If you’re affected by chronic pain, you’re not alone. According to the CDC’s National Health Survey, about one in five adults in the U.S. have chronic pain.
Chronic pain is pain that persists for more than 12 weeks. It can be any type of pain (dull, sharp, throbbing or burning), and it can affect any part of the body. The severity of chronic pain varies from person to person. In some cases, chronic pain exists alone as a primary condition, and sometimes it’s caused by an injury or illness.
Because chronic pain is a long-term issue, pain management is key. Depending on how severe your chronic pain is and its underlying causes, there may be some natural solutions.
Chronic pain can be frustrating. For people living with chronic pain, effective management often requires a combination of several tools and techniques. Many people rely on pharmaceutical (over-the-counter or prescription painkillers) pain management options, but there are plenty of non-pharmaceutical solutions as well.
In creating your pain management toolkit, it’s important to adopt a holistic perspective. Think of your body and your life as a whole, instead of focusing exclusively on managing pain separately. Consider any lifestyle factors that may trigger or worsen your pain.
The lifestyle changes outlined below may help reduce the severity of your pain, and they may help you have more pain-free days if your pain tends to come and go. If your pain is secondary to another condition or if you’re recovering from an injury, be sure to speak to your doctor before trying any new pain management techniques.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique that involves flexing your diaphragm (the space between your abdomen and your chest). It’s somewhat intuitive. If you try to take a deep breath, it’s likely your body will know what to do. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you feel your stomach expanding as you inhale.
Deep breathing offers two main benefits for pain management:
Mindfulness meditation is so popular today, it’s virtually mainstream. A review of research shows that mindfulness-based interventions, like meditation, can significantly improve perceptions of chronic pain levels.
To meditate effectively, you’ll likely need to practice. Clearing your mind can be difficult, especially when you’re in pain. The goal in meditation is to remain present while noticing your thoughts and sensations in your body.
Follow these steps to get started with a simple meditation:
Read our blog post on Mindfulness for Chronic Pain and Depression for more meditation tips.
Sleep is a critical aspect of our body’s ability to heal itself. Insomnia (or sleeplessness) and poor sleep quality are common in people who live with chronic pain. Unfortunately, poor sleep quality and chronic pain are a vicious circle—chronic pain leads to a bad sleep, and a bad sleep worsens chronic pain. However, the cycle isn’t unbreakable.
There are a few things you can do to improve your sleep quality, even when you’re living with chronic pain:
Exercise is vital to longevity and overall health, and it’s especially important for people living with chronic pain. Exercise isn’t just for athletes, and chronic pain doesn’t have to stop you from being physically active.
When done properly, exercise can significantly decrease the severity of chronic pain.
It’s best to combine different types of exercise, including cardio and strength workouts. Walking and swimming are excellent aerobic activities for people with chronic pain as they don’t stress the body as much as high-intensity workouts, like running, do. Typical strength exercises like push-ups and sit-ups aren’t suitable for everyone. Consider investing in a tool like the CoreStretch, which allows you to work out while sitting or lying in a comfortable position.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, always start slow and work your way up. Get the go-ahead from your doctor before you begin a new exercise program. Your doctor can also help you create a plan that suits your unique needs.
Your diet plays a role in your body’s ability to control inflammation. Since chronic pain is often the result of chronic inflammation, eating the right foods (and avoiding the wrong foods) is a vital part of chronic pain management.
Here are some of the ways people with chronic pain can eat healthier and reduce inflammation:
Your body feels pain, but your mind interprets it. Sometimes, the best way to deal with pain is to distract your mind by focusing on something else. Having a creative outlet can improve your quality of life, reduce stress and get your mind off your pain. You don’t need to be an artist to get creative. The important thing is to take part in activities that bring you joy, like gardening, fishing, baking or volunteering.
Research suggests that engaging in interesting pastimes is an essential tool for improving quality of life. For people with chronic pain, putting joy-sparking activities on-hold isn’t an option.
Having hobbies or creative pursuits is vital to enhancing well-being in people living with chronic pain.
Stretching is easy and accessible—you can do it anywhere, and you don’t need any equipment. Sitting on the floor and reaching for your toes is an excellent stretch to start with, as it engages your legs, back, core and arms.
Yoga is a practice that combines stretching, deep breathing and meditation. Beginner yoga poses don’t require formal training, and modified poses are available for people who have physical limitations. Yoga and stretching can improve mobility, flexibility and strength, and these improvements lead to pain reduction.
An easy beginner pose that involves the whole body is the Triangle:
Alcohol and tobacco are sometimes adopted as tools to relieve pain temporarily, but they aren’t sustainable solutions. In fact, they tend to make things worse. Tobacco and nicotine both reduce the amount of oxygen circulating through your body. Smoking fatigues your muscles and can make your body feel like it’s working way too hard.
Alcohol can change the way your brain receives nerve sensations, and it can make you more prone to injury. Smoking also negatively interacts with some pain medications, and it causes a decline in sleep quality. Each of these factors alone has negative consequences in pain management but combined, these factors make alcohol consumption a significant impediment for people living with chronic pain.
Emotional well-being is crucial in managing chronic pain, depression and anxiety—three conditions that often exist together and fuel one another. Social connectedness isn’t just a distraction—it’s actually linked to your brain’s pain receptors by neural pathways. This means that the quality of your social well-being can impact how you perceive pain.
People with rewarding social lives typically manage and adapt to pain more easily than people who feel more isolated.
You don’t need to seek out a large group of friends. Regular interaction with just a few people can drastically improve your perception of pain. Social connectedness can be as simple as inviting a friend over for tea or reconnecting with a family member who you haven’t heard from in a while.
Chronic pain can be caused or amplified by poor sitting, standing and sleeping positions, as well as improper lifting and movement techniques. If you live with chronic shoulder pain, consider changing your pillow firmness or height. If you work at a computer, adjust your monitor to a height that’s directly in your sight-line, so you aren’t looking up or down for extended periods. Make sure your chair is appropriate for your needs. If you struggle with posture, set alarms to remind you to adjust your spinal alignment.
People with chronic pain can ease their suffering by developing a more ergonomic environment at work and at home. Adapting your environment will require some degree of trial-and-error, and your adaptations will be uniquely suited to you.
Natural solutions and lifestyle changes are important tools to help manage chronic pain, and modifying your environment is key. If your chronic back pain is aggravated by poor posture or an external issue, like an improper seating surface, it’s vital to correct those issues.
Relax The Back offers a range of solutions that promote and encourage spinal health to relieve chronic back, neck, hip and shoulder pain. We offer home solutions, like recliners, mattresses and ergonomic pillows, as well as work solutions, like standing desks, back cushions and ergonomic chairs.