This post is a guest post, written by Lovaine Cohen.
Lovaine is a former corporate professional turned chronic pain management health coach. She’s the founder of the Holistic Healing Method, her signature personal coaching program. She also writes on her chronic illness blog, is a website and social media audit consultant, and loves drinking green matcha latte with almond milk.
9 Best Tips for Treating Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects 50 million adults in the US. and it’s continuing to escalate. In 2011, researchers estimated that chronic pain cost the U.S. between $560 to $635 billion dollars in lost wages, treatment, and missed worked days. The high prominence of pain and pain related disease is also the leading cause of disability worldwide.
I’ve been living with chronic pain for 20 years and have experienced highs and many lows. But it’s crucial to get pain under control, and I’ve done so with the following tips you’ll find in this post.
But we’ll first look at the definition of chronic pain, some common misconceptions of treating it, and why chronic pain happens.
What is Chronic Pain?
Acute pain is pain that occurs for a short duration, but experts define chronic pain as persistent pain lasting over 3 months. It’s a separate condition and not a symptom. Chronic pain can be long term, experienced in one area or throughout the body.
Misconceptions of Treating Chronic Pain:
- Medication is the only thing that can help
People who haven’t experienced chronic pain, don’t truly understand how hard it is to live daily with it. They may tell a chronic pain sufferer to just take 2 pills and that will solve the problem and this attitude leaves a chronic pain sufferer misunderstood and alone.
Medication can help with chronic pain, but it’s a short-term fix and doesn’t truly address the underlying problem. The body builds up a tolerance to medication, so treating chronic pain becomes more difficult in the long term.
- Change your lifestyle
Should you try a vegan diet or perhaps follow a keto diet for chronic pain management? The truth? Just because you change your diet doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem. Making healthy food choices is a brilliant start because an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce your chronic pain, but the problem may go much deeper than eating more vegetables.
- Life is less satisfactory
This is huge. Some people experiencing different daily pain levels believe that their lives aren’t as fulfilling when they look at the lives of healthy people. Those that live with chronic pain can lead exciting and wonderful lives just like anyone else.
Why does Chronic Pain Happen?
Chronic pain may occur despite healing of an injured area of the body and can cause damage to the nerves that transmit pain to the brain. But chronic pain is a very complex issue and can be very difficult to understand and pinpoint the exact cause.
Several risk factors such as biological, psychological, clinical, or socio-demographic may affect the duration and intensity of chronic pain.
9 Best Tips to Treat Chronic Pain
I’ve conducted a lot of research on pain management over the years. Here are some great tips to get started with today so you can treat your chronic pain:
Tip 1: Distract Yourself
Research has shown that mental distraction from your chronic pain can actually block the pain receptors in your body. Participants in a study played memory games, and researchers concluded that the distractions may have released natural pain killers throughout the body.
But you don’t have to play memory games in order to get the same benefits. Instead, think of something you find pleasurable. Is there a hobby or an activity that you enjoy so much that time flies by when you engage in it? Do more of the activities you enjoy, so your brain focuses on the task at hand and less on your pain.
Tip 2: Gentle Exercise
If you can manage it, start walking daily because it’s a great low-impact activity for your joints and costs you nothing. You can walk inside your house or outside around the block. It’s also a great cardiovascular workout, pumping blood throughout your veins and feeding your brain oxygen.
Many muscle groups are engaged with walking such as your core and legs, and there is growing evidence to support that walking can decrease your risk of a heart attack and with the treatment of hypertension.
Tip 3: Natural Painkillers
Many herbs and spices can treat chronic pain. But it comes down to experimentation to discover what can work best. Take willow bark, for example. Many people have used it for centuries to treat inflammation, headaches, and muscle pain. The bark contains a chemical called salicin that’s like the principal ingredient in aspirin. Originally, people chewed on the bark for relief, but now it’s available as a liquid supplement or dried tea.
