Written & Reviewed by Alisa Matsushita-Bomba
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is an unpleasant feeling in your body, typically associated with an injury. While short-term pain usually heals, chronic pain lasts longer than three months, hurts the majority of the time, and interferes with everyday activities. Everyone's pain is unique, and there are different causes of pain development. Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including injuries, illnesses, prolonged physical, mental, or social stress, sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, unhelpful thoughts, isolation, and overworking yourself. Older adults are more likely to experience chronic pain. These characteristics can all cause the body to send out more pain messages. It’s not always possible to completely eliminate chronic pain, but there are some ways to alleviate the pain. Taking control of your body using these strategies can help you manage chronic pain effectively and appropriately to make your quality of life better.
Here are some tips and strategies for how to cope with chronic pain:
Stretching is an essential part of managing chronic pain as it can help with flexibility, muscle tension, and pain relief. Stretching before and after exercise and warming up your muscles helps to reduce the chance of injury. Warming up can be done through light exercise such as walking. Start with gentle stretches, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your stretches as your muscles become more flexible. While stretching, take deep breaths and exhale slowly as you release the stretch.
Exercising and keeping your body moving can help to reduce pain and improve flexibility and strength. Low-impact exercises are gentler on the joints and muscles, making them a good option for individuals suffering from chronic pain. Walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga are all examples of low-impact exercises. If you feel any pain or discomfort, modify or stop the exercise. For example, if you feel like you are unable to walk for a long period of time, you could take short breaks in between your walks to let yourself rest and recover before continuing. Water-based exercises are recommended, as they can ease stress off of your joints. It's important that you find a healthy balance between pushing yourself and protecting yourself from injury.
Use adaptive clothing.
Adaptive clothing can be a great way to reduce the pain and discomfort felt when dressing. June Adaptive is a one stop shop for adaptive clothing for people with all abilities, including individuals with chronic pain. They have clothes with magnetic buttons, back overlaps, and other features that make it easier to dress. If getting a shirt over your head is difficult, clothes from June Adaptive such as this Men's 2 Pack T-shirt with a Back Overlap can make it easier for you to get ready in the mornings. This tee is designed with a full open back, making it easy to slip on without ever raising or lowering your arms.
Reduce stress with relaxation techniques.
Chronic pain can cause stress and tension, which can make the pain worse. It can amplify pain while making it difficult to manage symptoms of chronic conditions. Relaxed breathing, passive or progressive muscle relaxation, and mindful meditations are all examples of relaxation techniques. Smartphone apps that concentrate on relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be helpful in this situation. You could also play relaxing music to calm your mind.
Address other conditions that worsen pain.
Other conditions that worsen pain can be physical or mental. Insomnia, poor posture, obesity, and nutritional deficiencies are some other causes that can also affect chronic pain. It is important to try and treat these factors to help improve your pain. Studies have shown treating anxiety and depression could help minimize pain and improve quality of life. Speak with your health care practitioner if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, or any other mental health condition.
Stay connected with others.
Having a strong support system can help to reduce the negative impact of chronic pain. Chronic pain can be isolating, so keeping in touch with family and friends can help to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness. This is particularly important for older adults, who are more likely to experience social isolation. Research has shown that social support can help to reduce pain intensity, improve mood, and enhance overall quality of life. Spending time with friends and family, whether in person or via video chat, can be a distraction to help reduce focus on your pain.
Get an adequate amount of sleep.
Chronic pain can interfere with sleep, and lack of sleep can make the pain worse. Sleep can be improved with good sleep hygiene, relaxation methods, and an unwinding nighttime routine. Consider taking a warm bath before going to bed, or using aromatherapy to put yourself in a relaxed state before falling asleep.
Use heat or cold therapy.
Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Heat therapy helps by increasing circulation and blood flow to a specific region as the temperature rises. Even a small increase in the temperature of the affected area can relieve pain and improve muscle flexibility. Cryotherapy is another name for cold therapy. It helps by decreasing blood flow to a specific location on your body, which can greatly reduce inflammation and swelling, which causes pain, especially near a joint or a tendon. It can briefly decrease nerve activity, which relieves pain. A warm bath or heating pad, for example, can help to soothe sore muscles, whereas an ice bag can help to reduce swelling and numb discomfort.
Eat a healthy diet.
A healthy diet may help in reducing levels of inflammation and the maintenance of a healthy weight, both of which can aid in the reduction of discomfort. A healthy diet can include eating more vegetables and fruit, consuming less sugar and sweets, reducing your intake of salt, eating less red meat, not overeating, and other factors that can help keep your diet healthy. Not everything on this list is the ideal method for everyone to maintain a healthy diet. Consult a nutritionist or dietitian to create a healthful eating plan that fits your nutritional requirements.
Tips for talking to your doctor:
If your pain is severe or interfering with your daily activities, talk to your doctor. There may be medications or other treatments that can help to manage your pain. Describe your pain in detail, including when it began, how it feels, where it is located, and what causes it to improve or worsen. To help your doctor understand your pain, use descriptive terms such as "sharp," "dull," "burning," or "aching." Be clear about how pain is impacting your daily life to help your doctor better understand the severity of your pain and how it's affecting your quality of life. Share any issues you have about your pain, such as concerns about pain medication addiction or treatment effectiveness. Your doctor may address these concerns and offer information and advice to help you effectively manage your pain. Make sure to let your doctor know about previous treatment remedies and how effective they were for them to create an effective pain treatment plan.
Other June Adaptive blog posts discuss topics around pain, like this blog post about alleviating symptoms of arthritis. Here is also another blog post for gift ideas for people with arthritis. Make sure to check out our other blog posts as well to learn more about adaptive clothing, managing the health of older adults, and other topics. Here is a link to our community blog.
The goal of managing your chronic pain is to enable you function and live your life to the fullest. This post was made to help others be informed of some evidence-based ideas of how to manage chronic pain. If any of these tips don’t work for you, don’t worry. You and your healthcare providers can work together to develop a pain management strategy that puts you in charge.