Chronic pain can be debilitating and can be hard to treat. Chronic pain can slowly and insidiously sneak up on you. Chronic pain can slowly work its’ way into your system and stick around for months if not years.
Chronic pain can get wired into your system. The muscles establish neurological pathways that perpetuate muscle spasm and pain. Once established, it can be very hard to get the muscles out of these neurological patterns and pathways. This can be why chronic pain can long outlast the initial traumatic event that originally caused the pain in the first place. That is part of the reason why chronic pain can be very hard to treat. Not to mention that the cause of chronic pain is usually multi-factorial, meaning that there is usually more than one cause of the pain.
Usually there is a traumatic event that happened many years ago that affected the chronically painful area. Maybe, let’s call her Beth, was a cheerleader in high school and injured her right shoulder when she fell because her partner missed her when she was thrown into the air.
Then usually there are some irritating motions that are repeated over and over again. Beth has spent the last 10 years working in front of a computer. Working in front of a computer all day puts stress on her shoulders and will slowly cause them to tighten up and become irritated. This consistent irritation to a structurally compromised area from a previous injury to the same area causes that joint to become more and more irritated over time until it falls into a pattern of spasm and inflammation that is driven neurologically.
When Beth suffered the original shoulder injury while cheerleading, her muscles were sprained and torn on a microscopic level. This tearing causes the muscles to establish neurological pathways between the muscle and the spinal cord. This pathway, called a reflex arch, can perpetuate the muscle spasm and pain and inflammation for months if not years. This is how pain becomes wired into your system.
If you have chronic pain, there are many ways to reduce the pain and decrease the effects it has on your life. But it takes some work.
Exercise is one of the best treatments for chronic pain-but you have to exercise in the right way. If you have chronic low back, hip, knee, ankle or foot pain, doing high impact exercising like running or aerobics will only cause the injury to progress and worsen. But if you can do low impact exercises that promote balance and core strengthening (like yoga, pilates, ti chi, water aerobics), then you can actually stabilize a chronic area and reduce the overall pain and increase the use of that chronically painful area.
Sleep can positively or negatively affect your overall pain. The more you sleep, the better the pain will be because it will give the body time to heal. But if you don’t get enough sleep, it will contribute to the body’s overall inflammation and will increase your pain. This doesn’t mean to sleep all day and night. You want to get a good night’s sleep, but not prolonged bed rest.
Prolonged bed rest will only make things worse overall. It will cause stiff and irritated joints to get stiffer and more painful. Even a few days of bed rest will cause muscle atrophy. And chances are that if you suffer from chronic pain, you already have some muscle atrophy from trying to avoid using affected area.
It is much harder to gain muscle than it is to lose it. You will lose muscle much faster than you will gain it. Especially as you age. As you age you lose muscle mass. If you haven’t been exercising then you will lose it even faster. Exercise will maintain muscle mass. That is why it is so important to keep moving and keep exercising, even if it hurts. You don’t want to flair things up, but you have to keep moving. If certain exercises hurt, then try alternatives that are more comfortable and will not flair up a chronically painful area.
Diet will also affect chronic pain. Eating highly processed foods will produce free radicals in your body. These free radicals will cause and increase low grade inflammation throughout the body. This chronic, low grade inflammation will aggravate any inflammatory issue in your body from type 2 diabetes to heart disease to high blood pressure to arthritic joints and chronically painful joints. If you can eat fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal and decrease the amount of fast foods, processed foods, red meats and other bad for you foods, then you will decrease the low grade inflammation and feel a little better. And a lot of little differences will build up to create a big difference.
Supplements, especially multi-vitamins, will also decrease inflammation throughout the body. Multi-vitamins are full of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants will get rid of free radicals and therefore decrease the inflammation throughout your body.
There are many factors that will affect chronic pain. More than likely your chronic pain was caused by more than just one factor. Just as there will not be one magic bullet that will get rid of your chronic pain. Many little differences will build up to decrease your chronic pain. It is important to realize that more than likely you will not cure your chronic pain, you will only manage it. But by managing it, you can keep that chronic pain under control and prevent it from flairing up. You might never be pain free, but pain that is mild is much easier to deal with than pain that is severe and debilitating. Managing and treating chronic pain through exercise and eating right and lifestyle changes is easy and is the Pain Free Way.
I have attached a slide show that talks about different strategies for dealing with and managing chronic pain.