Patients with Lyme disease often have many symptoms that make their day-to-day lives challenging. With everything from fatigue to muscle aches, individuals with Lyme often have a myriad of physical issues. Many people wonder, ‘Can Lyme disease cause severe pain?’ In fact, many patients note that their most debilitating symptom is actually the pain they experience because of the condition. So, in order to make sure Lyme patients are as comfortable as possible, we need to know how to ease pain in patients with chronic Lyme. Here’s a rundown of how to potentially lessen pain levels in Lyme patients.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by an infectious bite from a tick that is a carrier for the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. It was first studied back in the 1970s when it got its name from a town called Lyme in Connecticut in the U.S. A group of people (young and old) began to experience similar symptoms, and the condition started to be studied in order to find a connection between these symptoms and tick bites. Researchers have continued to study the disease and recent years have seen even more global awareness and more accurate diagnoses of the condition. Lyme typically presents with a combination of symptoms (although not every patient will get every single one of these):
- Red, bullseye rash (typically around the site of the bite)
- Flu-like symptoms (headache, dizziness, malaise, fever)
- Joint or muscle aches and pains
- Extreme fatigue
These symptoms appear typically between three and 30 days after the initial tick bite. A person diagnosed with Lyme after experiencing these symptoms is known as having acute Lyme disease. They can be treated with antibiotics from their doctor.
However, if Lyme disease is not diagnosed immediately (often because of a misdiagnosis of another condition), patients can develop chronic Lyme disease. This can also occur because a patient does not respond to antibiotics. This is then called Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome or PTLDS. More severe symptoms can develop during this period and they can manifest anywhere from months to years after the tick bite occurred. These symptoms can include:
- Severe joint pain and swelling (arthritis)
- Pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Facial palsy
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
- Nerve pain
Patients can also develop inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, as well as cognitive and memory issues.
Why does Lyme disease cause pain?
Lyme disease causes pain because the bacteria is spread throughout the body’s tissues. Acute Lyme can cause pain in multiple places (head, neck, knees, etc.), but chronic Lyme can create even more pain throughout the body. Bacteria can spread through the nervous system, which also creates inflammation and pain. Researchers believe that PTLDS affects the body’s tissue long after the infection has been cleared. More rounds of antibiotics might be tried, but they’re not always effective for everyone.
What helps with Lyme disease pain?
Luckily, there are some options for pain treatment for Lyme patients. There are several medical avenues a patient can take, as well as at-home, holistic options to try.
1. Take medications prescribed by a doctor.
A Lyme patient can try a variety of medications to help with their specific symptoms. Anti-inflammatory agents can work to help lessen overall inflammation in the body, and acetaminophen can help with general pain. For specific areas of the body, individuals can try topical anaesthetics (such as lidocaine) that can be applied directly to the source of the pain. Ingested muscle relaxants and neuropathic drugs (such as amitriptyline) can work to ease muscle and nerve pain related to Lyme. If none of these medications are helping, doctors might prescribe opioid analgesics (such as oxycodone) to help with severe pain. These medications can be addictive, so patients are advised to only use them if they’re following their doctor’s strict orders.
2. Try electromagnetic treatments.
There are a variety of electromagnetic options to help with Lyme-specific pain. These can include radio wave, infrared, or laser treatments that are administered by a healthcare professional. Some of these magnetic treatments work to ease several symptoms from Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.
3. Do sessions of acupuncture.
This Eastern medicine technique has been shown to ease a wide variety of conditions. The versatility of acupuncture is especially helpful when treating Lyme because it can ease pain due to headaches, arthritis and tendinitis (all of which can occur with Lyme). Acupuncture can also be effective in treating fatigue, which many Lyme patients experience.
4. Change to a healthier diet.
Altering the diet (especially to an anti-inflammatory one) can work to help reduce inflammation in the body, which can then lead to less pain.
5. Take part in frequent exercise.
Although it can be hard for Lyme patients to feel well enough to exercise, getting in frequent movement can be beneficial for pain levels. Less high-intensity workouts, like yoga, water aerobics, range of motion exercises, etc., can all work to lessen inflammation and reduce pain. Lyme patients might also want to try working with a physiotherapist to learn exercises that will actually feel doable when they’re in pain.
6. Utilise the healing properties of water.
Taking hot baths or engaging in water therapy can be helpful for people with chronic pain. Moving around in the water can often ease muscle and joint tension too.
7. Use cooling or heating pads.
Depending on the location of the patient’s pain, using cooling or heating pads on the specific areas that are hurting can help bring pain levels down.
8. Use naturopathic remedies.
For patients who experience headaches, there are many natural remedies to try, including essential oils and cold compresses. Many people also recommend supplements like magnesium or B-complex vitamin supplements to help ease pain from headaches.
9. Practise yoga or meditation.
Research has shown that practising mindfulness (whether through yoga or meditation) can help patients to better cope with their pain. Practising mindfulness can also possibly help ease some emotional symptoms that go along with Lyme disease.
10. Talk about the pain.
Although it’s a little less traditional, talking about chronic pain can end up being really helpful for Lyme patients. Whether they’re talking with friends or family or with a mental health professional, venting about the pain or learning healthy coping skills can be invaluable in dealing with chronic pain. Patients might even want to consider getting a pet, since animals have been shown to reduce chronic pain levels in their owners.
Lyme patients can try out any of the suggestions mentioned above to help get relief from their pain as soon as possible.