Fighting Chronic Pain

We all deal with chronic pain. It makes our lives challenging. Sometimes, we need to break the pain cycle by changing our routine, even if it’s only a tiny bit. I’m not a doctor or health care professional, but these are some of the things that I have found help me when I feel the pain come creeping on!

When muscles are cramped up and stiff the natural reaction is to hunker down and stay very still. In actual fact, this will make the pain worse, over time, as muscles gradually degenerate and cease to work properly. The old adage “use it or lose it” comes in here to help break the pain cycle. So how can we do this? Here are some simple inexpensive solutions that just may help… remember to try these for two weeks before giving up and saying it doesn’t work. Another helpful hint is that some tips will work better for you than others, at this time, but keep the others in mind for days down the road when you need to try something new.

1. Deep breathing… from the diaphragm or belly. Breath in through your nose slowly, hold it for a moment and then breath out slowly through pursed lips like you were blowing someone a kiss. Your tummy should expand out, like a balloon, as you breath in and flatten as you breathe out. This may take a little practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Stay focused on your breathing… some people count as they go… in 1 2 3 4, hold 1 2 3 4, and out 1 2 3 4 5. Three breathes is a good place to start. Stop if you feel dizzy. I use this technique if I’m waiting to see a doctor, in a meeting, on the train, in the car – no one will notice if you do it quietly and it can bring a lot of relief as the added oxygen helps relax your muscles.

2. Relaxation… starting at your toes and working toward your head, clench a group of muscles, hold for the count of three and then relax the muscles. Do your toes, feet and calves, thighs and buttocks, tummy and abdomen, chest and shoulders, arms and hands, jaw, head and eyes etc. Tighten all your muscles in a specific group, hold and release. Remember to focus on your breathing as you do this. Afterwards, you may notice a feeling of relaxation and calm. This is another strategy that can be used in public because no one can see the subtle movements of tensing and relaxing.

3. Warmth… so often I have been told that a cold pack brings down inflammation and it does! When I sprain my ankle, I want an ice pack to bring down the swelling. However, when my muscles are cramped up and hurt from a flare of Fibromyalgia, I welcome warmth. I have many sizes and shapes of bean bags filled with buckwheat groats. You can make them yourself with a bit of heavy cotton fabric and some buckwheat groats that you can buy from the health food store or you can buy them commercially. I heat mine in the microwave for 2 minutes, tops, and they are good for about an hour. You can also throw them in the drier for 5 to 10 minutes until they get warm. If I’m achy all over, I throw a soft blanket (flannel) in the drier for 10 minutes and then wrap myself up in it.

A warm bath is also a soothing experience when you hurt. Add some Epsom salts to draw toxins out or add a nice scent to the water. If you don’t have an essential oil, such as lavender or rose water, use a bit of vanilla from the kitchen cupboard. Make your bathing experience luxurious… add some soft soothing music, candles or bubbles. Whatever gives you pleasure and allows you to release a bit of tension. Note: This is best done when children are asleep or off at school! This is a good way to unwind just before bed. Keep in mind that a hot bath is stimulating and a warm bath is soothing and relaxing.

Remember that a nice warm beverage will also relieve tension. Pick whatever brings you pleasure and relieves tension: tea, hot chocolate milk, warm milk with vanilla. Avoid stimulates such as the caffeine found in colas and coffee. Alcohol should be avoided too as it may conflict with pain medications and cause other problems.

4. Movement… note that I didn’t say exercise. Any way you can get your body moving will help! Gentle stretching, walking (even if it’s from room to room or up and down the hall) and swaying to your favourite music. If you have an opportunity to move in warm water, it’s amazing! No pain! We have a hot tub in the backyard which I use even in the deep of winter (in Canada that can get pretty cold!) Most municipalities have therapeutic pools. Even if you can get in and do some walking through the warm water, you will reap the benefits. Over the past year, I have advanced from confirmed couch potato to dedicated mover. I do my physio therapy exercises in the hot tub as well as a whole series of stretches followed by a cardiac workout and cool down. This took time, patience and planning to achieve, but you can do it. I did. Just start moving! Whatever works for you. I worked closely with my primary health care provider and my physiotherapist. You will need to do the same too. Remember… baby steps… even a little movement is better than none. Start slowly and build gradually. If you can do it out in the fresh air, so much the better. You’ll sleep better, you’ll digest your food better, your blood will circulate better, you’ll get stronger and your stamina will improve. Don’t over do it! Work with a professional, such as your doctor. It has been a huge help to me.

5. Meditation, distraction and visualization… using the power of your mind to get relief from physical pain can come in many forms. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I do mediate. There are many scripts for visualizations and numerous tapes or CDs available both commercially and as free downloads off the internet. There are often classes offered locally to help you acquire these tools. Distraction is a simple and inexpensive way to provide relief for a short term. The one we are all familiar with is counting sheep when you can’t sleep! This can be extended to doing a wide variety of things while we complete chores that cause pain, like climbing a flight of stairs, doing the dishes or folding the laundry. Make lists in your mind, sing songs to yourself, count each step as you climb: they will distract your mind from your pain. Hobbies can also provide a distraction to help deal with pain for a period of time… collect stamps, write a journal, draw, play an instrument: whatever gives you pleasure. Try to turn negatives into positives. This may take practice, but it does work. Focus on the silver lining in every situation, even if there’s only a tiny sliver. Try to find it. Try to think positive thoughts. They will distract you and lighten your mood.

The ideas I have shared with you are all tools that I have learned to help me deal with chronic pain. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure each and every one of you could add more to my short list. Remember, I am not an expert of any kind. Consult with your primary heath care provider. They can help guide you as to what’s best for you. No two people are the same. Each of us is unique in our own special way. What works for one, may not work for another. I encourage you to use these ideas as a stepping stone. Let them trigger your own imagination. Let them guide you to find positive ways to manage your chronic pain. I wish you every success!

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