Many thanks to Patrick Young of Able USA for writing this guest post. Check out their website and great resources at www.ableUSA.info.
Being diagnosed with a condition that causes chronic pain can be a scary thing, especially with new guidelines that recommend avoiding or limiting the use of opiate pain medications. How are you going to manage pain so you can keep living life? Without great medical treatments for chronic pain, you may feel like this question looms large. But you actually are in control of your pain experience more than you may realize. When you commit to these four steps and take an active role in your own pain management, you can seize back control over your life and pain.
Step 1 - Identify Pain Triggers
The first step in managing chronic pain is to increase awareness of how your lifestyle affects pain. The American Chronic Pain Association has some excellent tools for tracking daily routines to identify pain triggers. Once you have a clear understanding of how your daily activities are related to spikes in pain, you will be better able to use the rest of these steps to make a difference.
Step 2 - Take Care of Your Mental Health
When you start tracking your daily life, you may become more aware of how your feelings and everyday stress affects pain. If you tend to focus on how much more difficult life is now and have other negative thoughts, these thoughts affect your emotions and can lead to depression. When you are depressed or simply even stressed, there is a chemical link in your brain that makes pain worse, meaning that your mood is often a trigger for pain. The good news is that you can develop coping skills to manage your mood, thereby managing your experience of pain.
Traditional talk therapy, along with specialized therapies for chronic pain, can help you develop those coping skills. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) addresses the connection between your thoughts and emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another option that combines CBT with mindfulness and has been shown to help manage chronic pain. These therapies give you tools to use on a daily basis to manage your mood and have a positive effect on pain at the same time.
A key part of managing mental health is being cautious about the use of opiate pain medications. While antidepressants can be helpful in combination with therapy, prescription pain medication can have the opposite effect, actually dampening your mood. Opiate pain medications are also very dangerous because they are highly addictive, some even as addictive as heroin, so they carry a strong risk of serious problems and even death from overdose.
Step 3 - Get Moving
It may feel natural to respond to pain by resting your body, but inactivity can actually make pain worse. As long as acute pain is under control, engaging in moderate exercise loosens joints and tense muscles to reduce pain. According to Prevention, walking, stretching, and strength training are some of the best workouts for managing chronic pain, and they are workouts you can modify according to your needs. On top of the physical benefits, exercise also helps you sleep better and improves your mood, so it helps reduce pain in more ways than one.
Step 4 - Eat to Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation plays a major role in chronic pain, and it is often caused by the foods we eat. The Cleveland Clinic describes inflammation as our body’s response to “foreign invaders.” These “foreign invaders” are processed foods high in additives our bodies don’t need. On the flip side, eating anti-inflammatory foods like a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins can reduce inflammation and lower pain.
These lifestyle changes may not be easy, and they are more of an ongoing process rather than something you do once and you’re done. But realizing you aren’t helpless and can make a difference in your pain will get you started in the right direction. It can be a relief to know that you don’t have to be a passive participant in living with chronic pain. Above all, stay focused on what you can do, not on what you can’t do, to keep positive and moving forward.