Ten Tips When Living with Pain and Discomfort
by Greg Kerr, M.Sc., D.C.
There are many causes of pain. Muscle tissue can be damaged with the wear and tear of daily activities. Trauma to an area (jerking movements, auto accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations, and direct blows to the muscle) also can cause muscle or joint pain that may last for many years. Other causes of pain include postural strain, repetitive movements, overuse, and prolonged immobilization. Changes in posture or poor body mechanics may bring about spinal alignment problems and muscle shortening, therefore causing other muscles to be misused and become painful. People with chronic pain sometimes complain that their entire bodies ache. Their muscles may feel like they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch or burn. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the common symptoms are pain often with fatigue and sleep disturbances.
If you are a chronic pain sufferer, here are ten tips that may be helpful.
- Deep breathing or meditation can help you relax.
Deep breathing and meditation are techniques that help your body relax, which may ease pain. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase — a mantra — causes the body to relax. While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class.
- Reduce stress in your life. Stress intensifies chronic pain.
Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, anger and stress can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. By learning to take control of stress, you may find some relief from chronic pain. Several techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood — and make living with chronic pain more bearable. There are even specially designed relaxation tapes or CDs for this. Mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery) is a form of mental escape that can help you feel peaceful. It involves creating calming, peaceful images in your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation.
- Boost chronic pain relief with the natural endorphins from exercise.
Endorphins are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise will increase these endorphins as well as it strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain. Plus, exercise can help keep your weight down, reduce heart disease risk, and control blood sugar levels — especially important if you have diabetes. You will need to be careful about the types of activities you engage in; do not overdo it, especially at first.
- Alcohol can worsen pain or sleep problems.
Moderate drinking may even help but excessive alcohol use can make pain or sleep problems worse. If you’re living with chronic pain, drinking no more than a couple of drinks a day can improve your quality of life.
- Join a support group. Meet others living with chronic pain.
When you’re with people who have chronic pain and understand what you’re going through, you feel less alone. You also benefit from their wisdom in coping with the pain.
Also, consider meeting with a mental health professional. Anyone can develop depression if he or she is living with chronic pain. Getting counseling can help you learn to cope better and help you avoid negative thoughts that make pain worse — so you have a healthier attitude. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Don’t smoke. It can worsen chronic pain.
Smoking can worsen painful circulation problems and increase risk of heart disease and cancer. Quitting can be very difficult but others have done it. So can you.
- Track your pain level and activities every day.
Keeping a log or journal of your daily “pain score” will help you track your pain. At the end of each day, note your pain level on the 1 to 10 pain scale. Also, note what activities you did that day. This can give you a better understanding of how you’re living with chronic pain and your physical functioning level.
- Look at other health alternatives for chronic pain relief.
Chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal treatments, etc. can help reduce stress and relieve tension — and is being used by people living with all sorts of chronic pain, including back and neck pain.
- Eat a healthy diet if you’re living with chronic pain.
A well-balanced diet is important in many ways — aiding your digestive process, reducing heart disease risk, keeping weight under control, and improving blood sugar levels. To eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, choose from these: fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked dried beans and peas; whole-grain breads and cereals; low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt; and lean meats.
- Find ways to distract yourself from pain so you enjoy life more.
When you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. Instead, find something you like doing — an activity that keeps you busy and thinking about things besides your pain. You might not be able to avoid pain, but you can take control of your life.
Greg Kerr is a Doctor of Chiropractic who provides counselling under your Employee Assistance Program for people with acute and chronic pain; operates the Quinte Decompression and Pain Clinic for spinal decompression; provides Ergonomic Assessments in workplaces ; and provides employee work capacity assessments for business and industry.