Chronic pain is one of the most common conditions negatively affecting the lives of Americans. Over 20 percent of adults in the United States have chronic pain with 7 percent of adults suffering from high-impact chronic pain, according to the CDC. On top of that, chronic pain is one of the leading causes of opioid addiction. Chronic pain complicates someone’s ability to comfortably live which can lead to deteriorating mental and physical health. This means it should be in everyone’s best interest to live a lifestyle that avoids the conditions that lead to chronic pain. A multidisciplinary treatment approach is the best way to manage chronic pain; however, there are practical things that can be done day to day. Implementing the following lifestyle choices in your daily routine can help.
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A healthy diet is one of the best ways to manage chronic pain. People with chronic pain commonly deal with increased systemic inflammation and a lot of inflammation is caused by ingesting highly processed foods and sugary drinks. These foods irritate the gut lining and can cause “leaky gut”, leading to increased inflammation in areas you may already experience pain. Eating inflammatory foods interferes with our microbiome which leads to bad health outcomes for the whole body. If you want to feel good and manage chronic pain you must eat a healthy and balanced diet. This means drinking lots of water, eating lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and avoiding highly processed foods and sugars. Managing chronic pain requires taking a whole-body health approach.
Calm the mind and the body will follow
Chronic pain is a physically and mentally debilitating condition which is why it is important to calm your nervous system and relax your mind and muscles. Deep breathing exercises are an important tool to calm a sensitized nervous system. Take some time each day to do deep breathing and meditation. Breathe slowly in and out through the nose instead of the mouth. Breathe more into your belly using your diaphragm, rather than breathing into your chest. Place your hand on your stomach and as you breathe in, your hand should rise with every inhale. Exhales should be slow and elongated. Your mind should be focused on your breathing technique and relaxing your muscles, not the pain you are feeling. This breathing technique brings the body into a less sensitized state, promotes relaxation, lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen to the tissues, and reduces overall stress.
Establish a good sleep schedule
Creating a good sleep routine that promotes quality sleep is essential for managing chronic pain; however, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult for someone suffering from chronic pain. It is hard to go to sleep when your back or neck is throbbing in pain or you are stressing about a flare-up that could come and keep you up.
The trick to sleeping better with chronic pain is to set up a bedtime routine that is meant to calm your mind and your body. Turn off all electronics and avoid screen time one or two hours before bed. Find the right pillows that perfectly support your neck, back, or any other area of pain and position them in the most comfortable place at bedtime. Utilize the diaphragmatic breathing technique mentioned above. Putting yourself in this state of mind and positioning your body comfortably will help you sleep better which in turn helps better manage chronic pain.
Get out and move but listen to your body
One of the biggest hurdles people with chronic pain face is getting over the mental hurdle of moving and exercising. Retraining the brain and the body that movement is safe and beneficial is key. Start small, a short walk or swimming can be good if that is what you can manage. Over time slowly increase the duration and intensity as your body allows. However, it is also essential to listen to your body, some days will be better than others. You may feel better one day and decide to really push yourself. Confidence in your movement is great but it is important to manage your energy expenditure and monitor the signals your body is giving you. People with chronic pain may feel great one day and clean the whole house only to feel like they got hit by a bus the next day. Manage the amount you do when you feel good. Listen to your body and take breaks. Listen to the signals your body gives you. Feeling some fatigue is okay but you shouldn’t feel pain. If you feel the pain creeping up take a break and do some deep breathing for ten minutes. Listen to your body and don’t ignore the signals your body is giving you. Pushing yourself hard one day is not worth it if it means you are in pain the rest of the week.
Chronic pain is a common and debilitating condition for many Americans and a multidisciplinary approach is the best way to manage it. However, implementing these practical changes into your lifestyle will help you better manage your chronic pain on a day-to-day basis.
Author: Lyndzie Jackson PT, DPT is the Director of Physical Therapy at Recovia. They are a non-interventional pain clinic and behavioral health center specializing in treatments for chronic pain, general mental health, and addiction. The programs offer an integrated outpatient approach to address prescription medication dependency, chronic pain, and substance abuse. All programs are based on an interdisciplinary model, combining both medical, behavioral, and holistic treatment modalities. Recovia is one of the fastest-growing pain management and behavioral health centers in Arizona. For more information reach out to them on their contact us page.