Chronic pain is pain that has been present for over 3 months. The pain may be mild, intense, intermittent or constant. It can be anything from a nuisance to a total debilitation. Chronic pain may be started by a trauma or injury or it could be a part of a medically unexplained syndrome like fibromyalgia. Just because there is no identifiable medical reason for chronic pain does not mean ‘it’s all in your head’ and it doesn’t mean that it will go away on it’s own if you try and stop thinking about it. Never be afraid to get help for chronic pain. In the past, doctors may have been dismissive about pain that has no identifiable cause, but they are now much more understanding.
The most common sources of chronic pain stem from headaches, joint pain, back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, arthritis or pain in the shoulders and neck. Chronic pain can really take it’s toll on a person emotionally. It can interfere with your sleep, make you angry, anxious or depressed. People with chronic pain often report that they also feel very fatigued. It’s really important to treat the psychological aspects of chronic pain as well as the physical aspects. Experiencing chronic pain and fatigue can make you feel really hopeless, but there is help available and there are things you can do to minimise and control your pain.
1. Keep a Pain Diary
One thing that will help improve your treatment is to keep a pain diary. Log how much pain you were in that day on a scale of 1-10, as well as your activity and any treatments or pain killers you have taken. This will help you identify what is triggering your pain and what is helping it. You can do this in a paper note book or on-line. There are several apps you can download that will help you keep a detailed log of your pain. We recommend ‘CatchMyPain’ which is a free app with some optional in app-purchases.
2. Exercise – Release Endorphins!
Endorphins are our bodies natural chemical pain relievers. When we exercise our body releases plenty. We understand that exercising when you’re in pain can be difficult, so it’s important that you have exercise plans that will not do more harm than good. A physiotherapist can design a routine for you that will help you manage pain and improve your condition.
3. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Drinking can relieve your pain temporarily, as soon as you sober up your pain will be back and you’ll be in a worse situation than when you started. Alcohol intake increases anxiety, makes you dehydrated and can interfere with sleep. It’s vital you stay well rested and calm. Similarly smoking can make you feel relaxed for a few moments, but smoking can cause circulation problems which will only worsen your pain. Commit to a healthy life style and diet. We have written some tips on nutrients that will help your joints and circulation here (link).
4. Join a Community
A particularly tough thing about chronic pain is that it is invisible. We may really be suffering yet nobody realises. Your friends and family may not be as understanding about your pain as you’d like. There are many on-line communities and blogs about chronic pain which will help validate your experiences and give you detailed advice on how to cope. If you’re a Twitter or Instagram user try using the #chroniclife or #chronicpain hashtags, you may make some friends who know exactly what you’re going through! There are some support groups in Sheffield you can visit if you prefer talking face to face, which may relate to your particular condition.
5. Distract Yourself
While we’re not going to tell you to ‘just stop thinking about it’ it’s a good idea to have the means to take your mind off the pain when you need to. Studies have shown that people feel pain less when they’re distracted. Not only does distraction take the minds attention away from the pain, but the spinal nerves which are signalling pain become less active. Perhaps you could stock up on games, books or films that you know are going to engage you and save them for times when your pain is particularly bad.
6. Practice Meditation and Visualisation
In the past, doctors understood that pain was the result of nerves carrying pain signals to the brain, but they often dismissed pain that was not directly caused by a physical stress as being ‘in the mind’. Since then, scientists have discovered that the perception of pain is actually a complicated mix and it can be very tied in with our emotions and memory. It may not be for you, but meditating may help. Try imagining yourself in a relaxed calm environment and visualise the pain leaving your body. If you’re new to meditating you could try some guided meditations on YouTube. There are many videos specifically for chronic pain relief.
7. Reduce Stress
This is easier said than done but negative emotions like stress or anger can increase your sensitivity to pain. A good way to reduce stress in your life is to avoid it where possible. Have a think about activities you find stressful and whether they are essential or optional. For example, if reading the news makes you feel angry it might be a good idea to cut down on it while you’re in pain. Perhaps you can delegate stressful activities to family members when you’re feeling unwell. Introduce more calming activities into your life like listening to peaceful music, spending time in the garden or take up a relaxing exercise like yoga. Do things that make you happy, or make you laugh, more often.
8. Improve Sleep
Often chronic pain keeps us up at night which is one of the causes of fatigue that so many people with chronic pain experience. Invest in a comfortable bed and pillow and take a relaxing bath before bed. Avoid using a laptop or smart phone in bed. The blue light from these can interfere with your ability to drift off, as well as exposing you to stressful stimuli on social media. If you are in the habit of checking your work emails before going to bed – it’s time to stop!
9. Get a Massage or Acupuncture
Massage feels wonderful and can really help with chronic pain. It’s relaxing and helps to loosen up tight muscles. Some people find the idea of acupuncture makes them feel squeamish or they worry it will hurt, but acupuncture is actually quite a comfortable experience. Acupuncture is a great way of reducing pain and fatigue. It affects everybody differently, some people find they have a huge burst of energy afterwards! We offer both acupuncture and massage at our clinic in Sheffield.
10. Get a Proper Diagnosis
This is our final and most important point. It’s no good residing yourself to a life time of pain if it is something that can actually be treated. Getting a proper diagnosis from a physiotherapist will help you understand what is causing your pain so that you know exactly what can make it better. We have equipment available to us in our clinic such as IDD and PAMM therapy (link) which can help treat problems that are unable to be fixed by hand alone. We can also make a far more accurate diagnosis with technology such as ViMove (link). If your pain was unable to be diagnosed or treated successfully years ago you may find that this has changed with advances in treatment.
Even if your pain has no root in injury, such as fibromyalgia or you have pain from a trauma that is now healed then a physiotherapist can still direct you on the correct exercises or treatments that will aid in pain management and recovery.