Contributor: Pain management specialist Teresa M. Dews, MD
Managing chronic pain involves working with your physician to identify the cause of your pain, and it often means getting on a treatment regimen to help control it. Pain therapies — including medications, nerve blocks, injections and physical therapy — may be part of that regimen, but your choices also play a part.
Quality sleep, a healthy diet and effective stress management are three lifestyle factors that can minimize pain. You can be proactive at improving these three, with guidance from your physician.
But that’s not all. Three additional factors that are often overlooked — movement, mindset and monitoring — can also help you control your pain.
Don’t use pain as a reason to avoid exercise. Physical activity can hurt and requires energy, which tends to be at a minimum when you have persistent pain. But inactivity can lead to muscle decline, deconditioning and fatigue, making movement even more challenging. It also promotes poor health, which can initiate or make pain worse.
Rather than thinking about exercising, think about moving your body. Movement occurs regularly, throughout the day, whereas exercise occurs during a finite period, such as during 30 minutes of aerobics or in one hour at the gym.
Consistent movement is as important as an exercise program, and it’s a good first step if exercising feels too overwhelming for you.
I advise patients to set a timer every 20 minutes to cue some type of movement: standing up, stretching or taking a walk to the mailbox, for instance.
Movement improves circulation, reduces inflammation, preserves muscle and bone strength, and maintains motor control — all elements that help subdue pain and prepare you for a future exercise regimen and improved function.
Your perspective on your well-being plays an important part in your coping ability. When you try to stay upbeat and try to be involved in your care, you will have a better quality of life. Take a moment to think about your own mindset.
Perhaps you want to talk to your partner, a friend or your doctor about this. Are there areas you can improve? You really can make things better.
What are you willing to do?
Measurements of weight, body fat, blood glucose and other health markers are most valuable when compared over time. If you regularly monitor these numbers — in addition to your sleep, mood and energy level — you can determine how lifestyle changes are affecting your wellness and pain.
For example, making lifestyle changes to reduce your weight may reduce pain. The percentage of body fat correlates with the amount of inflammation you have, which is a primary contributor to your pain.
Monitoring your measurements will show you how your behavior and your level of wellness — or pain — correlate. Monitoring can also help you to understand when lifestyle behaviors (such as a poor diet) or medical treatments (such as medication) are not effectively reducing your pain.
With better movement, mindset and monitoring to complement your medical treatments, you really can feel better.