by Jacki Waters
Feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration are common when you’re in pain, but when pain continues for months or years, every day can feel like a struggle, and the joy of life slowly starts to fade.
According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks and adversely affects many facets of life, including sleep, relationships, appetite, physical health, and more. With some lifestyle adjustments and exercises, you can better manage your chronic pain and begin to enjoy life more.
“Lack of sufficient physical activity and being out of shape increases the risk of injury and exacerbated pain,” says Clear Passage Physical Therapy & Physiotherapy, which is why exercise is an important part of managing chronic pain. The Arthritis Foundation states that excess weight puts more pressure on your joints, increasing pain. In addition, excess fat tissue sends out chemical signals that increase inflammation, leading to more pain. Exercise helps keep your weight in check and causes your brain to release endorphins, which improves your mood – both outcomes help alleviate pain.
Your diet also affects your weight, so be sure to consume nourishing foods in healthy quantities. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Be sure to avoid processed foods, red meat, and sugary drinks. Getting adequate rest is also crucial in pain management and overall health. When you’re in pain, it can be difficult to sleep, and alcohol can aggravate sleep issues, especially if consumed an hour before bedtime. Consider reducing alcohol consumption or eliminating it altogether.
Stress and all of the negative emotions that come with it can increase your body’s sensitivity to pain. Find ways to reduce and control your stress levels. Try to cut stress out wherever possible and have a better hold on the remaining stress. To relieve stress, attempt relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, calming music, or yoga.
As stated above, yoga is a great way to relax. It also improves flexibility, balance, and strength. You can modify yoga to meet your specific needs and challenges. For example, you can use props (such as blocks, pillows, or a chair) to make poses more comfortable. The Arthritis Foundation adds that poses can be modified by not going “deep” into the positions.
Instead of ignoring or fighting your pain, it may be more effective to explore the sensations of pain and illness as they rise and fall in your body, according to Psychology Today. This approach is known as mindfulness meditation, and it has been shown to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent, with skilled meditators reducing it by over 90 percent. “In effect, mindfulness teaches you how to turn down the volume control on your pain,” says Psychology Today.
The Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute claims that water is most likely the oldest medium of physical treatment with physiological and psychological benefits. Someone can exercise and move in water, especially warm water, with little or no pain. Also, due to its buoyancy, you can move around in the water with little effort. Even though it feels effortless, water also creates resistance, which increases muscular strength and endurance. Most chronic pain sufferers find water exercise to be rewarding and find that it enhances their mood, which in turn creates a sense of hope and feeds the motivation to continue.
Beyond diet, exercise, and other activities, the Washington Post recommends engaging in solving your pain issues, avoiding isolating behaviors, improving communication with your loved ones and doctors, and working with a counselor. It’s also important to incorporate structure, activities, socialization, purpose, and meaning into each day of your life. By actively participating in your wellness, activities you enjoy, and support groups, you can greatly improve your overall well-being and happiness and work toward managing your pain.