Proven Ways to Relieve Chronic Pain for Good, Say Physicians
Statistics show that over 50 million adults in the U.S. experience chronic pain, resulting in nearly $300 billion of lost productivity every year. "Simple lifestyle changes, such as learning how to cope with stress and good sleep hygiene, can lead to improvements in your level of pain and long-term quality of life," says anesthesiologist Youssef Saweris, MD. Here are five science-backed ways to relieve chronic pain. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Did you know that meditation can help treat chronic pain? "When you're stressed, your body triggers the release of stress hormones, causing inflammation, and increasing pain to your already irritated joints," says Jane Ehrman, MEd. "Meditation can help your brain release endorphins, natural pain relievers. You're shifting your focus away from the pain. Your mind responds to what you give attention. Meditation helps you to use your mind in a powerful, helpful, positive way."
While chronic pain can make the idea of exercise difficult if not impossible, research shows that even gentle exercise can help with pain management. "Certain activities may be friendlier to people with certain limitations," says Kirsten Ambrose, associate director of the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance at the University of North Carolina's Thurston Arthritis Research Center. "Non-weight-bearing activities, like water-based or pool activities or bicycling, may be more tolerable for some people with joint pain. You don't have to limit yourself to traditional exercise, like walking on a treadmill for a certain number of minutes or miles. You can count gardening or walking the dog. The goal is to increase the amount of time spent moving versus sitting. If pain is worse two hours after finishing exercise than it was before you started, this is an indication that you have overdone it and should scale back the next time."
Change Your Diet
The food you eat can significantly impact chronic pain, experts say. "Diet is one of those things under our control that has a huge impact on our overall health," says pain management specialist Teresa Dews, MD. "We know it's one of the major influences on our health status — and that includes pain. The body needs nutrition in order to build itself up. If you're eating a lot of nutrient-depleted foods, the body will do the best it can, but you're more likely to have a medical condition associated with chronic pain."
Good Quality Sleep
Getting the right amount of quality sleep can make a significant impact on chronic pain, doctors say. "Sleep is very, very important — it helps your body heal," says William Welches, DO, PhD. "Lack of sleep releases more stress hormones, lowers pain tolerance and worsens existing pain. Go to bed at about the same time every evening and get up at about the same time every morning to keep your internal clock regular."
Not only does smoking make chronic pain worse, it can interfere with possible treatment. "Nicotine-induced pain relief is short-term. Over time, smoking may actually worsen your pain," says pain management specialist Crawford Barnett, MD. "Almost everyone knows smoking can cause cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease. But not everyone realizes that smoking can make your pain worse. Smokers aren't the best candidates for implantable devices such as neurostimulators, which block pain sensation. Smoking impairs the immune system and increases the risk of infection after surgery."