How to Cope with Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can stem from a whole host of different health issues, and trying to get through your day to day tasks can seem unbearable. Around 28 million adults are living with pain that has lasted for three months or longer. As someone who has watched their mother suffer through chronic pain from Osteoarthritis (and other muscular and skeletal issues) — I’ve seen first-hand how chronic pain can affect us physically and mentally. Sometimes jumping to pain relief can seem like the only option, and even then, an option that doesn’t always help. Here is my general list of ways to cope with chronic pain, which hopefully guides you in finding ways to ease it a little better.
This may seem obvious but start by finding out what the pain is and what may be causing it. You may find that the physical demands of what you are doing day-to-day (or a lack of exercising the right muscles in the right way) may be the cause of your pain. Once you determine this, work towards correcting the issues. See a GP for a physical examination to be sure of what your diagnosis is, and then research things that may benefit you alongside, or even without the need for pain medications. Some of the issues that can be causing your chronic pain are:
- irritable bowels
- back pain
Generally speaking, exercise is usually the best form of therapy for chronic pain. Talking to a physical therapist about your chronic pain and doing their recommended exercises each day can help with pain management. For older people (or people with severe chronic pain), lighter activities like doing yoga, walking, swimming or Tai Chi for 20–30 minutes a day, can not only improve pain, but also re-build the self-esteem and strength lost from dealing with the pain mentally.
If you struggle with self-motivation or fear of causing yourself more injury, than consider investing in a professional physical therapist, trainer or psychologist, who can help you break the mental barriers so that you can do movements that will benefit your specific chronic pain issue. WellBe has therapists and life coaches that can help you to create and build Healthy Habits, or even link you with extra resources for Yoga or exercise. Reach out to your coordinator or visit the site to learn more.
COLD OR HEAT
I recently went to see an Osteopath talk about a reoccurring neck blocking. I told him that I used heat pads whenever it was happening, and he said that with a muscle spasm, the cold is better. He said that putting ice on affected areas will reduced the inflammation more, whereas the heat didn’t. So next time your back spasms, get the ice out of the freezer! Or you can buy cooling pads for the affected area. You can even alternate between the two, taking a hot bath first and then following it with an ice pack.
Meditation techniques bring your attention to your breathing, and how we breathe can have a direct link to things like pain. When you’re in pain, your breath will become short and fast, putting further stress on the body and mind. Taking a moment to focus on the breath rather than the pain, and taking steady, long, deep breaths into your diaphragm, can really help during those tough moments.
In an NCCIH-funded study published in The Journal of Neuroscience today, Dr Fadel Zeidan and his colleagues at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that mindfulness meditation achieves its pain relief-effect — without engaging the opioid receptors in the brain. Meaning that mindfulness meditation (which focuses attention on the breath) is a wonderful tool for pain relief. Brain imaging studies also showed similar brain areas are activated during both mindfulness meditation as parts that reduce pain.
POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES TO MEDICATION
Sometimes pain medication is vital, however, sometimes it can be masking the issue or making it worse. Trying practices such as Chiropractic therapy, Osteopathy, and Acupuncture could be a better alternative. Chiropractors and Osteopaths can really help with back pain, neck pain, headaches and the likes; they do this by making small adjustments either in the spine or muscles, and perform things like deep tissue relaxation. I’ve seen the difference these have had on my mother’s issues, and have even gone myself whenever my neck is completely stiff — I always leave feeling reformed. Always remember to check their credentials, as you want someone knowledgeable handling intricate areas, especially your neck!
Strangely one of the most useful things to reduce inflammation and pain is food. Some foods can increase inflammation in the body which can lead to issues like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s — most of, if not all, are linked to chronic pain. This Harvard Health Publishing article clearly outlines what foods cause inflammation and which ones can reduce it.
Foods that cause inflammation include: refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries; French fries and other fried foods; soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages; red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage); margarine, shortening, and lard.
Foods that reduce inflammation: tomatoes; olive oil; green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards; nuts like almonds and walnuts; fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines; fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.
Something as simple as changing our eating habits can aid with chronic pain. So try switching out the foods that cause inflammation for those that don’t, and you could see a significant decrease in pain over time.
I know how hopeless it may seem when you are suffering from any of these issues. However, you can take small steps into moving your body in a healthy way, learning to breathe deeply and meditate, and make dietary changes that could help with your chronic pain. My mother is now a different woman, thanks to a mixture of all of these changes, and I hope these tips help you too. Take care — I wish you less pain and more joy!
Written by Jaqueline Renouard
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