If you live with chronic pain, it’s fundamental to get it under control. Now.
As of 2016, 1 in 5 people in the US have chronic pain and it costs the US about $635 billion dollars annually.
It’s predicted that chronic pain prevalence will increase over the coming years because of our aging population and because of an increase in chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Over twenty years ago, I discovered that I had a chronic disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis (try pronouncing that one) and I’ve been on a wild and crazy roller coaster living with it. Although the journey has been long and hard with 2 total hip replacement surgeries and fused sacroiliac joints, I’m now in a good place in my life.
My mission is to teach other women how they can reduce their chronic pain.
I put together this beginner’s guide to chronic pain management techniques with the goal for you to learn effective strategies that don’t involve medication (although if you need to take medications for your chronic disease, that’s totally ok too).
Let’s get into it!
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is persistent pain lasting longer than 12 weeks and doesn’t go away despite medication or treatment.
Usually, most people will get back to normal after pain or an injury. But sometimes, this isn’t the case, and the pain becomes chronic.
Misconceptions about chronic pain
Myth #1 Chronic pain is a normal part of getting older
As you age, there’s the possibility that you’ll feel general aches and pain in your body. But developing chronic pain or disease like arthritis isn’t true for everyone.
Myth #2 You should avoid exercise when you have chronic pain
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you remain sedentary, chances are high that your joints and muscles will become stiffer.
Regular movement strengthens the tendons that surround your joints, so it’s critical to move daily (always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program).
Myth #3 Alternative treatments aren’t effective
Acupuncture and massages are excellent ways to help reduce chronic pain and can work very nicely with your medications or physical therapy.
Massage helps to break up tension and soreness in your muscles. But acupuncture and massages may not be suitable for everyone.
How to Get Started with Chronic Pain Management
Let’s face it. Living with chronic pain is challenging and hard work because you don’t know what to expect from one day to the next.
But it’s possible to live with your chronic pain by focusing less on it and spending more time instead on the things you enjoy.
To be successful with chronic pain management, you must change your mindset. Don’t think of yourself as a victim of your chronic pain. Your thoughts are powerful. If you keep repeating to yourself that you’ll never get better, then you may not.
Ask “why is this happening FOR me” instead of “why is this happening TO me.” When I adopted this shift in my thinking, it was a significant change for me.
Cut back on alcohol
One of the biggest mistakes I notice some women in chronic pain make is to drink alcohol before bedtime. They have a few glasses of wine to get sleepy and to dull the pain.
This is a dangerous habit because excessive drinking can cause damage to the liver so instead, limit your use of alcohol to very little or none.
Tips for Success in Chronic Pain Management
Tip #1 Pace yourself
It’s very important to know your limits so you don’t feel worse from your pain. If your body is telling you that you’re trying to do too much, listen.
There will be some days when you’ll have more energy than others and you may choose to do more than you normally would. But just be mindful that you may feel more sore than usual the following day.
Tip # 2 Track your pain levels and activities every day
It’s important to keep track of your pain levels in between your doctor appointments so your doctor can treat you accurately. Keep a pain journal rating your pain levels from 1 being very low to 10 being very severe and what activities you do each day.
Take your tracker to each doctor’s visit so your doctor can gain a good understanding of how you may or may not be coping with your chronic pain. After evaluating your information, he/she can recommend other treatments.
Bonus tip: Write any questions that you may have for your doctor at the back of your tracker and start using this area to keep your own patient notes.
What are some other chronic pain management techniques?
I have found the following techniques very helpful in coping with my own chronic pain:
Heat and Cold
Using heat and cold packs can be very effective ways to relieve chronic pain. Heat gets your blood moving and circulating and allows oxygen to reach your joints and muscles.
A cold pack is effective because it can reduce blood flow in an affected area, decreasing inflammation and swelling.
Massage can relieve stress and tension, and it also feels very good! Many people living with chronic pain utilize massage to help with muscle soreness.
