Gift Ideas For Chronic Pain– Pt 1: Health & Wellness

by Janet Jay

Even if Christmas and the winter holidays are over, my birthday a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about all the little health gadgets I repeatedly recommend to my friends. Some of this stuff took me 20 years to learn about (theracane, where were you all my life?!) and some are old standbys that can help a surprising amount. Here’s a rundown of a few gifts that are sure to be a hit with your friends or loved ones with CP– mostly items I currently own and use myself. (Of course, if you have chronic pain yourself and this stuff sounds rad, I say treat yo’self.)  

The gift ideas in today’s post are going to focus on medical or health-related items, stuff that directly addresses a need of a person in chronic pain. Stay tuned for part 2, which will be more focused on style, craft and fun gifts.

Full disclosure: I am posting these options with Amazon affiliate links, though if you have a local business you can buy from I very much recommend and prefer you go there instead.

Heat it up

Back buddy heating pad

All heating pads are not created equal: so-called “moist heat” is a lot more effective for pain than the dry heat of an electric blanket or something. Bed Buddy is a brand of heat pack filled with organic materials that you throw in the microwave for a couple of minutes. In my experience, they last for years and are massively helpful for sore, tight muscles. They even offer them with built-in aromatherapy, if that’s your jam. 

Stretch it out

Woman helping man stretch using resistance bands

There are all sorts of exercises you can do with resistance bands— if you’ve done physical therapy recently, they may have sent you home with some. But if nothing else, they’re fantastic for stretching. That’s why I recommend everybody have at least one resistance band– when you’re feeling stiff, it really helps you stretch out tight muscles. 

vive calf stretcher
Vive Calf Stretcher

The last time I went to physical therapy they had this little plastic thing called a foot rocker that made stretching tight calf and leg muscles SO easy that I went home and immediately bought one for myself. It also came with a spiky ball that is absolutely perfect for working out knots in your feet– when my plantar fasciitis is bugging me, this is the first thing I grab. (It also includes an app, which I didn’t know about until three seconds ago when I went looking for that link.)

Grab it

the HMS Grabber reacher being used by a person in a wheelchair to pick up keys
The Grabber in use

A couple of years ago my L5-S1 herniated and i was taken to the hospital screaming, and eventually underwent an emergency laminectomy. I was sent home with a corset brace that supported my back but didn’t let me bend over (not like I would have been able to bend over without it, because of the pain). As goofy as it looks, a little grabbermajig like this turned out to be incredibly helpful. Every little bit of independence is worth it. This article, “Three Things To Consider Before Buying A Grabbing Tool,” goes through different options that specialize in long reach, firm grasp or great value. I ended up buying a “featherweight” model that did everything I needed it to. For a fancier model with a rotating head and a bunch of other options, take a gander at this demonstration video for the RMS Grabber Reacher — the grabber is illustrated with CGI and there’s an inspiring soundtrack that swells like the moment in a Disney movie where the hero triumphantly decides to fight on the side of good or whatever.

Step it up

Woman uses stepper

Getting regular exercise can be incredibly difficult with chronic pain– no matter how much you rationally know it will help in the long term, when you’re just struggling to get through the day it can be hard to force yourself to do something that’s only going to make you feel worse in the short term. (Damn you, pain cycle!) I live in Texas, land of “nine months of summer per year,” and if it’s hard to exercise regularly, it’s way harder when it’s 100 degrees outside by 11 am. Enter the stepper! I like to hop on it while watching something and zone out. I have the model on the left, which has stretchy resistance bands you can use with your arms, but you can also get a version that has a handle if you’re more concerned about ergonomics or need extra support. (Of course you could buy a stairmaster or a treadmill, if that’s your price point, but until I got this as a gift I had no idea that $50-$100 could buy me something that’s just as good).

Mobilize it (& work on that chi)

man lying down uses chi machine

I hate the name of these things–“chi machines”– because I feel like whatever it does for your “chi” is a lot less important than what it does for your muscles and joint mobility. You lie on the ground, put your feet in the little foot slots, and then turn it on so that it’s gently moving your legs from side to side with a swimming or wavelike motion. Note: START SLOW! This is one of those electronics where there are some really crappy knockoffs out there. The bare minimum you need is that your chi machine has a speed controller, and has soft footrests instead of hard plastic. This is the exact model I own and it’s served me well for…. eight years? Dang.

Massage it yourself

Man uses orange thera cane

For real y’all: get yourself a dang Thera cane. I’m legitimately sad that I didn’t hear about these amazing things until just a couple of years ago. A Thera cane is a plastic doohickey (technical term) that looks like the kind of old-timey exaggerated cane that would be used in a cartoon to pull someone offstage when they’re bombing in front of a crowd. You can use it to massage out knots anywhere on your entire body, by yourself, no matter where it is. As someone who lives alone it’s absolutely invaluable for those can’t-reach knots in my shoulders. Pro tip: you can put Icy Hot, essential oils or whatever you want on the knobs too! Seriously, the basic model and one that comes apart for ease of transport are both under $30. I just have a basic blue one and it has been a huge help to me; I can’t recommend this thingamajig enough.

Prop it up with a lap desk

Lap desk with pillow & wrist cushions, used by someone reading book

Lap desks are important for anyone who spends a lot of time in bed or on the couch with their computer. It serves a number of purposes: it keeps your computer stable as you shift around under it, it raises it up and tilts to make the whole process more ergonomic (I particularly like models that also have a wrist cushion, like this one). Another similar option is what’s called a lap table or bed table. It’s like a lap desk with legs; it reminds me of those trays that you see people on TV serving breakfast in bed on. Most lap desks have foldable legs that allow it to transform into a more normal lap desk, though without the cushioned bottom. There’s a huge range of options, from the most simple— a horizontal surface with folding legs– to the extremely complex, with cool materials, adjustable angles, integrated fans, and a hundred other little cool tweaks.

Soak it

shea butter moisturizing epsom salt

Three words: epsom salt baths. I recommend this stuff so often that the people in my chronic pain group are probably sick of hearing about it. But it’s one of the few OTC treatments that does anything at all for my pain. If you have super tight muscles and achy joints, it can really make a difference. On one hand, I have found a ton of personal relief from epsom salt baths and have had medical professionals explain how they work… on the other hand, I just this minute discovered that there’s not a ton of evidence actually supporting its efficacy for pain relief. All I can say is that I can personally tell a noticeable difference in how I feel getting out of a regular bath vs an epsom salt bath, but take my opinion with a grain of [epsom] salt (sorry, sorry, i’m trying to delete it). Anyway, regular epsom salt does the trick, but you can also buy versions scented with lavender, eucalyptus, and other calming scents, a special moisturizing formula with shea butter, and more.

Hit me up with all the stuff I forgot

I know I’m forgetting nine million great doohickeys. Why not give me a shout on Twitter and let me know what I’ve forgotten? And stay tuned for pt 2 of this series, where I focus on fun lifestyle gifts.

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