Pain is all encompassing. It impacts every aspects of our lives and those around us. from loved ones to co-workers.
We all struggle to find balance in our lives. Between home and work, healthy eating, weight. . . It’s never easy. The same is true for those of us living with chronic pain. Just moving too much, or too little, can cause an exacerbation that may last days to weeks. That’s why establishing habits that can help provide long term relief is so important.
Here are some ways to get you started:
Staying active is the best way to combat pain. I know it sounds crazy- you hurt when you move, so you stop moving. But without exercise loss of muscle tone and strength make the pain worse. Fortunately, even mild exercises can release those wonderful endorphins- the feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood and blocks pain. Ask your provider what aerobic, strengthening and toning exercises may be right for you. Start small, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Then build slowly. I break my routine into three different times throughout the day, so I don’t stress too much at one time.
It sounds so obvious but few of us actually take the time to stop what we’re doing and calm our minds. Stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, tai chi, and yoga relax your body which helps ease pain. Stress, anxiety and issues that need our constant attention force our muscles, organs and brain into flight or fight mode 24 hours a day. This just tightens already painful muscles and inhibits sleep. The only answer is to release this never ending cycle by letting the muscles do what they’re aching to do safely through exercise and relation techniques.
It may seem like alcohol is a great way to buffer the pain and wind down, but it actually does the opposite. In the end, alcohol actually causes more pain. And it may seem like a drink helps us to fall asleep quicker and get a good nights rest but when alcohol breaks down in the body it creates a shallower sleep that allows for repeated awakenings and shortens the important time we need in REM sleep- where we actually recover and repair damage from the day’s activities.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep is the only time our bodies truly shut down and recover. Lack of sleep impairs the brain’s natural mechanisms for relieving pain. New research has found sleep loss not only amplifies the pain-sensing regions in the brain, but blocks the natural analgesia centers, too. It also impairs the brain’s insula, which assesses pain signals and prepares the body’s reaction to pain. This is a critical neural system that assesses and categorizes pain signals and allows the body’s own natural painkillers to come to the rescue. Sleeping 7-9 hours each night truly is the best medicine. Make it even better by avoiding caffeine and strenuous exercise in the evenings and restrict screen-time just before bedtime.
Often people turn to a cigarette to decompress since the nicotine in tobacco makes the body initially feel good by triggering the release of chemicals, like dopamine, which give off a satisfying, “reward” sensation. This is what makes smoking so addictive. But that same tobacco also impairs the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to bones and tissues. Loss of these necessary nutrients can cause poor healing, increased inflammation, painful muscles and degeneration, particularly in discs of the spine, which already have more limited blood flow. All exacerbate pain.
Get a hug/ give a hug
There’s no question- hugs are therapeutic. So much so that it’s spawned an entirely new industry- weighted blankets. The act of holding others close is universally comforting. This is because a hole cascade of chemicals such as oxytocin that help to reduce stress, increase feelings of happiness and decrease anxiety are related. But it also can impact pain by releasing our own feel good hormones- endorphins. Can’t find someone to hug? Studies show hugging yourself can be beneficial too.
Get some needed circulation
When pain is overwhelming, take a break and move. It takes the pressure off the area involved and stimulates needed circulation and nutrients to the site. Better yet, massage and gently mobilize for a few minutes. Feet hurt? Use golf balls in a box under your desk to revive or try a few chair exercises from our Tuesdays posts. Can’t do this at your desk? Retreat to the bathroom for a few minutes to stretch and mobilize, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Don’t forget to breath
Breathing is an easy and effective way to decompress. Deep breathing calms the mind, promotes blood flow, detoxifies the body and improves sleep. No time? Just remember my favorite breathing technique that can be done anywhere, anytime, anyplace to relax – breathe in to the count of five, hold to the count of five, breathe out to the count of five, hold to the count of five and repeat.
Whether it’s a scented candle, body scrub, diffuser… surrounding yourself in a delightful scent can make a huge difference in your pain level. The olfactory nerve sends signals to the area of the brain that controls mood, anxiety and pain by creating a chemical reaction in response to the different oils used. Pick a scent proven to help enhance a specific mood while soaking in a warm hot bath, meditating in a quiet room or sleeping at night. Add a massage to the mix to increase the benefits.
Take a break
Go outside and feel the warm sun on your skin. This alone can decrease pain. Safe exposure causes the skin to produce endorphins– our own feel good/ pain relieving hormones. Listen to music. Doodle. Go into an unoccupied office and dance. Watch a cute animal video on YouTube. Socialize. Studies showed even “microbreaks” boost mood and performance.
Use an ice or heat pack
Ice, heat or both can have a huge impact on reducing pain. And both have their place. Whether it’s in the acute or chronic stages of pain. Sometimes alternating icing the area of concern then moving it in a hot tub or shower can do the trick. Don’t have either one readily available? Check out how to make them yourself.
Check back next week for another round of 11 ways to help decrease pain!