We’ve all experienced a degree of pain before, think about the last time you had a pesky toothache, stubbed your toe or sprained your ankle. These cases are considered acute pain as they are usually short-lived with the symptoms subsiding after the healing process is completed. Chronic pain, however, is a far more complex sensory and emotional experience that lasts far beyond that 3 month period. In chronic pain, the network of nerves in the brain and spinal cord become more sensitive and in effect are stuck in pain-mode. Recent studies show that globally 1.5 billion individuals suffer from chronic pain and within Australia, one in five people are living with chronic pain. It’s no surprise to learn that it is Australia’s third most costly health condition after cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal conditions, which also have strong connections to chronic pain.
Here are a few tips for taking a holistic approach to chronic pain management:
1. Understanding pain
It’s important that each individual understands the changes that have happened in their brain and nervous system which has lead to their chronic pain. Not only are there internal factors linked to pain but also external factors including stress, finances, family, social interactions and emotions. Learning to change your perceptions of pain plays a key role in improving mood, feelings of self worth and motivation.
2. Meditation or deep breathing techniques
Relaxation techniques have been shown to help people release tension from muscles and relieve pain levels. Relaxation involves concentration and slow, deep breathing to try and focus attention away from pain which can also be considered a distraction technique.
3. Support networks
Chronic pain can have an isolating effect on individuals, changing their perceived roles in society and reducing their quality of life. It’s important that family and friends learn about the cycle of chronic pain to provide their loved ones with appropriate support. It may also be beneficial to join a community group or online forum to share stories with other chronic pain sufferers. Talking to people who understand the daily struggles of chronic pain can help you feel less isolated and you may benefit from their wisdom in coping with pain.
4. Movement and exercise
Chronic pain sufferers often avoid activity as they believe it will make their pain worse, however research shows that exercise can help to reverse the deconditioning cycle and improve function. It is normal to still experience some pain when commencing an exercise program so try to focus on improving your daily function instead. This can be done by choosing gentle, low intensity exercises including activities such as walking, water-based activity, light weights, Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi. Applying a pacing principle to the program ensures that people are not going to overdo it and cause a flare-up. Pacing refers to gradually increasing your tolerance to exercise, remembering it is more important to do small amounts of exercise regularly rather than inconsistently attempting heavy exercise. It will take time to build the foundations first before increasing the volume and intensity of exercise so try not to lose sight of your long term goals in the process.
Coping with chronic pain is a process of trial and error to find the best approach for adequately managing pain and improving quality of life. At Active Physiotherapy, we work closely with GP clinics, Psychologists and pain management specialists to ensure we are addressing the multifaceted nature of chronic pain. Together, we are committed to helping patients develop a range of tools to use as part of a self-management strategy. Contact us to learn more on 0269257734.