5 Ways to Live Well with Chronic Pain
No matter what's causing your pain, it's no doubt taking a toll on your mental and physical well-being specially when it’s chronic. These body and mind tips will help you reclaim your life and win the challenges of chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a complicated disease and, as a pain management physician, I believe it is important to address pain from many different aspects.
I often recommend physical therapy and lifestyle modification to my patients, in conjunction with medications and procedures. However, I have found that there are some things that patients can do to decrease their pain and sometimes without medications or procedures.
These simple steps can also result in the added benefit of improving overall health.
- Stop Smoking. Smoking can cause tiny blood vessels to shrink in all parts of your body, including your heart, lungs and kidneys. It also causes shrinkage of the small blood vessels that supply intervertebral or spinal discs, leading to low oxygen levels which can compromise their function and structure and eventually result in pain. In addition, smokers have been shown to have higher pain scores and not respond well to pain medications as non-smokers. Smoking may change our pain thresholds or alter the way pain signals are transmitted to our brain. Therefore, smoking cessation plays a vital role in the management of chronic pain.
- Exercise. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which can be thought of as hormones that make you feel good. These potent “feel good” hormones can directly combat chronic pain receptors and decrease pain. The added benefit of exercise is an improvement in overall strength and general health that can help support the spine and reduce stress on the bones, ligaments, discs of the back and other major joints like hip and knee.
- Eat a Healthy Diet. A healthy, well-balanced diet can decrease weight and improve blood flow to our organs. Obesity is a major contributor to chronic pain as it adds more stress to all our support structures. Obese patients are also at a higher risk to develop diabetes, which can cause damage to your blood vessels like smoking. A diet low in carbohydrates and sugars is best to follow as a healthy habit, and don’t forget to include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Get Plenty of Sleep. This one should be a no-brainier. We all know we can be irritable without sleep and pain sensation is also heightened when we are sleep deprived. It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Keep in mind to avoid alcohol and sweets before bed to improve sleep quality.
- Complementary Techniques. While many may not be familiar with this term, we use this when we talk about non-traditional approaches to pain, such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
- Yoga is a type of exercise that can improve strength and helps to enhance concentration and relaxation.
- Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine that involves the use of tiny needles placed in targeted areas to treat certain ailments. It may be used as a supplementary treatment for chronic pain conditions.
- Meditation can be practiced in just a few minutes a day to help focus the mind much like yoga techniques. Another benefit of meditation is that it doesn’t take long and can be done anywhere. There are some great books and even apps available for guided meditations.