Self-Care Tips for Managing Chronic Pain at Home
By: Dr. Adam Spjute
Managing chronic pain can affect every aspect of someone’s life. One of the most commonly affected areas, however, are their daily activities.
This ranges from not doing activities they enjoy that may cause pain, such as golfing or playing with their grand kids, to avoiding certain activities they used to love because they’re afraid they’re going to be in pain.
Socializing is also affected; people no longer want to go out, hang out with their friends, or be in social situations because of their pain.
Although COVID-19 has put a stop to socializing with people face-to-face, it is essential that we connect with others.
Humans are social creatures.
Chronic pain affects our emotions. It affects how we perceive ourselves and how we view our emotional health.
It can also affect our sleep hygiene and stress. Almost every aspect of our life can be affected by chronic pain.
Are you nodding your head in agreement? Well, I have a few tips to help you manage your pain at home:
- Stay active
- Practice excellent sleep hygiene
- Manage mental health
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Avoid self-medication
Related: What is Chronic Pain Syndrome?
I tell my patients that one of the essential tools to combat chronic pain is to stay active.
Now, that doesn’t mean you go out and train for the Boston Marathon. Many simple activities can be done around your home or neighborhood that can be helpful.
Going for walks outside has a considerable benefit to managing chronic pain. Many published studies have shown that people who go outdoors are less likely to contract illnesses, get sick, and have chronic pain.
Pool aerobics or aqua therapy is an activity I recommend to many of my patients. It’s great because it’s healthy for your joints, and it exercises multiple muscle groups.
Yoga or stretching is also greatly beneficial in managing chronic pain. In fact, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, showed that yoga significantly decreases pain levels in those with chronic pain.
Here is a helpful article by Harvard Health Publishing that discusses the benefits of yoga for chronic pain patients.
In addition to yoga and aqua therapy, physical therapy can help reduce chronic pain.
In September 2019, I saw a new patient with chronic pain and recommended they start physical therapy and become more active in core activities.
After our discussion, I did not hear from her for nine months!
When I saw her about a month ago, she said, ‘You know, that physical therapy made all the difference. I was doing great. It really helped. Coronavirus hit, and I stopped going.’ She said, ‘When I stopped the physical therapy, that’s when my pain came back. Dr. Spjute, I need to go back to physical therapy. I just need them to open the door so that I can go back.’
Luckily, I was able to find another open therapist, and the patient was ready to restart. That was something that struck a chord with me.
Usually, if I don’t see patients, they decide to seek care somewhere else or improve and don’t need my help. You don’t know, as a pain provider, your success stories. It was neat to have her come back and tell me how much physical therapy had improved her life.
Another essential tool for managing chronic pain is to ensure you have good sleep hygiene. While this may not seem important, an article published in the journal of Sleep Medicine Clinics in 2015, showed that poor sleep and chronic pain are closely correlated.
Sleep hygiene is what you do to prepare yourself to have good nighttime sleep quality.
Go to bed only when sleepy.
Avoid stimulating food, such as caffeine or nicotine, 30 minutes before you go to sleep.
Do not watch TV or look at your phone in your bed as you are going to sleep.
Not reading books, studying, or paying bills while sitting on your bed are all important ways to have healthy sleep hygiene, which can, in turn, ensure better sleep and decreased levels of pain.
Mental Health Tips
Mental health is another key component of managing chronic pain. I tell my patients that chronic pain isn’t just one dimensional; it is multidimensional and frequently has a close relationship with our mental well-being.
It’s not just physical pain.
It’s not only a tissue injury.
Chronic pain conditions affect how your body senses itself, and the emotional state you are in affects your pain.
The number one, most essential thing that we can do to address mental health is to recognize and manage stressors in our lives.
Every day there are new stressors that enter our lives. It is important to recognize them, address them, and then, if necessary, seek professional help to learn how to cope with them.
Number two is to set realistic goals for yourself and note your progress. It’s important to note progress by keeping a journal, writing the things you’ve accomplished, and recording the things you’re grateful for.
This helps track what you have done and stay positive about it.
A third tool to use to help address mental health is service. When we help others, we also lift ourselves.
Number four is connecting to others. Maintaining safe social interaction with others by writing letters, making phone calls, or video calls are great ways to check in on one another.
We live in a world of considerable uncertainty right now. For instance, in March this year, there was a week where every day, we saw a significant, different, country-wide challenge.
The world is changing, and we do not know what will happen in one month or one year.
One of the few things we can control is our attitude.
The fifth tool is controlling our attitude and outlook. Having a positive attitude about your situation in life produces positive results, no matter what it is.
I was reading the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and in an article published in 2019, they interviewed over 20,000 U.S. Army soldiers. Of those 20,000, optimistic soldiers had decreased post-deployment pain compared to those who were not optimistic.
The mind is a mighty force.
I tell my patients to be positive despite all that is happening around them. Look at all the good that is happening in your life, write it down, and share your positivity with others.
The last tool we recommend that will help improve mental health is reaching out to a behavioral health specialist. If you are having any thoughts of hurting yourself, hurting others, or are feeling depressed, talk to your primary care doctor or specialist immediately.
Physical Health Tips
Having a well-balanced diet is critical. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy certain foods; instead, it means eating a wide variety of fresh foods.
Eating a variety of colors of vegetables is crucial. By doing this, you will naturally select foods that are high in different vitamins and minerals. These vitamins help your body fight inflammation and pain. Eating foods that are low in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can also be helpful.
Training yourself to make healthy food choices can help prevent chronic diseases, as maintaining a well-balanced diet can help manage chronic pain.
Managing Chronic Pain And Self-Medication
We have trained specialists at APC to help patients addicted to substances, whether it be alcohol, other illicit substances, or even pain medicine.
Unfortunately, opioid addiction and dependence are very real. Some patients begin taking opioids with the intent only to take them for a short period of time, but then find themselves dependent on them. Their bodies become addicted to the medication – it is no one’s fault. It’s something that we can, and do, help with every day.
If you feel that you are self-medicating in some way, then please reach out to us. We’re more than happy to help you.
The Pain Stigma
When you feel that your life has been affected by chronic pain, it’s time to reach out to a professional to help you overcome it.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma in our society where people think that the only thing a pain doctor will do is throw medication at them.
That could not be further from the truth.
Any time you feel that your pain is affecting your life, or you notice that it is changing the lives of those around you, please reach out and talk to us.
It’s better to identify any red flags early and try to make minor adjustments now versus later on down the road when treatment might be challenging.
Unfortunately, many people wait until it is very late in their treatment journey after they’ve had different treatments or surgeries that may not have been necessary.
There might have been things that we could have helped with sooner. But it’s never too late to reach out and let us help you now.
We have a counselor and therapist network, both within APC and that work closely with APC, depending on where you live.
We work with nutritionists so that patients can talk to them and learn very precisely what they can do to eat healthily.
We work with multiple physical therapists throughout the community to help you. Check out our page on Behavioral Health Services to learn more about how we utilize all our resources to provide 360-degree care.
To look at the whole person, along with every aspect of what contributes to that pain to find the best recipe for managing chronic pain and pain relief, is our promise.