Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on December 20, 2020
It's a Catch-22: You're hurting, so you don't exercise; but without exercise, you may lose muscle tone and strength, making pain worse. Fortunately, even mild exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals that lift mood and block pain. Ask your doctor if aerobic, strengthening, or stretching exercises can give your body the boost -- and relief -- it needs.
It sounds so obvious, but few of us actually take the time to stop what we're doing and calm our minds. Stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and biofeedback relax your body, which helps ease pain. Talk to your doctor to learn more. In the meantime, slow down, close your eyes … breathe in … breathe out.
You need a good night's sleep to help soothe the stresses pain puts on your body. Although a drink can help you fall asleep, when alcohol breaks down in your body, it leads to shallow sleep, shortens important time in REM sleep, and may even wake you. The result: A less restful night.
Some people find temporary relief from stress and pain with a quick smoke. The irony is that smoking may actually add to your pain in the long run. It slows healing, worsens circulation, and raises your chance of degenerative disc problems, a cause of low back pain. Ask your doctor about programs and medicines to kick the habit.
You want to do everything you can to help your body, not hinder it. One way to keep your body strong is a nutritious diet. Eating right improves blood sugar, helps keep your weight in a healthy range, lowers the odds of heart disease, and aids digestion. Aim for a diet rich in fresh produce, low-fat proteins, and whole grains.
Help your doctor help you. At the end of each day, record a "pain score" between 1 and 10. Then note what you did that day and how these activities made you feel. Bring the journal to your next appointment. It may give your doctor insights so they can understand your pain better and treat you more effectively.
Give Yourself Down Time
Don't push too hard. Set limits. That may mean saying "no" to events like parties when you need the rest. It may be booking regular massages. Or making an unbreakable dinner date with good friends to boost your spirits. How you care for you is unique to you -- and it's also up to you.
One potent prescription for relief is to keep busy with activities that take your mind off the pain, instead of focusing on it. Take that cooking class you've had your eye on, join a garden club, try yoga. Even if you can't control the pain, you can control the rest of your life. Get started!
Know Your Medicines
You should understand the medicines you're taking, what they can do for you, and their side effects. Your goal is to have a normal mood and activity level. If you don't, then a different medicine might be better for you. What are your options? Be proactive, ask questions, and look for answers.
Ask for Help
Reaching out is a great habit for you to develop. It's OK to tell friends and family what you're feeling and what you need, because they won't know otherwise. Learn more about your condition, and share what you find out with the people in your life. You're not alone -- as many as one in every three people is dealing with chronic pain.
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American Chronic Pain Association.
Medscape Medical News.
National Pain Foundation.