For better or worse I normally I like to fill this blog with my own thoughts on health care related topics. However, once in a while I see something that is so well done that I think it is important to share it here – this month is one of those instances. What follows is largely summarized from a Cleveland Clinic patient information page, which I highly recommend. You can most easily access it by “liking” the Cleveland Clinic on Facebook, or go to health.clevelandclinic.org. First, let’s remember that over 100 million people in the US suffer with chronic pain. Second, you should know that the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that over 70% of people with chronic pain receive improper treatment. And finally, it’s critical that we all understand that there is no evidence that narcotic pain medications are effective in treating chronic pain and there is very significant evidence of the harm these medicines inflict on individuals, on their families and on our communities.
Here are some home based treatments which actually do work in helping people cope better with chronic pain and achieve a higher level of functioning:
- Deep breathing – slowing your breathing intentionally while taking deep cleansing breaths can help you relax and allow you to lessen your discomfort.
- Get some sleep – restful sleep is critical to our body’s restorative process and allows us to cope with all kinds of stress, including pain, during the day. Sleep medicines cause sedation but do not induce restful sleep, so they are not the answer. A concept called sleep hygiene (ordering your exercise, nutrition, evening habits and sleep environment to maximize sleep) is effective, free and not that difficult, yet few people commit to it.
- Exercise – Even though you have pain there is almost always a way to make regular exercise part of your life. Stretching, strengthening and aerobics all help and the better your muscle tone the better your body can protect itself from painful movement. Exercise also releases natural chemicals which reduce pain and increase our sense of wellness.
- Work on your smoking habit – tobacco products increase sensitivity to pain and reduce circulation, along with the myriad other deleterious health effects you already know about.
- Practice “mindfulness” – rather than ignoring or cursing your pain, acknowledging it, observing it and being conscious of how it effects your movement, your breathing, and your attitude and emotions actually helps you to tolerate it better. There are many mindfulness coaches who can help with this, and there also on line resources.
- Eat a whole-food, plant based diet – whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits have anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce pain in joints and muscles (including your back!), while processed meat, red meat, sugar, white bread and pasta have the opposite impact.
- Yoga – it works. Period. Really. And beginner poses are easily found online. Try it!
- Enjoy your hobbies – make a point of doing the things that bring you pleasure. It reduces stress and improves health. For me it’s visiting with my granddaughter and biking, and I can’t wait to combine the two!
- Engage in social activities – people with chronic pain can lean toward isolation, and many of the medications commonly used to treat pain also cause social withdrawal. Regular activity with other people helps to reduce anxiety and pain.
I hope you’ll consider these simple, safe and effective strategies for yourself or a loved one suffering with chronic pain. It can be better!