Managing With Chronic Pain
'A Real Guide To The Practical Side Of Managing With Chronic Pain'
By Definition –
Chronic pain can perhaps best be defined as “pain that persists past normal healing time” (Treede et al). This is typically considered as pain that lasts more than 3 months, although with certain conditions (such as non-specific back pain), this could be considered as shorter.
Managing with chronic pain is no laughing matter. Our brains are conditioned to cope with acute pain as a danger signal. For chronic pain, managing with the day to day tasks can be hell. There are ways/ tools to help, but do you know all your options? Have you tried them all?
Managing With Chronic Pain
Fundamentally there are 3 elements to managing with chronic pain – how to treat your pain, items that will make your life more comfortable and mindset.
When discussing chronic pain there is naturally a focus around the physical implications of that pain, both for your social well being and your physical capabilities. However, what is often ignored is the unique mental challenge that comes with having to cope with long-term, chronic pain.
Learning to accept your reality is almost more important to making the most of your life, then just having a good physical coping strategy.
We wrote in a previous article 25 chronic pain management tips about potential treatments for chronic pain. In this article we look at what it really means to suffer with chronic pain, how you can reduce its influence on your life as much as possible and what you need, in practical terms, to do this.
Chronic pain could begin in numerous ways – it could be the bone crunching agony that comes with numerous forms of arthritis or the debilitating anomaly that is fibromyalgia. It could even simply start as a slight twinge in your back that slowly keeps growing, until eventually it starts to dictate what you can and can’t do.
Wherever it comes from, one thing is for sure – once it starts it will change your life.
To make the most of your life, you will find you’ll have to find a way to cope with both the mental and the physical challenges that it will throw at you.
The Right Mental Approach + Effective Treatments + The Right Supportive Tools = Successful Chronic Pain Management.
The Psychological Side Of Managing With Chronic Pain.
In today’s world, everybody has a huge number of real and perceived responsibilities. Whether it be going to work to pay the bills, organising a family or just turning up for a local club/ society.
Living with chronic pain can make all of these daily tasks a much darker, lonely prospect altogether. Imagine barely being able to lift yourself out of bed in the morning, yet knowing that you’ve got a 10 hour shift at the local supermarket to do.
Or that you need to do 3 loads of washing before tomorrow, when they’ll be needed – but you can barely raise yourself out of the armchair and can feel an even more intense flare-up of symptoms coming on.
If you already suffer with chronic pain, none of this will be any surprise to you whatsoever – when seemingly mundane tasks become a very stressful brick wall between you and your goals.
It is very likely (and completely natural) that you will feel the world is completely against you – even when it isn’t, because of the uphill battle you are fighting internally.
For many chronic pain sufferers, just making it through the day can seem an almost impossible task.
This is the black hole that chronic pain lands so many people in.
But how do you fight back? How do you drag yourself, despite all the extra brick walls you face, to a position of success and a feeling that you can do this – one that starts to help you out of the black hole.
Well, I would recommend any one of a number of key strategies. The end goal, from a psychological perspective, is to find a way of achieving peace with your ‘condition’ and moving forward. I have referred to this in other articles as ‘acceptance and commitment therapy’
To achieve this, I would recommend trying any of the following –
I am aware that a lot of people’s views on meditation are often mixed. However, I’ve just completed a new study into it myself and the percentage of positive testimonials against those that doubt it’s impact (as well as some scientific research) is very heartening.
There are certainly a growing number of individuals for whom, meditation has proved a lifeline back to reality from the dark hole of chronic pain.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of meditation is that effect of relaxation on your mind and body. Not only does relaxation help to dispel much of the inevitable anxiety that chronic pain builds, but it also helps your muscles to finally release some tension.
This is infinitely a good idea and leads directly to less pain in future.
In it’s simplest form, meditation is as straight forward as concentrating quietly on your breathing patterns. One of the nice elements to meditation (other than it’s lack of side effects and seemingly good success rate), is that it can be learnt at home with a minimum of fuss.
You might not be able to pick it up straight away, but with a little practice you’ll soon be feeling the benefits.
There are a number of different types of meditation including healing meditations, walking meditations and even meditative yoga. I have covered meditation for pain relief in much more detail in an article to be released soon…. (sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it)
Sometimes I think we have so much time obsessing about the risk of skin cancer, that humanity has forgotten that sunshine is one of the greatest healers of all. And while the vitamin D may make you feel physically brighter, going out and sitting in the grass on a warm day has many unmeasurable benefits for your mindset too.
It is not without logical reason, that cases of suicide always increase in the winter. Enjoy the sun when it comes – it’s free, it’s warm and, providing you don’t take unnecessary risks, it is perfectly safe for you.
3) Finding A Passion.
When it comes to managing with chronic pain, having a passion or a reason to get up in the morning is absolutely key to maintaining focus on moving beyond your initial limitations.
This doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous (although exercise is generally considered very good for pain) – something as small as a local book club (if reading is your passion) or a chess club for the more strategically-minded. There are literally loads of small societies if you look for them.
The key is to recognise your passion and then do anything you can to keep that in your life. It is well accepted that people who follow their passions have more direction and overall, live much happier lives.
This is super important when managing with chronic pain, since it is this lack of purpose/ direction that can so often lead to depression and a heightened perception of your pain and the life-changing impact it has had.
When I started writing for the ‘HelpRelievePain’ brand, this was an area that I was already involved in researching further.
The clinical results were quite startling in terms of it’s impact and effectiveness for pain relief, not only making a considerable difference in long-term pain management, but even for acute pain in a hospital setting. I must confess my mind was changed after speaking to people who had tried it and digging in to the detail around it’s clinical performance.
Self hypnosis is fundamentally about altering the way your brain considers pain and it’s consequences. We know that altering your minds’ perception of pain can have a significant impact on how much pain you actually feel.
For this reason, there are a whole range of techniques that can be applied to try and achieve, but self hypnosis is one that has particularly strong evidence-based reasoning behind it.
Hypnosis can be done by yourself at home because it is as simple as putting your mind in to a clear, trance-like state, no different to when you are doing something and suddenly realise an hour has passed.
During this time, your mind was on ‘auto-pilot’ and you barely considered your actions. This would be considered the same trance-like state that is required for self hypnosis – so it really isn’t that difficult and with practice, you’ll soon be able to hop in and out at will.
Once in your trance-like state, there are a variety of techniques that can alter your mindset permanently.
I won’t go in to too much detail here. I would recommend reading www.helprelievepain.com/self-hypnosis etc if you interested in taking this option further.
Managing With Chronic Pain – Supportive Tools.
As well as mastering the mental challenge of coping with chronic pain, there are a number of modifications to your life and the way you live it that can really help with the physical side as well.
In my article, ’25 tips for chronic pain management’ I wrote a lot about the importance of self-managing your pain.
This means keeping a diary, planning the number of your activities going forward so you don’t get too tired, prioritising your time so that special moments with loved ones are not missed due to exhaustion from earlier projects and making sure you have sufficient rest breaks to recover.
I also went through the importance of getting a good nights’ sleep (full of restorative sleep, not just shut eyes), of alleviating all potential forms of stress and a host of other basic tips for managing better.
Using A Self-Care Box
At the end I explained the need to keep a ‘self-care’ box close at hand containing essential items that you might need in the event of a flare up of your symptoms.
This included items such as a mobile phone in case you need to phone for help, a small bottle of water to keep you hydrated if the pain is too bad to move and other bits to help in an emergency.
I don’t want to repeat all my tips for managing with chronic pain, as you can read those separately, but I received a number of comments about what a good idea the self-help box was.
What seemed to resonate was a need not just for generic ‘try to take your mind off the pain’ suggestions as so many clinician and other websites offer, but a practical list of items explaining how to distract yourself. This might be ‘get some good movies saved/ a good book to hand so that when your pain gets worse you can sit down and try to take your mind off it by watching your favourite film’
As a result, I decided to pull together another list of items, that might help you in practical terms to manage better with the physical side of your chronic pain –
A Crock Pot
For easy cooking, you really can’t beat throwing a few ingredients loosely into a pot and leaving it on a low heat all day to create a lovely, soft slow-cooked fusion of taste when you get home from a hard day.
This is particularly true if you suffer with any form of chronic pain, because you really don’t know if you’ll even be able to cook by the end of the day, and eating properly is essential to maintaining your strength and resilience.
For curling up on the sofa with, when you just don’t feel like doing anything.
Heating Pad/ Ice Pack
When pain strikes you need something that is almost instant. Often, painkilling medications can take a while to fully dissolve in to your bloodstream and start working, so a hot pad across the area that hurts the most can bring the fastest relief possible.
An Electric Blanket
Nothing like it for cold winter evenings when your pain is extreme and your joints are creaking – just switch it on and slip in to mild pain relief.
Cell/ Smart Phone.
This is vital from the perspective that you should never feel completely isolated, even if you live alone. You are only ever a text or a social forum away from a like-minded individual or friend who can provide vital support when you need it most.
Mobile phones are also essential should your symptoms suddenly change/ worsen and you need to call for help – either from a friend/ family member or from the emergency services.
This might not help everyone, but a lot of people find a neck pillow really helps when sitting in the lounge and sometimes in bed. This is of course more likely to be effective if you suffer with head or neck pain as part of your condition, but being more comfortable in any sense can help with most pain.
Favourite Movies/ Books.
If you suffer with chronic pain, then finding something to take your mind off it as much as possible is key. Rather than frantically flicking through channel after channel of rubbish when you’re in pain, just make sure you keep a few really good films downloaded so you can watch them when you really don’t feel like doing anything else.
The same is also true if you enjoy reading – having a good book to hand is a great way of trying to take your mind off the pain during a flare up.
Sometimes eating healthily just doesn’t cut it. If you are having a ‘bad pain day’, then even the smallest luxury of sitting down to eat your favourite food can provide vital comfort.
Comfortable Lightweight Clothes
As anyone with severe fibromyalgia will know, even your choice of clothes can have an impact on your pain levels. Wearing heavy clothes such as jeans, can over the course of a few hours make your pain levels substantially higher.
These could be something your doctor has prescribed to be taken as and when your pain gets worse, or an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, that you’ve purchased from your local pharmacy.
These aren’t always the fastest relief available as they can take varying amounts of time to reach your bloodstream. Sometimes the key is to recognise the worsening of your symptoms early or take them just before a time that you know your symptoms will flare.
My father in law for example, knows that the day after having his grandchildren around, he is likely to be suffering a bit more than normal, so take his emergency meds on waking up stiff the next day.
An Adjustable Bed Base.
In our video on ‘how to sleep better with back pain’ I touched on the fact that lying down flat was never really the best option with back pain. Well, this is also applicable to other forms of back pain as well.
Frequently, lying in a reclined position is a much more comfortable option. It is one of the main reasons (as well as feeding etc), that all hospital beds move electronically from flat to heavily reclined with many options in between.
If you are suffering with chronic pain from any number of conditions that are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, then you also find real benefit from buying an electronically reclining bed for use at home.
Over Bed Table With Wheels
Again this is another device originally developed for use in hospitals that has now made its way in to commercial development and with good reason. On the days when your symptoms flare and you really cant make it beyond the bed for most of the day, these tables will help you to eat, sleep and keep your mind agile by holding books/ phones etc.
A simple device, these can be both a normal bedside table at one point and then roll across your bed with ease allowing you some degree of comfort without having to stretch across to a stationary table every time you want something.
Portable Smart Table.
Similar to the over bed table, it is essential if your body is really hurting to keep in contact with the outside and to keep your mind agile. A smart table with an in-built DAB radio and a wi-fi point could be a lifesaver.
Especially when it comes to breaking out of the black hole that can be chronic pain and for trying to at least partially take your mind off the pain.
Electronic Reclining Chair.
Another simple tool, but just having the comfort of electronic reclining in your living can be an absolute gift. Manual recliners can be difficult to recline and require considerable amounts of leg strength to close down again.
An electronic recliner can feel like luxury and is essential if you managing with chronic pain.
These are meant to make holding utensils (knives and forks) and other potentially painful actions such as opening jars or cupboards, much easier.
They were originally thought of as a great helping aid for people suffering with arthritis in the fingers/ hands. The large rubber grips reduce the pressure on your fingers as your palms can do much of the twisting and make gripping handles a lot, lot easier.
However, anybody suffering chronic pain in the hands/ fingers or wrist whether it be from arthritis, gout (technically a form of arthritis anyway) or fibromyalgia among other conditions could all benefit from using rubber grips.
‘SmartBlinds’ Automation Kit.
Again another device that will make managing with chronic pain that little bit easier. These kits (other brands are available) fit to your current blinds, meaning you and can open and close them without having to get up at all.
If your house is anything like mine, opening and closing all the curtains frequently involves hanging over sofas/ chairs to reach cords.
With automated blind closers (or similar for certain types of curtain), opening and closing them is as easy as a touch of a button.
The Final Word –
Managing Chronic Pain is best done with a 3-pronged approach.
First tackle the mental side – learning to accept your new situation and focusing your mind away from the pain and on to making the most of life.
Secondly, try a range of different treatments – from better planning to regular exercise (yes – exercise! As appropriate), it will all make a difference. Combined with well-sourced rescue medication for the really bad days and you should start to get a ‘feel’ for what works best for you.
Finally, use a range of ‘supportive’ devices such as automatic blind closers or electronic reclining beds to achieve that extra bit of comfort.
With all 3 strategies firmly in place, you should finally look forward to managing your chronic pain with confidence – and most importantly success!
Frequently Asked Questions
While it is true that opioids may help you to control your pain in the short term, there are many dangers with long-term use.
Traditionally, they were only prescribed for short-term use or where the patients condition was terminal.
New ‘controlled-release’ formulations of popular opioids have reduced the risks a bit, but it is still not advisable for long term needs. We have looked in more depth at this question here ‘Severe Pain Medication’
It is impossible to answer what is the best medication for chronic pain, because there are so many variables. Where is your pain? What condition do you have? What is the treatment plan? How old are you? What is the long-term prognosis? What other conditions do you have? What other drugs are you on?
I could go on and on. Any website that says ‘take xyz’ is highly irresponsible.
For example, several of the biggest sites recommend Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) as a 1st line treatment. Great for a short-term headache, not necessarily for long-term use though as the wrong environment could well trigger a fatal stroke in some people.
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