I use the videos on the pain clinic website fairly regularly and try to practise some of the stances and moves at home when I can. Music can be helpful to a practise, especially calm classical music. I am still using Wii Fit regularly and plan to buy the extension pack to this soon once I have reached a point I need to advance my workouts. I feel fitter now than I probably have been for most of my life. I can walk faster and further than I used to and feel less out of breath walking up hill than I once did. I still get frequent joint pain, but less debilitating levels than it was most of the time. I have managed to reduce the number of pain killers I take a fair amount, although I still take more than some people do. Cold weather and having a period can cause my joint pain to flare up again sometimes and I still have to be careful not to over do the exercise and walking or I can suffer for it the next day.
I will write another post on this one day if and when something interesting occurs with my pain. I welcome questions and comments on my posts.
Tai chi pain clinic videos:
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