Pain is your body’s way of protecting you from harm. Long term pain can be very stressful on your body, so taking part in some relaxation activities can help with stress. You can start with low impact activities such as yoga and stretching.
Meditation has many wonderful benefits, especially mindfulness meditation. With this type of meditation, you do a mental body scan by relaxing and trying to ease the parts of your body where you experience the most pain.
The goal is to train your brain on how to cope with pain throughout the day.
How do you work with chronic pain?
It can be very difficult working in constant chronic pain, but many people do so because of the paycheck and it’s a tremendous boost to their self esteem. But severe pain can prevent you from becoming a productive employee and can affect your job performance.
Managing your chronic pain on the job is a reality, but you must take a proactive approach such as
Don’t push yourself too hard at work by creating boundaries with those you work with. Know when to say no, especially to last minute projects just as you’re getting ready to leave for the day.
Sitting at your desk for long periods of time is not healthy for your muscles and joints so work in intervals of 25 or 30 minutes at a time and take a short 5 minute break so you can stretch.
Get away from the office and take a short walk at lunchtime so you can get in some extra exercise.
How to deal with chronic pain without medication
Some people living with chronic pain would rather try to get their pain relief naturally.
If you find yourself in this situation, you can try:
Exercising your body is a very important chronic pain management habit. Contrary to what you may think, lack of exercise can actually make your joints stiffer. So aim to move for at least 30 minutes 3 days per week.
Gentle low impact exercises such as walking or swimming are great activities because they improve blood flow and help with weight management.
Yoga is a great chronic pain management technique and I love Yoga with Adriene’s Youtube channel because her videos are easy to follow and so calming. Her dog is cute too!
How do you live with severe chronic pain?
Distract yourself from your pain
If you focus on your pain, it’ll feel worse. So concentrate on doing activities that help to keep your mind off of thinking about your pain. Engage in activities that make you happy. Control your pain, don’t let it control you.
Seek a support group
You can feel less alone when you connect with others also living with chronic pain because they also understand what you’re going through. You have the chance of meeting someone who has also lives with a chronic disease, and you can benefit from learning how they personally deal with their pain.
How can you be more productive with chronic pain?
Chronic pain is challenging when you’re trying your best to be productive at work. High paced functioning environments can leave you stressed and anxious. Below are some ways that can make your workday manageable:
Break down tasks
Break your tasks down into smaller, manageable parts. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and panicked to complete a project with a fast approaching deadline.
I like to time block all of my tasks and then take a task and work backward to what I need to accomplish. I put together a mini checklist for each task, and this helps me stay calm and in control.
Follow your body clock
Many people will beat themselves up when they can’t lose weight.
They say things like “no matter how hard I try, the weight won’t come off, there must be something wrong with me.” But, your weight management plan may not be entirely at fault and could be due to how and when you implement it.
Knowing the best time to get up, go to bed, workout, and even drink caffeine can help you live better.
When I took a sleep quiz, I learned that I have no business drinking caffeine before 9 am and my most productive times of the day is between 10 am to 2 pm.
How do you Stop Chronic Pain cycles?
The relationship between stress and chronic pain can become a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. But there’s hope yet:
Don’t let it stop you
Try not to let chronic pain get the best of you.
I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s so important that you take back control. Educate yourself about understanding what could be causing your chronic pain and how pain works in your brain because this will be a significant starting point.
Have a good sleep routine
Implementing a sleep routine an hour before going to bed is an effective way to help calm your mind and relax your body.
Write all of your feelings of frustration you may have encountered throughout the day in a journal. Jotting down your thoughts can set you up for a good night’s sleep.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Chronic Pain Management Techniques
You’ve learned about some chronic pain misconceptions, discovered a few natural ways to get started with chronic pain management, and why regular exercise is important in managing your chronic disease.
One of your biggest tools in managing your pain are your thoughts so be mindful about what you say to yourself.
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