Have you been avoiding exercise because of ongoing pain? Learn how getting active and other lifestyle tweaks can help.
It’s a Catch-22: You’re hurting, so you don’t exercise; but without exercise, you may lose muscle tone and strength, making pain worse.
Get an Endorphin Boost: Exercise : Fortunately, even mild exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals that lift mood and block pain. Ask your doctor if aerobic, strengthening, or stretching exercises can give your body the boost — and relief — it needs.
Breathing, Meditation, and Biofeedback : It sounds so obvious, but few of us actually take the time to stop what we’re doing and calm our minds. Deep breathing, biofeedback, and meditation are all stress management techniques that relax your body, which helps ease pain. Talk to your doctor to learn more, but in the meantime, slow down, close your eyes…breathe in…breathe out.
Avoid Alcohol : You need a good night’s sleep to help soothe the stresses pain puts on your body. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep, as it metabolizes, it promotes shallow sleep, reduces important REM sleep, and may even wake you. The result: A less restful night.
Cut Pain: Quit Smoking: Some people find temporary relief from stress and pain with a quick smoke. The irony is that smoking may actually contribute to pain in the long run. It slows healing, worsens circulation, and increases the risk of degenerative disc problems, a cause of low back pain. If you need an incentive to quit, pain relief just may be it. Ask your doctor about programs and medicines to kick the habit.
Give Your Body a Boost: Eat Better : If you’re living with chronic pain, you want to do everything you can to help your body, not hinder it. One way to keep your body strong is to eat a well-balanced diet. Eating right improves blood sugar, helps maintain weight, reduces heart disease risk, and aids digestion. Aim for a diet rich in whole grains, fresh produce, and low-fat proteins.
Journal: Help Your Doctor Help You : Keeping a pain journal can be a great way to help your doctor understand and more effectively treat your chronic pain. At the end of each day, record a “pain score” between 1 and 10. Then note what you did that day, and how these activities made you feel. The next time you see the doctor, bring the journal and discuss your findings
Schedule Relaxation, Set Limits : By taking care of your emotional and physical health, you can better manage your pain. That may mean saying no to events like parties if you need the rest. Or it may mean scheduling regular massages or setting an unbreakable dinner date with good friends to boost your spirits. How you care for you is unique to you — and it’s also up to you.
Distract Yourself : You already know that focusing on pain can just make it worse. That’s why one potent prescription for relief is to keep busy with activities that take your mind off the pain. Take that cooking class you’ve had your eye on, join a garden club, try skiing lessons. Even if you can’t control the pain, you can control the rest of your life. Get started!
Know Your Medicines : Understand the medicines you’re taking, what they can do for you, and their side effects. Then educate yourself about other treatment options. Your goal is to have a normal mood and activity level — if you don’t, then a different medicine might be better for you. Your job is to be proactive, to ask questions, and look for answers.
You’re Not Alone : As many as one person in every three is dealing with chronic pain, so you’re far from alone. Reaching out is the most important habit you can develop to help you deal with chronic pain. Tell friends and family what you’re feeling because they won’t know otherwise. Ask for help. Learn more about your condition. Then share what you know with others.
(Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH)