Do you suffer from chronic pain? If so, you’re not alone. The CDC conducted a major study in 2016, revealing that about 20% of the adults in the US (roughly 50 million people) are coping with chronic pain. Ongoing pain issues bring about a myriad of symptoms in addition to the pain: nerve damage, depression, anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, social difficulties, and many more.
Understandably, sufferers of chronic pain often look to ease their discomfort in any way possible. The CDC recently reported that, between 2015 and 2018, 10.7% of adults in the US over the age of 20 used one or more prescription pain medicines in the previous 30 days. This includes both opioid and non-opioid medications, but it does illustrate just how many people are affected by chronic pain. Even worse, studies show that medications, including opioids, are not always effective at combating chronic pain.
While medications are sometimes necessary and helpful, other techniques can effectively address chronic pain without the side effects and risk of medication dependency or addiction that pain pills have. Consider any or all of the following techniques:
- Elimination of alcohol
As many as 28% of people with chronic pain use alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. The inherent problems with this go beyond the fact that alcohol can have dangerous reactions with even commonplace analgesics like Tylenol with extended use. If a dependence on alcohol occurs, withdrawal can exacerbate pain significantly.
2. Social connectivity
It’s true that negative social interactions and unhealthy relationships can contribute to chronic pain symptoms. However, it’s also been shown that healthy and supportive relationships can ease pain. This includes not only friends and family, but building an understanding network of others who respect your situation and needs. Given the ongoing pandemic and lockdowns, it’s trickier to find social connection — but that’s all the more reason to try.
Online support groups are another convenient resource, where you can meet with fellow chronic-pain sufferers and trade tips and strategies.
3. Meditation and breath exercises
Mindfulness and meditation are widely regarded as healthy practices regardless of your pain level. For those struggling with chronic pain, however, developing cognitive control and body awareness can help shift the experience. Taking the time to connect with your body and stillness may help you find a calm center when coping with pain.
4. Physical activity
Sedentary lifestyles yield higher instances of chronic pain. Conversely, regular physical activity reduces the risk and sometimes reduces pain levels in those already coping with chronic issues. Consult with a doctor before trying any new exercise regimen, but working with a physical therapist may help reduce your pain levels.
5. Pain tracking
It may not be pleasant to record every instance of pain and note the specific sensations, but tracking your pain may help you understand triggers, elucidate patterns, and find solutions. Journaling or making pen-and-paper notes is one way to track your symptoms and activities. Plus there are now many apps available through your smartphone to assist with tracking and reporting.
It may seem obvious, but simply distracting yourself can sometimes allow you to cope with pain. Techniques can include finger tapping, counting, games, or even blowing bubbles, but the list can expand to suit your particular interests and needs.
7. Ice and heat therapies
Depending on the type of pain you experience, ice and/or heat therapies may provide relief as well. Cold can reduce inflammation and acute pain, while heat tends to work better for muscle pain and stiffness. If you have sensory disorders, make sure you consult with your physician before trying these as you may not be aware of damage you might do from excessive temperatures.
In this context, diet does not refer to weight loss, but rather being thoughtful about the types of food you eat and the effects they have on your body. Diets that reduce inflammation may be useful in combating chronic pain. In addition to reducing inflammation, a thoughtful diet can be a fantastic way to boost your immune system.
9. Acupuncture and acupressure
Experimental trials do not necessarily show clear causation between acupuncture and pain relief. However, anecdotal evidence abounds that supports these techniques for pain management. These ancient practices can increase circulation and well-being and are certainly worthy of exploration for anyone dealing with chronic pain.
Whether or not you have training or experience in the creative arts, engaging your artistic side may be a useful way to cope with your pain. Some people play or listen to music, write, draw, or paint — the list goes on. Getting involved with crafting or woodworking may give you an outlet you didn’t otherwise acknowledge.
Some of these techniques make work for you, and others may not. But unless you try them with a mind towards success, you’ll never know for sure.
When dealing with chronic pain, you never have to face it alone. Reach out to us at Lucid Lane for more information about resources and support. Online support groups may be a great place to start. Our Mind-body Resilience for Pain group is waiting for you.