Chronic Pain: 5 ways to boost your traditional treatment

Chronic, ongoing pain can be debilitating and exhausting. But some simple lifestyle changes may help with your recovery.

Chronic pain

What is chronic pain?

We’ve all experienced pain of one sort or another – it’s an unpleasant sensation that can be described in various ways such as sharp, burning, aching or throbbing. It’s a pretty subjective experience though, one that can be very different from one person to the next – even when they seem to be suffering from identical illnesses or injuries.

Pain can be acute, coming on suddenly as a result of injury, and it is usually short-lived. If the pain continues to persist over a long period, it’s known as chronic pain – things like fibromyalgia, sciatica, tendinitis are all examples of chronic pain –  and this type of pain has a set of challenges all its own.

Your GP will likely offer you traditional treatments

You’ll probably consult your GP about the pain you experience, especially if it is severe, unexplained and/or going on longer than you expect. Depending on the cause of that pain (assuming they can establish the cause), they will probably suggest one, or a range of, traditional treatments known to help. These traditional treatments might include things like prescribed medications, surgery, ice/heat treatment, or physical therapies.  

Can other things help? …or make it worse?

Some things can make chronic pain seem worse: smoking, too much alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and depression. Interestingly some of these things (sleep problems, depression, and not taking enough exercise) can be a result of chronic pain, so they are really worth addressing to try to prevent these symptoms becoming a vicious cycle.

The ‘whole you’ is a concept often referred to as a holistic approach – an approach that considers the whole person: the body, mind, spirit, and emotions.

So, what can you do to help yourself? What can you do to compliment those treatments recommended by your doctor to hopefully make ‘the whole you’ feel a bit better?

Some people choose alternative and complementary therapies as a supplement to traditional Western medicine – things like acupuncture, herbal remedies, chiropractic and hypnosis. The evidence for these is mixed so worth exploring the type you are thinking about on reliable websites before jumping in. Everyone is different and it may take a while to find a combination of treatments that suit you. In the meantime though, there are some simple things you can do that might help.

Here are 5 simple things you can do to help yourself and boost your treatment: 

1. Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated: A well-balanced and healthy diet plus adequate hydration is important for everyone – it helps with the digestive process, reduces the risk of heart disease, keeps your weight under control, and improves blood sugar levels.

2. Get some natural endorphins from exercise: Endorphins are brain chemicals that help to improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain, and it can help keep your weight down. If your pain or existing injury prevents going to the gym, try yoga classes designed especially for those with injuries, or activities like swimming where your body weight is supported.

3. Reduce stress in your life: Stress makes chronic pain even worse and feeling depressed, anxious, stressed, or angry can actually make your body more sensitive to pain. If you can find ways to manage your stress, it could bring some welcome relief from your chronic pain. There are several techniques, like practicing yoga and mindfulness, that can help reduce stress and promote relaxation, plus listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood and make living with chronic pain that bit more bearable.

4. Learn deep breathing techniques or meditation to help you relax: Meditation can help you relax, which may ease pain. If the brain sends a message to relax, it helps tension and tightness flow from your muscles. There are lots of ways to meditate, but the soothing and calming power of repetition is at the heart of many techniques. Focus on your breath, ignore any thoughts that pop into your mind, and try repeating a word or phrase (a mantra). You can learn meditation on your own, take a class or check out our blog on mindfulness. Deep breathing is another relaxation technique you may want to try.

5. Cut back on alcohol and don’t smoke: Pain makes sleep difficult, and alcohol can make sleep problems worse. If you're living with chronic pain, drinking less or having no alcohol can improve your quality of life. Several surveys have reported an association between tobacco smoking and chronic pain, so it may be helpful not to smoke.

Some people smoke cannabis to ‘treat’ their chronic pain. While there are some great personal anecdotes suggesting this may be of help to some, like anything, different people require different treatments – there is no one size fits all. Though some early studies focusing on pain have found some benefits, others have found cannabis provides no pain relief. When looking at studies, it is important to note existing research in this area is early, and the studies not conclusive due to issues like not considering important confounding factors. In general, much more research needs to be conducted in the area for any kind of reliable results.

If you’d like to know more about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, including chronic pain, check out our medical cannabis page.

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