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4 Chronic Life Hacks

It goes without saying that living with chronic pain and illness is tough. We do our best to take care of ourselves and manage our health issues while battling with uncomfortable symptoms and distressing pain. After many, many years of living with various chronic conditions, I feel like I’ve become a chronic life expert. I think I’ve tried most “solutions,” with generally pretty low success rates. But once in a while, I come upon a new discovery that greatly improves the quality of my life. Today, I’m excited to share four of my new discoveries with you!

(Note: I'm not being paid or compensated in any way for my recommendations.)

1. Memory Foam Mattress Topper and Pillow

Sleeping can be painful. I used to have a hard time getting comfortable in bed, even with a pillow-top mattress, mattress pad and feather pillow. No matter what I did, it often still felt like I was sleeping on a wooden board.

Enter memory foam.

My physiotherapist suggested I try it and I figured, why not?! Well, let me tell you, this substance they call memory foam has been a miracle. After setting myself up with a 2” memory foam mattress topper and a pillow, I now can’t wait to get into bed at night. It feels like I’m sleeping on a cloud. Every position is comfortable, and I’m not exaggerating. The pillow and topper combo have reduced my night-time pain, changed how I sleep and how I feel when I wake up in the mornings. Two thumbs up!

2. Preferred Economy

I love to travel, but air travel comes with its challenges. Flying can be extremely uncomfortable because of the limited space in economy class seats. If I could fly business or first class I would, but that’s a *bit* out of my budget.

And then last month I discovered preferred economy class. For an extra $60 for a 4.5 hour flight, Air Canada’s website promised more leg room as well as seats at the front of the plane, so I figured, why not?! Best decision ever! I almost walked right past the preferred economy section at first because I thought it was business class (old-school style). Here’s why. The section had:

  • Larger seats

  • Seats that recline considerably more than in regular economy

  • Much more leg room

  • Tables that come out of the (wider) arm rests, rather than the seat in front of you

  • Foot rests which allow you to elevate your feet

  • Remote controls for the TV in the seat in front of you

  • Complimentary pillows

  • Complimentary blankets

  • Priority drink service in economy after take-off

  • Seats close to the door for faster deplaning once you arrive

  • Wider aisles

Heaven for $60!

I felt so much better at the end of that flight than I usually do when I fly regular economy. I’d had more room to stretch and move, I was able to find comfortable positions in my larger seat, and it was easier to get up, walk around, and stretch.

You now know where to find me on my next flight!

Note: I was on a new Air Canada plane. Some of the older planes have fewer bells and whistles in preferred economy, but they all have more space and leg room. Not all airlines and airplanes have the preferred economy option, but if they do, I say go for it.

3. Trigger Point Injection Therapy

Next up, a little needling. Lately I have been experiencing increased pain due to tight muscles in constant spasm (headaches, jaw pain and tension, face pain, shoulder, back, and neck pain). As a result, my specialist referred me to a doctor who specializes in trigger point injection therapy. At this point I’d had a semi-permanent headache for several months, and was not functioning at even close to my best. I figured, why not?!

Here is what Muscle MD has to say about Trigger-Point Injection (TPI):

“TPI is used to treat muscular and fascial (myofascial) pain. Put simply, fascia is a thin layer of tissue found just underneath the skin of the whole human body. It is rich in nerves and can contribute to pain in numerous medical conditions.

The process of TPI therapy involves the insertion of a small hypodermic needle into trigger-points (areas of contracted muscle fibres which are identifiable as painful bands/nodules on clinical examination). A very small amount of local anaesthetic is injected when the needle is inserted. The combination of the needle insertion and local anaesthetic can help relax these abnormally contracted strands of muscle, relieving pain and restoring normal muscle function/range of motion.”

I’m not going to downplay the needling. It hurts. A lot. It can bleed. It can leave red marks and bruises, which hurt for several days afterwards. It can leave you exhausted. But boy, does it ever work like a hot damn!

After only one session (average recommendation is a series of at least 5-10) my perma-headache was gone. Yes, it still lingers here and there, but the pain went from a 9 to a 2. Hello! I look forward to the results of my full series of sessions with great optimism.

Needling may not be for everyone, but it’s worth looking into if you have a lot of muscle pain.

4. Fitbits for Pacing

If you live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the concept of pacing. If not, you can read more about pacing in one of my previous posts, HERE.

I do my best when it comes to pacing, but I’m never really sure how much I’ve done in a day because I have no way of measuring that exactly, short of keeping a minute-by-minute journal.

A couple of weeks ago I had an aha! moment about Fitbits. Based on what I knew about the device, I thought there was a good chance it would be able to help me pace more effectively. I ordered one immediately. I figured, why not?!

Since I got my Fitbit last week, I’ve been recording the following:

  • Steps taken

  • Heart rate

  • Distance walked

  • Flights of stairs taken

And here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • I’m taking a lot more steps in the day than I thought I was. Just because I’m slow and take breaks, doesn’t mean I’m not walking a fair amount.

  • For the most part, my heart rate is staying in the optimal zone as determined by my doctor.

  • My resting heart rate is lower than I thought (hurrah!).

  • I am a lot more active on my “rest days” than the days on which I work.

  • My activity levels are very inconsistent from day-to-day, often with a difference of over several thousand steps!

The information I’ve gathered is going to be extremely helpful in determining my activity limits, which will give me specific guidelines to make sure I don’t overdo it. I’m in the process of determining a sustainable, baseline number of steps that I can manage on a daily basis. Once I find my baseline, I will stick to it (with the help of my Fitbit) in order to be more consistent with activity. Once I’ve achieved consistency, I will be able to start to play with increasing my energy level bit by bit.

Essentially, I’m using the Fitbit to make sure I pace effectively by keeping my activity low and consistent, and by not pushing too hard. Pacing has just become a lot easier and more do-able.

I hope my chronic life hacks have been informative and maybe even helpful for you. If you have any tricks, tips, or mini-miracles that have worked well for you, I’d love to hear about them!

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