4 Simple Ways to Ease Chronic Pain
Posted: 10/31/2018 3:25 PM by
Contributed by Kathleen Doheny
Chronic pain affects about one in five Americans, and older adults are more likely than younger ones to suffer from it. Seniors are also more likely to have what experts call high-impact chronic pain, the kind that frequently limits life or work activities.
Aches and pains that keep you from exercising and getting good sleep can affect your overall health and lower your quality of life. So don’t try to tough it out. These are some of the approaches that can offer relief.
Talk with your doctor
If you’re hurting, avoid popping a lot of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) on your own, especially long-term. This can be dangerous. Instead, talk with your doctor about the best treatment strategy. There’s a wide variety of medications available that treat pain from various conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia and diabetes (which can cause nerve pain). Some of these meds aren’t even what you think of as painkillers. For example, certain antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines can be effective against pain. So can topical creams and gels available by prescription.
Most pain is treatable, so work with your doctor and a specialist if necessary to find a strategy that will keep yours under control.
Heat up or chill out
Fast relief of flares could be as easy as a warm bath or a frozen bag of vegetables. Heat works by helping muscles relax. It also boosts blood flow to the area, and that can promote healing. Try a heating pad for 15 to 20 minutes at a time (start with the lowest heat setting) or treat yourself to a warm bath.
Grab that bag of frozen vegetables or an ice pack to freeze out the pain. Cold applications can take the edge off pain by tightening blood vessels, which decreases swelling, and numbing nerve endings. Use cold for up to 20 minutes at a time and put a towel between the cold source and your skin so you don’t damage the tissues. Experiment to see which gives you more relief, heat or cold, or alternate between them.
Tap into the mind-body connection
The mind can play a huge role in cranking pain up — or down. Among the relaxation techniques used for pain relief are positive self-talk ("I'm in pain right now, but I can still do many things and enjoy my life, I just have to pace myself"); progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tense and then release one muscle group at a time; mindfulness meditation; and guided imagery. In one form of guided imagery, you learn to recreate in your mind the sights, sounds and smells of a happy place. Among its many applications, guided imagery has been shown to help people cope with pain after a total knee replacement.
Get up and move
It may be the last thing you want to hear, but research shows that regular physical activity can be very effective at easing pain. For example, both muscle-strengthening exercises and aerobic exercises such as walking or swimming can reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis. For back pain, exercises that strengthen the core muscles can help. Gentle forms of exercise such as yoga and tai chi have also been shown to work for easing certain types of pain. Talk to your doctor before starting any new kind of exercise.
Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based journalist who specializes in health, behavior and fitness reporting.