Bodily pain that lasts more than 12 weeks is defined as chronic pain. This differs from recurring pain, wherein an individual suffers shorter bouts of pain on a consistent basis. Both chronic pain and recurring pain can be life-altering and have an adverse effect on mood, happiness, and general quality of life. While diagnosing and treating the underlying condition is a good step toward reducing pain, other pain management techniques may offer relief. From exercise to biofeedback, people should know there are options for managing their pain.
Cold and heat
Heat therapy and cold therapy are two of the best simple and inexpensive pain management options. Heat therapy involves applying heat to the affected area; this improves circulation and blood flow. Depending on the condition, dry heat, such as heating pads, or moist heat, such as a steamed towel, may prove more beneficial. Conversely, cold therapy reduces inflammation and swelling by reducing blood flow to the target area.
Yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice that combines mindfulness with breathing exercises and gentle motions. Gently raising the heart rate can release endorphins that help moderate pain, as does the increase in oxygen, which also enhances mood. Physically, stretching helps reduce pain held in the muscles and joints.
Gentle exercise such as taking a brisk walk, going for a swim, or riding a bicycle can ease the pain. Exercising releases endorphins that elevate mood and block pain on a molecular level. These practices also strengthen the muscles, which reduces pain and prevents re-injury in the long run.
Meditation is a mindfulness activity that requires the individual to calm and center him or herself through deep breathing and focus. The practice can elevate mood, increase energy, and help ground oneself. Studies also show that meditation and deep breathing have a positive effect on pain. Meditation releases unconscious tension and tightness which are common sources of pain.
Regular sessions with a licensed physical therapist can greatly reduce pain. Physical therapists will aim to treat the pain as well as the underlying source. Physical therapy sessions consist of light aerobic exercise, stretching, and strength training. Therapists may also utilize tools such as heating pads, ice packs, and massage.
While many people think of a massage as part of a trip to the spa, therapeutic massage can be a useful tool for pain management in addition to relaxation. Massage releases mental stress and eases muscle tension. Although massage typically targets neck and back pain, evidence suggests it is beneficial to all types of pain, and therapists are often well-versed in treating the whole body.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Pain often makes falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. A lack of sleep can contribute to pain, creating a vicious cycle. While alcohol is a depressant and may help you fall asleep faster, it does nothing to improve the quality of your sleep, and you’ll often feel exhausted the next day; this is because alcohol blocks the deep, restorative REM sleep we need. Smoking worsens circulation, which can contribute to chronic or recurring pain.
Different from physical therapy, occupational therapy involves learning and applying daily behaviors that will not aggravate chronic pain. For example, if a person suffers from neck pain that makes it difficult to sit in front of a computer all day, an occupational therapist can suggest modifications and exercises improve the situation. Occupational therapy is often used in conjunction with physical therapy to get the best results.
Acupuncture is the ancient practice of stimulating pressure points on the body to achieve specific results. While scientific inquiry into the health benefits of acupuncture is ongoing, much of the evidence suggests acupuncture is an efficient way to treat pain. Acupuncture works by activating the body’s self-healing mechanisms and can be useful in treating lower back pain, neck pain, knee pain, and osteoarthritis. It may also help with chronic migraines.
Biofeedback is a therapy that helps control the body’s involuntary responses to pain. Electrodes take various readings such as heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature. The biofeedback therapist then takes the patient through relaxation exercises that help regulate these functions and ultimately positively affect pain.