Chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions in Canada and US, with millions of people suffering from it on a daily basis. Chronic pain is a type of pain that lasts for an extended period of time. Although there is no specific time length for the pain to be officially considered chronic, most doctors consider pain to be chronic if it lasts longer than six months. Chronic pain most commonly arises from back, neck, head and muscoskeletal pain, but often occurs due to diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Chronic pain does not have a single cause and is often associated with conditions related to aging of bones and joints, which is sometimes caused by nerve damage or injuries that have not healed properly. There are many approaches to treat chronic pain, from pain medication (both over-the-counter and prescription) to alternative techniques, such as spinal manipulation, massage and acupuncture. Chronic pain is psychologically difficult to endure, it can often trigger anxiety and depression.
Here are six strategies for individuals suffering from chronic pain in order to increase resilience and quality of life.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Stress and feelings of anxiety can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain, learning to use different relaxation techniques can help your mind and body to relax, and make it easier for you to manage chronic pain. Effective relaxation techniques include visualization of peaceful imagery, such as forest meadows or sea waves in order to help your mind relax and focus on calming feelings. Autogenic training is another effective relaxation technique and is based on the findings that simple auto-suggestive messages (or statements) can influence our bodily perceptions and help us achieve deep relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique which involves systematically contracting and then relaxing groups of muscles all over the body. These exercises can help lower the overall muscle tension in the body, and help to fight stress and anxiety.
Meditation is the practice of training the mind in order to become able to focus your attention and redirect thoughts. There are many types of meditation techniques aimed to promote relaxation, reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety, and to cultivate the feelings of calmness and peace.
According to scientific research, meditation can be an effective method to reduce the perception of pain, and has been shown to be clinically effective in treating individuals with chronic pain.
In addition, another recent scientific study has shown the promising potential in mindfulness-based therapy in treating depression, which often occurs in individuals suffering from chronic pain. Meditation can be learned on your own or with a class and can become a great learning tool to become more aware of your body and manage chronic pain.
Use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychological therapy focused on the improvement of overall mental health. CBT is aimed to correct cognitive distortions (including negative thoughts and attitudes), by improving one’s emotional regulation strategies and coping strategies.
According to the theory of CBT, all individuals can create their own experiences, including sensory experiences such as pain. By changing the negative thoughts and behaviours associated with pain, CBT aims to change each individual’s awareness of pain to develop better coping skills, even if the actual level of pain remains the same. CBT has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and has also been shown effective in improving the quality of life and decreasing pain interference in individuals suffering from chronic pain.
Practice Activities that Release Natural Endorphins
Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally by the brain and act as natural pain-killers. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, are associated with the feelings of euphoria and can produce pain relief. Aerobic exercise is the most effective activity to increase endorphin release. In addition, regular exercise helps to strengthen muscles and improve posture, which can also serve to decrease some types of chronic pain, including chronic back pain.
In addition, research studies show that aerobic exercise can be effective in treating depression. Since depression often occurs in individuals living with chronic pain, exercise can be a great way to both manage pain and improve your mood. Talk to your health practitioner in order to receive recommendations for the type of exercise best suited for you.
Cultivate a Support Network
Another effective way to manage chronic pain is to create a strong social support network. A social support network can be comprised of friends, family members and other individuals suffering from chronic pain. Building a solid network of friends and loved ones has many benefits, including creating a sense of belonging and increasing the feelings of security.
In addition, building a social support network can help prevent depression and protect your mental health. Having this type of support can help individuals suffering from chronic pain to become more resilient to stress, and to become more adapted to managing their pain on a daily basis. Joining a support group and meeting other individuals living with chronic pain can also be of great benefit since, in this setting, individuals with chronic pain can relate to each other and reduce each other’s feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Track your daily pain levels
In order for your health practitioner to be able to prescribe correct treatment, it is important to record your daily pain levels, as well as any potential aggravating factors. You can track your daily pain levels by keeping a “pain journal,” where you record your daily pain scores on a scale from 1-10, as well as any activities you did, and any medications you took that day. This will give your doctor a better idea of how you feel between visits, and how you have been managing your chronic pain, as well as your overall functioning level.
Chronic pain is a debilitating condition with many different causes and can seriously interfere you’re your ability to work and carry out your daily tasks. Talk to your health practitioner to get the best treatment plan for your health needs.