Chronic Pain Doesn’t Need to Take Over Your Life
Many Americans suffer from chronic pain. A study by doctors from Massachusetts reveals that 50.2 million adults experience it on a daily basis. Their pain often appears in the back, hips, and knees, affecting everyday activities. The study also found that respondents with chronic pain reported limitations in their daily lives, such as social activities. Respondents with chronic pain also reported significantly more workdays missed than those without chronic pain.
However, chronic pain doesn’t have to consume you and everything you do. Here are a few ideas so pain doesn’t take over your life:
Maintain a healthy diet
A healthy diet reduces pain sensitivity due to inflammation. A general rule of thumb to reduce inflammation is to avoid refined sugars, sugar substitutes, white flour products, refined omega-6 oils, too much alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, and foods with a high glycemic index.
Shockingly, refined sugar, flour, and omega-6 oils make up almost 60% of the calories consumed by the average American. Examples of these calorie sources include cereal, bread, pretzels, chips, desserts, soda, sweet tea, donuts, French fries, salad dressing, and most packaged foods. This means that most people eat themselves into a state of chronic pain and then look for treatments to reduce their pain, which in many cases does not work because pain treatments are typically not able to overcome the painful inflammatory state created by the overconsumption of refined sugar, flour, and omega-6 oils.
Eating a little bit of these calories is typically not a big deal for most people, which means people do not necessarily have to give them up completely, as I choose to do. The problem is that these “foods” make up the majority of calories consumed by Americans, which leads to obesity, related chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease, etc.), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Many people have heard of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are sorely lacking in our diets. A proper ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1 or less. The ratio for most Americans is 20:1 and higher, which is highly pro-inflammatory. Sources of omega-3 oils include fatty fish and fish oil supplements, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, and dark, leafy green vegetables, all of which we need to consume more to reduce inflammation.
Regarding fats, a registered dietitian nutritionist tells Medical News Today that high-fat diets, specifically overconsumption of saturated fats, cause inflammation. During this process, the body tries to defend itself from harmful invaders—trans fats from foods (omega-6 calorie sources)—causing discomfort. If your body is inflamed, you’ll be sensitive to even the lightest touch. Ultimately, you’ll intensify your symptoms if you regularly eat food with a high-fat content in the wrong proportion. Saturated fat is necessary, but overconsumption can be detrimental. See this article for more details.
Use telehealth for chronic pain management
Chronic pain can cause discomfort in all areas of your life. It may even affect your ability to go to the hospital and seek treatment. Since the primary care physician shortage in the US is projected to last until 2024, you may also have difficulties booking appointments. Fortunately, you can still consult with a health professional without leaving your home using telehealth. The good news is that more states are embracing telehealth to help more patients get the help they need.
For example, Ohio is one of the 17 states that reimburse all four telehealth modalities (live video, store-and-forward, remote patient monitoring and audio-only). With the state experiencing the aforementioned shortage of physicians, telehealth has allowed those with chronic pain to get the treatment they need through nurse practitioners. These nurse practitioners in Ohio are able to offer immediate virtual primary and urgent care treatment for non-emergency conditions that would otherwise potentially involve a long wait time.
This virtual means of healthcare also allows you to contact other primary care professionals, including independent nurse practitioners from around the country. So even if you live in New York, you can consult pain experts in different states, giving you many more options. For your first telehealth consultation, expect to answer questions about your symptoms and past chronic pain experiences. From here, you’ll be prescribed pain medication or pain relief exercises suitable for your specific circumstances.
Learn how to meditate for reduced pain
If finding peace and relaxation with pain seems impossible, meditation is one activity you can try. Neuroscientists from California report that meditation can reduce pain intensity by 32%. This is because the mindfulness it promotes helps the brain to cut off communication between sections assigned to feeling pain and generating self-awareness. As such, pain signals are still sent by the body to the brain, but you will be less aware of them. Even 20 minutes of meditation is enough to experience a reduced level of pain. You can meditate in various ways, including closing your eyes and using visualization along with focused, rhythmic breathing.
Join a chronic pain support group
Chronic pain can be very isolating. People around you won’t understand what you’re going through, making your experience harder. My post, ‘The Impact of Chronic Pain on Social Life’ adds that it can prevent you from going out and spending time with others due to discomfort.
This is why joining a support group is a must. By surrounding yourself with people who have similar experiences with chronic pain, you can freely converse about your experiences and sympathize with others. Most importantly, you’ll feel more validated. This can make living with pain less lonely and more comforting. Chronic Pain Anonymous (in-person and online forums) and MyChronicPainTeam (online sessions) are some groups you can consider.
Chronic pain can be challenging to live with, but it doesn’t need to take over your life. Knowing how to manage your pain and seek help when needed can give you the strength you need to take your life back.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and volunteer writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, and Patient Worthy. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.