According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of U.S. adults live with chronic pain.
Chronic pain is generally thought of as pain that lasts longer than three months. Chronic pain is different from the acute pain you might have immediately after an accident or injury. It can occur in many parts of the body, from arms and back to joints and nerves.
Chronic pain can have many different causes, including:
— An accident.
— A sports injury.
— Diseases such as arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
— Normal wear and tear over time with the aging process.
— Poor posture, particularly from widespread use of cell phones and tablets. “We see stress on the posture and low back that worsens pain over time,” says pain management specialist Dr. Matthew Crooks of Pinnacle Pain and Spine in Scottsdale, Arizona.
— Sitting a lot. “One of the biggest things for low back pain is that we sit too much,” says Dr. Leonel Hunt, an orthopedic spine specialist with Hunt Spine in Los Angeles.
— Weakened muscles.
In addition to the challenge of living with the pain itself, chronic pain can be associated with depression and developing a dangerous dependency on pain-relieving drugs, such as opioids.
One important step to find relief from chronic pain is to identify its cause. “Once you know what’s causing your pain, the first step should be to treat the underlying cause,” says Dr. Febin Melepura, an interventional pain physician with Sports Injury & Pain Management Clinic of New York City.
Then, work with your health providers to set up a plan to help manage your pain.
9 Ways to Lessen Your Chronic Pain
1. Get active, stay active.
2. Eat right.
3. Manage your stress.
4. Sit up straight.
5. Talk to someone.
6. Try physical therapy.
7. Try acupuncture.
8. Breathe deeper.
9. Consider CBD.
In addition to medications that a doctor might prescribe, there are several ways you can help lessen your chronic pain:
1. Get active, stay active.Physical activity has a whole host of health benefits. It can improve your mood, boost your energy and help you sleep better. Plus, it helps to relieve chronic pain. Some patients with chronic pain have what’s called kinesophobia, Melepura says. This is a fear of pain if they move. It’s important to stay motivated to exercise so you don’t develop kinesophobia, he explains.
Work with a specialist, such as a physical therapist, to find the exercise program that’s best for your needs. Here are different types of exercise your provider may want you to do to help your pain and improve your overall fitness:
— Cardio exercise. This gets your heart pumping faster. Walking, swimming or walking laps in a pool can be useful, Hunt says.
— Strength training. This may include strengthening your core, which are the muscles in your abdominal region, back, glutes and hips.
— Stretches or yoga. “Yoga is an all-around wonderful physical and mental activity that is suitable for everybody,” Crooks says. “It combines strength, flexibility, breathing and awareness.”
2. Eat right. A healthy diet can go a long way in reducing the inflammation in your body that may be causing pain. By eating more healthy foods, you’ll also lower your odds of obesity, Melepura says. That can reduce extra strain on irritated joints.
Some healthy foods that can help fight inflammation include:
— Berries such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
— Vegetables. In particular, add dark, leafy greens to your diet such as kale, spinach or Swiss chard, Crooks advises. Among other health benefits, dark leafy greens allow for better absorption of nutrients. In turn, that helps the body heal.
— Nuts such as almonds and walnuts.
— Whole grains. Aim for brown rice or whole wheat bread instead of white rice or white bread.
In contrast, some foods or food ingredients can lead to an increase in inflammation, including:
— Fried foods.
— Highly processed foods.
— Foods with a lot of sugar.
[Read: Foods for Joint Pain.]
3. Manage your stress. Stress can wreak havoc on the body, causing it to release chemicals like adrenaline, which can cause your heart to beat faster, your blood pressure to go up and your breathing to become more shallow. “If this cycle repeats itself, it’ll affect the central nervous system and the brain, causing pain signals in the body,” says physical therapist Jaclyn Fulop, clinic director of Exchange Physical Therapy Group in Jersey City, New Jersey.
This can lead to chronic pain over time. That’s why specific ways to manage your stress — including regular physical activity, meditation and deep breathing — can help avoid or reduce chronic pain.
4. Sit up straight. Think of your posture when you’re using your phone or a tablet. If you’re like most people, your head is bent forward and you’re not standing up straight. Over time, poor posture can lead to pain, Crooks says. The antidote? Take a device break every 15 to 30 minutes, so your body gets a break from poor posture, Crooks advises. Also, try to take a device break for an extended time period, such as over the weekend or one to two nights a week.
5. Talk to someone. A lot of pain can have a psychological cause. That doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. It just means that the cause of your pain could be tied to anxiety, bad stress, depression or trauma. Those conditions also can lead to or worsen chronic pain. That’s why speaking with a mental health professional, such as a counselor, can be helpful. Some pain management physicians have a pain psychologist on staff, Hunt says. A pain psychologist is specifically trained in identifying the role of your mental state as it connects to your chronic pain.
6. Try physical therapy. Physical therapists are specially trained to help people recover from injury, lessen pain and live with better mobility. They do this by using a variety of approaches, Fulop says, including:
— Joint mobilization. With this, a physical therapist uses his or her hands to move the joints and improve your range of motion.
— Recommending specific exercises you can do on your own.
— Trigger point release. This involves touching specific areas of the body where you have pain and applying pressure with the hands to improve blood flow.
— Ultrasound. A special ultrasound probe applied to an area with pain for about five minutes can help improve blood flow and relax the tissue in that area of the body.
7. Try acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves the use of short, hair-thin needles to restore the qi, or energy, in your body. Many people find that their chronic pain is relieved or reduced with acupuncture, Hunt says. Other people find that it doesn’t help at all, he adds. Hunt encourages patients new to acupuncture to try it. More health insurance companies are starting to cover the cost of acupuncture, he adds.
A review of several studies related to pain relief and acupuncture found the treatment is effective for chronic musculoskeletal, headache and osteoarthritis pain (a type of arthritis), according to a report in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Pain.
8. Breathe deeper. Deep breathing can help with chronic pain in several ways:
— When you focus on your breathing, you aren’t focusing on your pain.
— You bring fresh oxygen to different parts of your body.
— You calm your nervous system with deep breathing. It helps to manage stress, Fulop says.
There are many apps and websites to help you learn more about deep breathing. One easy start: Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat as needed.
9. Consider CBD. CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is one of more than 100 cannabinoids in the hemp or cannabis sativa plant. CBD products have no more than a 0.3% concentration of THC, which is what causes the high associated with marijuana. Many people are finding that CBD oil is effective for pain relief, Hunt says.
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