Chronic pain is a complex disease that requires a complex response. Pain doctors routinely set up a team of responders who address specific aspects of care. Treatments may include pain medications and psychological, interventional, and non-medical therapies. Just as diet and exercise are helpful in treating high blood pressure, multiple medical and non-medical approaches work together to ease chronic pain and help improve function and overall health.
Factors Affecting Chronic Pain
Many factors affect the experience of chronic pain. Some are the tissue damage that causes pain, along with the sensations perceived by the brain from signals sent by the damaged tissue. Some of the factors are how we emotionally respond to the pain event, which may exacerbate the physical pain. If you associate the pain with a long-term or terminal event (cancer, for example), you may be likely to have fear and anxiety in your emotional response, including how others respond to your diagnosis. If, however, you deem the pain to be short-term and non-threatening, then you’re more likely to perceive the pain level to be lower. So psychological factors play into how we perceive and respond to pain. That’s why pain teams frequently include psychologists and nutritionists, as well as doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc.
You are the Leader of Your Chronic Pain Team
So what does that mean for you? How do you take control of your pain? First, know that your doctors and pain team should be making an individual plan for your life that works for you. You’re at the top of the pain team, and your wishes and concerns should be paramount. That means you need to develop a good working relationship with your doctors and pain team. They can help you only as far as they know how you’re feeling and responding to treatment. If you don’t keep them up to date, they can’t improve your treatment.
Actively Working for Relief
That also means you need to actively work to keep your life as stress-free as possible, as stress increases pain and vice versa. You must work to live a healthy lifestyle, including eating well and incorporating exercise and relaxation techniques into your schedule. Breathing exercises, visualization, meditation, and mindfulness exercises can help you relax and avoid stress, signaling to your body that everything is okay and to ignore some of the pain signals. Aerobic or cardio exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, helping you feel better. Also, incorporating massage of certain muscle masses or pain trigger points can help ease tension and pain in those areas.
Eating foods that fight inflammation and avoiding those that cause it are also important. Eat whole, organic foods when possible and use a plant-based diet, including tomatoes and green, leafy vegetables, to reduce intake of processed foods such as white flour and sugar and packaged foods with additives and preservatives. Avoid fried foods and red meat. Drink plenty of water and tea, avoiding high-sugar juices and sodas. You might try an elimination diet that limits what you eat as you slowly add foods back into your diet and see how they make you feel. You might find you’re allergic or sensitive to certain foods and want to avoid them. Finally, be sure that you’re getting plenty of sleep.
Healthy Meals and Insurance
Thankfully, access to healthy foods has improved over the past few years. Not only can you have healthy meals delivered right to your door, but some insurance companies have started providing coverage for healthy meal-based delivery services. And while Medicare doesn’t cover things like holistic medicine or nutrition therapy unless a doctor signs off on it, seniors who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan have access to a handful of wellness programs, one of which involves healthy meals. Check your policy to see if you qualify.
Even Safe Drugs are Unsafe
Taking care of yourself when you’ve got chronic pain is an important mix of strategies and treatments until you find what works for you. Treatments change as your body and mind learn to deal with the pain and as new treatments become available. Remember, though, that opioid painkillers should be only a small part of your treatment regimen. Prescription painkillers cause 17,000 deaths annually in this country, and acetaminophen overdoses (Tylenol and generic) cause 80,000 ER visits annually. Confusing dosing instructions for over-the-counter drugs and the assumption that they’re safe causes many accidental overdoses, not counting those from addiction to stronger prescription medications.
Tell your doctor about medications you take and read the cross-indication warnings when taking multiple drugs or any drug over long periods of time. The side effects to your liver and stomach may be worse than the pain causing you to take them. The solution for managing your pain will be a combination of treatments, and only you can determine which ones are best for you.
About the Author
This blog was written by Jackie Waters of Hyper Tidy. Jackie is a mother of four beautiful and energetic boys. She lives with her family on their three-acre hobby farm in Oregon. Her goals are to feed her family as much fresh and home-grown food as possible, focus on sustainability while doing so, and practice simplicity.
Jackie believes that with diligence and balance, you can achieve a beautiful, clean home. Her journey has been full of challenges, but she has learned so much along the way.
Jackie is obviously a great writer and we are thrilled that she wanted to share this blog regarding chronic pain on our website.