Taking willow bark can produce some side effects such as an upset stomach and can slow down your kidneys. Children should never take willow bark, and if you have a sensitivity to aspirin, you shouldn’t take it. Consult with your doctor if you’re considering using willow bark so your doctor can confirm it won’t interfere with any other medications that you’re currently taking.
Tip 4: Listen to Music
Research supports that listening to music can be effective in chronic pain management. A study was conducted with 40 women between the ages of 20-70; 20 with fibromyalgia and 20 healthy women as a control group. Both groups were asked to submit their favourite songs for the study. All the women listened to music for 5 minutes, listened to pink noise for 5 minutes, had a 5 minute brain MRI after listening, and reported pain intensity on a scale of 1 to 10.
The researchers studied regions of the brain associated with the system for pain modulation in terms of input for the brain and how the brain perceives pain. They concluded that the centers in the brain responsible for heightened pain decreased in the group of women with fibromyalgia. Test this out for yourself and create a playlist of your favourite songs and note how you feel afterward.
Tip 5: Myofascial Release
Myofascial release therapy, a low load stretch, releases sore and tight muscles. Fascia is a thin web of connective tissue that covers the muscles, bones, blood vessels, and organs. Chronic pain caused by fascial restrictions doesn’t show up on medical tests, and these restrictions can severely compromise the spine.
When your fascia is under tension, it’s rigid, not very flexible, and can cause pressure as great as 2000 pounds per square inch! I’ve experienced several sessions, and I felt lighter, relaxed, and looser afterward. Sessions can run anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes and can be performed in a health center or in your own home. Be sure to have someone specifically trained in myofascial release therapy for the best results.
Tip 6: Heat and Ice
Many people don’t use this inexpensive, simple, and effective therapy. Here are some guidelines when using heat and ice for sore muscles. Use cold to constrict your blood vessels in order to reduce swelling and inflammation. Once the inflammation has decreased, use heat.
Heat increases flexibility in your muscles and the warmth increases blood circulation. It’s best to use heat, with a heated blanket, when you have chronic pain. I love using my bean bag for pain relief. I toss it into the microwave for 2 minutes and apply it to my sore muscles.
Tip 7: Eat Well
Eating a diet rich in protein, vegetables, and fruits is very important when treating your chronic pain. Increased pain leads to higher stress levels so when you eat well your body uses the nutrients to help with these higher levels.
Aim to eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that these types of foods can decrease chronic pain. Your diet should also include adequate amounts of magnesium, as this mineral can relax muscles and block pain transmitting receptors.
Tip 8: Take the Time to Relax
When was the last time you practiced self care such as reading a book or taking a warm bath? It’s so easy for us to look after the needs of others, and we neglect to take some time out for ourselves.
Tense muscles can cause tightness all over your body, resulting in increased pain. Relaxation calms your mind, can lower your heart rate, and is important especially for people living with chronic pain to practice. Find a technique that works best for you such as deep breathing exercises and make it a daily habit.
Tip 9: Seek Support
Chronic pain can wreak havoc on your mental and emotional wellbeing. You can feel pretty good one day and extremely fatigued the next. I highly recommend keeping company with friends who truly understand your daily struggles with pain. You don’t need people in your life that get upset at you when you need to cancel plans.
Pain support groups can also play a vital role for people in chronic pain. Groups can provide support and rehabilitation and meet the needs that your health care provider may not.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Treating Chronic Pain
Treating chronic pain can be a challenge and very disruptive to your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s a complex issue and not easily understood. But It’s important to get on top of long-term chronic pain so it doesn’t continue to get worse. I hope you found the tips in this post helpful!
How do you treat your chronic pain? Leave your favourite tip in the comments.
Thank you to Lovaine for the time, effort and research that went into this post. If you enjoyed this post and would like more information about Lovaine, be sure to check out her chronic illness blog where she writes about her journey with Ankylosing Spondylitis and chronic pain.