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9 Things to Know About Chronic Pain

What is pain?

Pain occurs when something hurts, causing an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling.

Pain is trying to tell you that something is wrong and you are the best judge of what pain means to you.

What is the difference between acute and chronic pain?

Acute pain usually comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific. It is sharp in quality and normally doesn’t last longer than three months. Acute pain goes away and you can carry on with life as usual.

Common causes of acute pain include:

  • Surgery

  • Broken bones

  • Dental work

  • Burns or cuts

  • Labor and childbirth

Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing and usually lasts longer than six months.

This type of pain can continue for weeks, months, or years after the injury or illness that caused it has resolved.

Some chronic pain conditions include:

  • Headache

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

  • Nerve pain

  • Back pain

  • Fibromyalgia

How does chronic pain affect you?

The stress of experiencing chronic pain can produce the following:

  • Tense muscles

  • Limited ability to move around

  • A lack of energy

  • Changes in appetite

  • Depression

  • Anger

  • Anxiety

  • Fear of re-injury, limiting your ability to return to work or leisure activities

  • Muscles and bones become weaker and stiffer

  • Poor sleep

  • Loneliness

  • Increased pain

How do I manage chronic pain?

Here are 9 tips to help reduce pain:

1. Exercise

Choose an exercise that won't put too much strain on yourself, such as walking, swimming, bicycling, dancing, yoga, pilates, gardening, or stretches.

Start small, doing maybe 5 minutes twice a day. Try to be active every day, not just on the good days when you’re not in so much pain. By doing this, it can reduce the number of bad days you experience. Try not to overdo it on your good days as you could pay for it by having more bad days.

2. Maintain a routine as much as possible

Research shows that people become less active and more depressed when they don't work. Being at work may distract you from the pain and might not make it worse. Develop a plan with your physician, therapist, employer about how and when you can return to work, even if gradually.

Exercise and continuing to work (if you can) are key to managing chronic pain, and can help lead a fuller life. Lying in bed for long periods can make back pain last longer. You may also find it becomes harder to get going again.

3. Physical therapy

Pain experts often recommend a short course of physical therapy for persistent pain. This can involve manipulations, stretching exercises, and pain-relief exercises. This helps you to move better, relieves your pain, and makes daily tasks and activities easier, like walking, going up stairs or getting in and out of bed.

4. Meditation

Meditation uses different brain pathways to deal with pain from those used by other pain treatments. Over time, meditation can change your brain structure to better deal with pain.Unlike other methods of pain relief, when you meditate, you focus toward the pain, instead of away from it, in order to find relief. In other words, you’re not working to block or ignore it but to reduce the pain by working with it.

5. Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises help lower stress in the body because breathing deeply sends a message to the brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to the body. Deep

breathing helps reduce stress, which in turn reduces your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, as well help reduce your pain.

6. Diet

It is said that you are what you eat. The evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation and chronic pain. Over time, this inflammation can damage healthy cells and organs and cause constant pain in muscles, tissues, and joints. Chronic inflammation also can raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and even Alzheimer's disease.

These foods include many of the staples of the Mediterranean diet, such as whole fruits (especially all types of berries), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice. Fill a quarter of your plate with healthy proteins, such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. And then fill the other half with vegetables and some fruit.

Use healthy oils like olive and canola oils instead of butter or other flavorings.

Avoid processed junk foods.

Keep in mind that you have to make lasting changes in order for your diet to work for you. Your diet is not a quick-fix pill, but does have high potential to help manage and even prevent inflammation, which can help soothe chronic pain.

7. Sleep

It’s difficult to drift off when dealing with chronic pain. People who are permanently sleep-deprived due to their chronic pain may develop an unhealthy relationship with sleep. For instance, they may rely on caffeine or become stressed in the lead-up to bedtime because they know they will have trouble sleeping.

Good sleep starts in the morning. Get enough sunlight, exercise early in the day, and develop a healthy diet. Avoid caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime.

Pain affects sleep by keeping the brain aroused. Try deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness techniques, or guided imagery may allow you to re-conceptualize the pain, help you to relax, and refocus away from the pain. Turn off the screens (phones, TV, tablets, etc) at least 1-2 hours before going to bed.

To break the cycle of negative thoughts, avoid bringing life’s daily hassles into the bedroom. The bedroom should be a calming haven used only for sleep and sex. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet at night. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, something that can be difficult for shift workers. Develop a bedtime routine, such as having a bath, brushing your teeth, reading a light book, and then turning out the light.

If you find yourself ruminating or if you are in too much pain to sleep, don’t stay in bed. Get up, go to another room, and distract yourself with something else for a while. When you feel sleepy, try going to bed again.

8. Therapy

The body remembers everything, even if our minds do not. There is much research being done on the link between chronic pain and past trauma.

People with chronic pain are three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety. If you’re suffering from chronic pain and have noticed an increase in irritability, mood fluctuations, and other psychological issues, you’re not crazy. Chronic pain goes beyond the pain itself. The mental stress and biological psychological effects of pain can be just as severe as the pain itself.

9. Painkillers for long-term pain

It's safe to use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce your pain so you can be more active.

But it's important to use painkillers carefully, as they have side effects.

You could also try anti-inflammatory tablets like ibuprofen as long as you don't have a condition (such as a stomach ulcer) that prevents you using them.

It's important to take painkillers at the recommended dose and to take them regularly every 4 to 6 hours, preferably to overcome a flare-up of your pain or help get you through an impending activity.

Don't wait until your pain is severe before you start taking painkillers, as they won't work as well. It is more effective to get on top of the pain before it escalates to an unbearable level. If a 2-week course of over-the-counter painkillers taken regularly does not work, ask for help from your physician or pharmacist.


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