Employee & Community Health

5 tips to gain control of your chronic pain

9/12/2016 by Dr. Christina Chen

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Up to 15% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of chronic pain, which can cause distress, limit daily activities and lead to debility. this is seen more often in older adults, where health issues, such as degenerative join disease and diabetes, may cause additional pain and neuropathy. Living with longstanding pain can be frustrating, affecting our moods, relationships, stress and quality of life. 

Successful management of chronic pain is a multifaceted process, much of which is influenced by our ability to realign our lives in a meaningful direction, despite physical limitations. These five lifestyle tips can help you fain control of chronic pain: 

Develop healthy sleep habits

Sleep deprivation can worsen the pain experience. This often becomes a vicious cycle with uncontrolled pain leading to poor sleep quality and quantity leading to more pain. Solving chronic insomnia can involve working closely with your doctor to understand your barriers to falling asleep - and staying asleep. 

There are many creative strategies to helping you regain restorative sleep. One excellent resource is the book, No More Sleepless Nights by Peter Hauri, that may help you better understand how to achieve restful sleep. 

Stay active and find creative ways to do the things you love

It's hard to imagine staying active when you're in so much pain. This is how people become trapped in a cycle of decline. Don't let your pain affect your joy in day-to-day activities. If you like biking, you can continue to do so, but maybe for a shorter time. If you love arts and crafts but can no longer do them, consider teaching them to others. If exercise is painful for your joints, try water exercise instead. Exercising is known to boost pain relief with natural endorphins and also helps strengthen muscles to prevent reinjury and further pain. 

Reduce stress and anxiety

Stress intensifies the pain experience. Negative perceptions from depression, anxiety, stress and anger can increase sensitivity to pain. Explore techniques to promote stress reduction and relaxation. Remove yourself from conditions that are adding to your stress. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Look into support groups with people who can identify with you. Be encouraged that there are always manageable ways to redirect your situation. 

Incorporate focused physical therapy

Physical therapy can be helpful if there are recurring problem areas such as back, neck and joint pain. Our skeleton is aligned in such a way to support the weight of the entire body. Injuries lead to a disruption of the support provided by bones, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Focused therapies directed by a trained physical therapist can provide great guidance in rehabilitation, strength and resilience training to rebuild those crucial support structures. Exercises from your physical therapist can be incorporated into your daily schedule. 

Alternative and integrative medicine options

There are many integrative practices that have been shown to reduce pain. These are safe alternatives that don't add potentially harmful medications to your current regimen. Acupuncture, massage therapy, medication, biofeedback mechanisms and numerous mind-body techniques can be done daily to improve your pain experience and regain control of your body. 

Dr. Ying Ying (Christina) Chen is a geriatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM).