If you suffer from chronic pain, there’s no single method to relieve it. Instead, it’s best to combine multiple tactics as part of a comprehensive chronic pain management plan. Here are eight lifestyle changes you can embrace to relieve pain. Try using them in combination for pain relief. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also help fight lower life expectancy that is associated with chronic pain.
Improve Your Diet
Eating more cleanly will help your overall health and reduce inflammation in the body that causes or exacerbates pain. What is clean eating? It’s simply consuming food in its most natural state, closest to its origins. For example, instead of eating foods made with refined flour (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.), eat whole grain products. Rather than drinking juice, have an orange or an apple.
One tip you can use when grocery shopping for clean eating is to try to buy most of your products from around the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find perishable foods like eggs, fish, and fresh produce. The less you eat from a bag, box, or can, the better. Try making things like soup or spaghetti sauce from scratch.
Get rid of sugar as much as possible. Sugar is one of the most inflammatory things you can eat. Not only will your joints and muscles appreciate the change, but your skin, digestion, and cardiovascular system will also function better. Avoid artificial sweeteners in lieu of stevia. In recipes, try using naturally sweet elements, like fruits.
The great thing about clean eating is it’s adaptable to whatever kind of diet you eat. You can be a vegan, a pescatarian, or an omnivore and still eat clean. When you start eating clean, you can also typically increase the volume of food you’re eating because you’re eating things like leafy greens and lean proteins. It might surprise you to know that low-calorie diets can contribute to low back pain. When you don’t get enough nutrients, it doesn’t matter if you’re only consuming a small number of calories. Your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs, and pain can be a symptom.
Everyone’s hydration needs are different, so you have to figure out how much water you need to stay fully hydrated. You don’t want to become dehydrated because this saps the natural lubricants in your joints and deprives cells of the fluid they need for optimum function.
Follow these tips to improve your water consumption:
- Keep a refillable water bottle with you, so you have access to water no matter where you go.
- Set an alarm on your phone if you tend to forget to drink water.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to consume water – stay ahead of the game.
- Watch out for alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, which are dehydrating.
- Look at the color of your urine; it should be a pale yellow, like straw. Anything darker means you’re probably dehydrated.
Lose Excess Weight
Every step you take puts pressure on your lower extremities. If you are overweight, you are adding even more impact to your movement. That can take a toll on your back, hips, legs, and feet.
Losing weight can make a huge difference in how you feel on a day-to-day basis. And the more weight you lose, the easier it becomes to exercise, which also helps with pain management (see “Reduce Stress” below).
If you’re already exercising a lot, but those pounds won’t budge, it may help to consult with a nutritional specialist, like a registered dietician. Also, check with your primary care provider to make sure you don’t have any medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, that could be slowing down your metabolism.
Chronic stress can lead to or provoke mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that actually cause physical pain. When the chemicals in your brain are out of balance, you can experience body aches and fatigue that make other pain worse.
If you’re already dealing with chronic pain, psychologically caused pain can further isolate you and cause feelings of hopelessness. But managing stress can help reverse that. Some ways to reduce stress include:
- Get plenty of exercise without overdoing it.
- Spend time in nature, around pets, or with friends and family you enjoy seeing.
- Join a support group or find a counselor to talk through issues bothering you.
- Get long-term problems under control (money management, career objectives, etc.)
- Take up a relaxing hobby, like painting, music, or cooking.
- Try traditional Eastern therapies, such as tai chi, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or massage.
- Learn to say “no” to too much, both at work and at home.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going to avoid classic stressors like rush hour traffic jams.
- Avoid substance abuse, which seems like an escape but actually makes stress worse.
If you thought eating sugar was bad, smoking is a million times more harmful to the body. Quitting smoking will affect virtually every body system in a positive way. You’ll get better blood flow throughout the body, which helps with the circulation of both natural pain relievers and any medications you take. You’ll be able to exercise more and enjoy the foods you eat.
Work on Sleep Hygiene
All the healthy eating and exercise in the world won’t help you if you aren’t sleeping well at night. Sleep hygiene is the medical term for creating an environment that’s conducive to restful slumber, so you wake up refreshed in the morning. Follow these suggestions to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, giving yourself enough time for the sleep you need, whether that’s six hours or nine hours.
- Don’t bring stress into the bedroom, such as doing work in bed.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that you practice every evening, like taking a warm bath and having a cup of herbal tea.
- Get rid of screens about an hour before you intend to go to sleep, or use screen shaders or blue-blocking glasses if you must use an electronic device.
- Make sure your room isn’t too hot or too cold (slightly cool is good for inducing sleep and has other benefits too). Use layers of blankets to get the comfort you need throughout the night. Wear comfortable pajamas of natural fabrics that breathe well.
- Keep kids and pets in their own spaces as much as possible.
- Try using white noise if silence or ambient sounds are disturbing your sleep.
If you try all these tips and feel tired when you arise, you could have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if this is a possibility.
Be Conscious of Your Posture
Your posture when you sit, stand, or move can have a huge influence on your chronic pain. You could be putting stress on your spine and joints by not positioning yourself correctly. Make sure you sit and stand up straight and use proper support and ergonomics, whether you’re at your desk at work or reading in bed.
Use footwear with good arch support, and avoid high heels and shoes with pointed toes. Engage your abdominal muscles for extra help when exercising or lifting objects. If you’re not sure how to do this, a personal trainer or physical therapist can show you how.
See a Qualified Pain Specialist
Chronic pain management can be challenging without a pain specialist to help you. You may not even know what’s causing your pain or where to start with treatment. That’s where Carolinas Pain Center can assist you.
We are a group of providers who are pain specialists in North Carolina. We can help you get relief and learn how to manage pain so you don’t feel overwhelmed by it and can get back to loving life. You don’t have to accept the chronic pain you’re experiencing now when there are many options available to you. Start with the tips above, and reach out to Carolinas Pain Center today to learn how you can do more.