Pain is your body’s way of alerting you when something is wrong, which keeps you safe. Pain tells you to stop what you’re doing, to take it easy, or to seek treatment. But what about pain that lingers for weeks, months, or even years? When pain lasts for extended periods of time and disrupts normal life, it is no longer helpful or beneficial; it’s chronic pain, and it affects about 100 million Americans.

What It Is

Pain that lasts beyond 12 weeks is considered chronic pain. The experience of the pain varies by person. It can feel sharp or dull, burning or aching, steady or intermittent. It can occur in nearly any part of the body, and the sensations of pain can even feel differently in each affected area. Chronic pain can limit mobility and reduce flexibility, strength, and endurance. Living with chronic pain can make daily tasks and activities a challenge.

Although chronic pain often occurs when nerve signals malfunction after an injury, it can appear without any apparent cause. Even though you cannot cure chronic pain, treatment can minimize pain so that life is enjoyable and manageable. Treatments typically use a holistic approach that combines medical interventions and lifestyle modifications.

Medical Interventions

Medical procedures may provide relief from chronic pain. Electrical stimulation is one method that reduces pain by sending mild electric shocks into muscles. Another method involves nerve blocking, where an injection prevents nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. Although typically used as a last resort, surgery may fix injuries that healed improperly and are causing pain.

Over-the-counter medications for chronic pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and aspirin. Some doctors may also prescribe opioid pain relievers, including morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone. Additionally, chronic pain sufferers may be prescribed antidepressants and anticonvulsants. While opioid pain relievers can alleviate pain, they are not long-term solutions, and they can create a physical dependency, even if you use them correctly. Finding holistic therapies to supplement and eventually replace opioids is a crucial part of chronic pain management.

Lifestyle Modifications

Many lifestyle remedies can help to ease chronic pain. While you may have heard of yoga and meditation, tai chi is another lesser-known option. The benefits of tai chi and yoga are similar – both help reduce stress and anxiety while increasing flexibility and balance. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that was originally used as self-defense, and it’s now a graceful form of exercise. It’s often described as meditation in motion.

Other remedies include physical therapy, art and music therapy, psychotherapy, massage, aromatherapy, and acupuncture. Getting outside for 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure each day helps your body produce vitamin D. Researchers have found that low levels of vitamin D may contribute to or worsen chronic pain, especially in osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

Don’t Forget the Mental Health

Keeping a chronic pain journal can help locate the source of your chronic pain and pinpoint therapies that will better help you manage the pain. Through your detailed notes, you and your doctors can determine what makes your pain better or worse, important changes in your condition, how well treatments are working, and any side effects.

Physical pain is related to emotional pain, and as such, chronic pain can increase your stress levels. This creates a vicious cycle, as stress levels can also increase chronic pain. To reduce stress, take good care of your body. Ensure you’re eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly.

To further boost your mood, improve emotional health, and decrease stress, participate in activities you enjoy and socialize with family and friends. While chronic pain can make performing certain tasks a challenge, isolating yourself can give you a more negative outlook on your condition and increase your pain.

 

Seek support from friends, family, and support groups.

There isn’t a cure for chronic pain, but the pain can be successfully managed so that life is enjoyable and daily tasks are manageable. Don’t become a victim of your pain. Come up with a holistic plan to manage your pain so that you can get back to doing the things you love.

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