Chronic pain can interfere with a person’s ability to enjoy many things, including activities associated with the seasons. In winter, the weather cools down in many areas, and people enjoy getting outside more to walk, attend holiday events with family members, cook special meals and do other entertaining activities. It can be a busy and active time of year, and that can be a problem for people experiencing chronic pain.
One of the challenges of finding ways to deal with chronic pain is the fact there are many sources of pain. They include:
- Arthritis – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc.
- Disease or chronic disorder– fibromyalgia, cervical degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, low back pain, cancer, etc.
- Injuries – broken bones, nerve damage, muscle sprains and strains, repetitive stress injuries, etc.
- Surgical procedures (that take a long time to heal)
Chronic pain is defined as pain that last for 3-6 months or longer. Pain felt every day is physically and emotionally draining and discourages people from enjoying life. Winter is a beautiful time of the year, and sitting home while other people enjoy the season is discouraging. There are many ways to manage chronic pain, and it is important to use a variety of techniques in the hopes of joining family and friends in the traditional winter activities.
Manage Pain to Enjoy Life
Instead of missing out on the fun, try a mix of pain management techniques to get the most benefit. Some can be done at home, and others require working with a physician or physical therapist.
1. Take medications
Medications can include over-the-counter pain medications like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), prescription medications like DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) for rheumatoid arthritis or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. The important point is to take medications consistently or as physician directed.
2. Heat and cold therapies
There are proper ways to use heat and cold. Heat therapy is good for pain caused by muscle spasms, stiff muscles and stiff joints, Heat increases blood flow which helps to loosen tightened muscle. Cold is used to reduce inflammation and swelling because cold decreases blood flow. Sometimes, alternating heat and cold can increase blood flow even more to a particular injury site. A lot demands on the source of pain. A warm bath is good for muscle back pain. Cold compresses are better for a back injury.
3. Take steps to reduce stress
Effective pain management includes managing stress levels. Stress can aggravate pain by tightening muscles and causing cortisol dysfunction. Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone meant for a short-term response. Chronic stress causes dysfunction which is likely to lead to widespread inflammation, worsening pain.
The body needs to move to stay healthy and maintain biological systems that function properly. Sitting or lying down for extended periods of time is more likely to increase pain rather than moderate it. It does not have to be vigorous exercise to reduce pain. Walking, yoga and stretching exercise are good examples of gentler exercises. People with arthritis sometimes think exercise will aggravate the joint pain when the opposite is true. It helps reduce pain by keeping joints “oiled” and strengthening supporting joint structures.
5. Attend physical therapy sessions
Attending physical therapy sessions on a consistent basis can help manage chronic pain. The physical therapist can develop a customized plan that targets the source of pain.
6. Eat a healthy diet
Diet rules! Without a healthy diet, many other treatments may not work as well as they should. Pain management specialist William Welches, DO, PhD says, “Research shows that diet should be an integral part of a pain management program – especially as patients age.”
An anti-inflammatory diet that includes a lot of vegetables can help maintain physical and emotional health, and eliminate some of the side effects of medicines, like mental fogginess.
Suggesting meditation may turn some people away from this treatment, but natural ways to relax can have a significant impact on chronic pain. A research study conducted at the Center for Functional Diseases, Mental Health Center, Copenhagen Multidisciplinary Pain Center, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark investigated whether mindfulness meditation helped chronic pain.
The researchers P. la Cour and M. Petersen found that mindfulness meditation had a significant effect on chronic pain, and had medium to large effects that included lowering depression and general anxiety; improving psychological well-being; enhancing feelings of controlling the pain; and helping with better pain acceptance.
8. Maintain a positive attitude
Maintaining an “I can” attitude is not easy when experiencing chronic pain. However, it can have a positive impact on pain and the ability to enjoy life. The right attitude encourages people to stay active, cope with pain in a more productive manner and lead them to continue doing the things they enjoy. It could mean feeling well enough to invite friends and family over to watch football, playing with the grandchildren or enjoying a hobby once again.
9. Get regular sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most difficult challenges when living with chronic pain. Yet, sleep is needed for a number of restorative activities, including the release of hormones for healing and the adjustment of hormones for the next day’s energy requirements. Follow the professional recommendations, like establishing a time to go to bed and get up, finding the position that reduces pain feelings so sleep is not disrupted and not taking naps.
10. Participate in pain coping skills therapy
Concentrating on chronic pain can make it worse. That is the power of the brain. Instead of focusing on the pain, do something proactive like participating in pain coping skills therapy. This type of therapy helps patients master pain management skills.
It may be overwhelming to think about developing a multi-modality treatment approach that combines medical and home treatments. However, research has shown the importance of coping skills because people really can take control of their chronic pain in many cases.
Enjoy Life Despite the Pain
It may not be possible to eliminate chronic pain, but taking a proactive approach to reducing and managing the pain is important. The ten tips offered for managing chronic pain focus mostly on self-help strategies. One alone may not work, but using several of them together can have a significant impact. Work with the physician as a partner in pain management, and then go out and enjoy every season.