Chronic pain is difficult, but not impossible, to manage. Read on to learn what you can do to help yourself.
- Mind/Body Connection: Research shows that meditation, visualization and even prayer can help to reduce pain levels. Pain is essentially a signal that is sent from your body to your brain (and sometimes vice-versa) when there is injury or illness. In the case of chronic pain, either the injury or illness is ongoing or the body is sending “false” signals to the brain. When you focus your mind on your breath, a mantra, a prayer or an image, you give it a “vacation” from these pain signals. Over time, this can reduce your overall pain levels, reduce your need for pain medication and lift your mood.
- Exercise: It may seem counterintuitive, but moving your body even when it hurts can help to keep pain and inflammation in check by increasing the circulation of blood, oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, nerves, bones, organs and skin. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, chemicals that reduce pain and cause you to feel happier and more relaxed.
- Yoga: An experienced yoga teacher can modify poses so that virtually anyone, in any condition, can improve flexibility and circulation to the whole body. Like meditation, visualization and prayer, yoga can trigger the relaxation response which may further reduce your pain levels.
- Rest: During sleep your body focuses on self-repair and healing, so it is important to address any problems with the quality of your sleep. If your chronic pain is what keeps you awake, then using the tips on this list may help you reduce pain and sleep better, which will further help reduce your pain. If you take pain medication, talk with your doctor about a medication schedule that will keep pain levels lowest at night or, in severe cases of insomnia, a medication to help you sleep.
- Diet: The typical Western diet is high in processed foods (i.e. sugar, salt and other preservatives) which tend to increase inflammation in the body. If you are a junk food junky, if you drink soda by the gallon (even diet soda), you may actually be making your pain worse! Enlist the help of a Nutrition Counselor to eliminate foods that are known to cause inflammation and replace them with more nourishing, whole foods.
- Heat and Cold: Patients always ask me, should I use my heating pad or an ice pack? The answer depends on the duration and cause of your pain. Generally speaking, when dealing with an old, chronic muscle injury or arthritis that is worse in cold damp weather, heat can be your best friend. Ice is best for a new injury, a chronic sports injury that flares up after a workout or a joint that is red and hot to the touch.
- Emotional Support: Chronic pain takes an emotional toll. Many of my patients cry as they tell me about their chronic pain, saying “I’m just so sick of hurting all the time!” Pain can interfere with relationships, ability to work, self-esteem and is a major cause of depression. You are not alone! Help is out there in the form of caring psychotherapists, support groups, clergy and antidepressant medication.
- Acupuncture: You may already know that acupuncture is an excellent treatment for chronic pain. Needles are placed at the affected area or in another part of the body that corresponds to that area, and you may even experience pain relief after the first visit! Like exercise, acupuncture triggers a release of endorphins, known to reduce pain levels and create a sense of well-being. Worried that acupuncture might hurt too much? If your pain is bad enough for you to seek treatment, then the subtle sensations of the acupuncture needles will feel like nothing in comparison.
- Chinese Herbal Medicine: The Chinese have a long history of treating painful conditions with herbs. Chinese herbs can be used internally to reduce pain and inflammation and relax tight muscles, or externally on a joint or limb for the same purpose. If you cannot tolerate or dislike using pain medication, Chinese herbal medicine is a great alternative with less toxicity and fewer side effects. For pain that is not related to trauma (migraines, pelvic or abdominal pain, arthritis, etc.), Chinese herbal medicine also addresses the “root cause” of the pain, gradually reducing the need for any type of therapy.
- Body Work: Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic Medicine, Reiki and Cranio-Sacral Therapy have all been shown to reduce pain levels. No one thing works for every patient and sometimes you have to try various therapies to find the one or two that work best for you. With any body work, including acupuncture, consistency and frequency are key. Make a commitment to yourself, book appointments at intervals that you can comfortably afford and keep, and then stick to the schedule. You’ll be glad you did!
For a free consultation with Julie Permut, LAc call 603-924-6624. To book your first appointment online, click here.