Chronic pain is infamously hard to tolerate. Whether you suffer from joint inflammation caused by a disease like arthritis, experience aches in the location of an old injury or constantly battle debilitating headaches; this unrelenting discomfort can seriously undermine your mental health.
While there may be a temptation to rely excessively on painkillers (whether prescribed or obtained over the counter), many of these drugs have side effects. In particular, there is evidence that even common painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can dramatically impair kidney function. Here are eight tips that can help you manage pain without loving the heavy use of these medications.
#1. Log your pain
If you’re not sure which experiences and activities make your managing pain particularly bad, try keeping a pain log for at least two weeks. For example, you might score your pain out often at the end of each day and put this score alongside a list of everything you did that day (including significant emotional reactions, as they can be contributing factors).
Who can use this log to help you see where you need to moderate your activities, change your lifestyle or ask your doctor for further suggestions.
#2. Try yoga or mindfulness exercises
Meditation and mindfulness exercises help to reduce painful muscle spasms that often play a key role in chronic pain. Further, consistently practising mindfulness exercises slowly changes how your brain responds to stress. These changes may also decrease your pain levels if connected to constant muscle tension.
Yoga has a similar influence on the body. However, it’s worth noting that those who suffer chronic pain due to overly flexible connective tissue (i.e. hypermobility) may find that yoga makes their managing pain worse. Pilates is a better option for these individuals.
#3. Engage in gentle exercise
While anyone suffering from chronic managing pain is likely to look incredulous at the suggestion of a long run or a hike up a mountain, gentle exercise can certainly be of help. In particular, the endorphins released even by simple pursuits like walking and swimming can stop some pain signals from reaching the brain while boosting your mood at the same time.
In addition, staying active helps to reduce overall stiffness and build strength—this latter benefit can be especially useful if your joints are not functioning as well as they used to. Finally, swimming is one of the best types because it allows you to get some great exercise without requiring your body to bear its weight.
#4. Improve your sleep schedule
Chronic pain sufferers sometimes stay up too late, avoiding going to bed because their discomfort increases when lying in bed. However, studies show that sleep deprivation increases pain levels, so it’s vital to find ways to get a better night’s sleep.
For example, you can experiment with different mattresses and pillows designed with pain sufferers in mind. In addition, many with hip pain gain some release by placing a cushion during the knees in bed, stabilizing the pelvis.
#5. Practice relaxing breathing
In the face of pain, you may naturally respond by breathing fast and shallowly. However, this can make you feel faint or kick start an anxiety episode. If you practice deliberately breathing slowly and deeply when you’re in pain, you promote relaxation that helps to reduce muscle tension and increase feelings of control.
Learning to breathe in this way can be a good precursor to practising the mindfulness exercises mentioned above.
#6. Stay hydrated
There is some evidence that dehydrated people report higher levels of managing pain. This is certainly true in the case of headaches, many of which are the direct result of dehydration. However, there is also an intriguing link between back pain and water intake.
Therefore, try to drink water and fruit juice throughout the day and avoid excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks that have a diuretic influence.
#7. Talk to a counsellor
If you’re always managing pain, it’s natural to suffer from low moods. However, feeling depressed or anxious makes the pain even more intense. Consequently, talking to a therapist about how the pain makes you feel (on an emotional level) could help to reduce some of your discomforts.
There is also the option of seeing someone specially trained in hypnotherapy. As such, a practitioner may be able to help you access subconscious thought processes that are intensifying pain severity.
#8. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Finally, if you ensure that your diet is full of foods that have a proven influence on levels of bodily inflammation, you may see a decrease in managing pain. For example, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. oily fish) are excellent choices, as are leafy greens like kale.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to cut back on ingredients that actively raise inflammation levels, such as saturated fats, trans fat and processed sugars.