FAMILY HEALTH MAGAZINE - SPECIAL
CHRONIC PAIN SECTION
An Ounce of Prevention
Take action to avoid unnecessary pain
When it comes to chronic pain, an ounce of prevention goes a long way. Most of the time, acute (short-term) pain clears up with normal healing. However, sometimes it persists to become chronic pain. The big question is – can you avoid chronic pain? The answer is not a straight yes or no.
Remember not all pain is bad pain. Being able to experience pain is important, as it often warns that something is wrong. Pain gets our attention and motivates us to fix whatever might be causing it. Where possible, you want to prevent unnecessary pain and avoid having acute pain become chronic. Everyone is unique. Some of us suffer more pain than others, depending on our genetics, experiences, emotions, expectations, life circumstances and support.
Simply put, someone with a strong, healthy body is less likely to experience pain than a physically or emotionally unhealthy person. The following tips can help you make the most of your health.
- Get enough sleep to feel rested.
- Manage stress.
- Eat a balanced diet, spread over three to six meals or snacks per day.
- Ensure you get enough vitamin D and sunlight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Balance work with recreational activities.
Our lives are busy. We often deal with situations without thinking about the effect on our bodies, including pain. Reduce the chance of developing acute pain by staying aware. Try these strategies, which are good pain prevention methods.
- Know your physical limits. Avoid the temptation to overdo it – at home, at work and during recreation.
- Exert yourself a similar amount each day, no matter what day of the week it is. Do not be a weekend warrior.
- Take breaks during your day. Move away from effort, both physically and mentally.
- Change activities every 20 minutes.
- Take micro-breaks when you must be in one position for a time.
- Insert stretch breaks into activities.
- If a task is repetitive, physically demanding, or requires you to stay in the same position, break it into short time chunks.
- Use postures and positions that do not physically stress your body.
- Avoid twisting and awkward postures.
- Bring work close to your body.
- Keep your arms between shoulder and hip height.
- Set up your workstation to fit your body. This eases stress on joints and muscles.
- Use appropriate tools to lessen stress on your body.
Self-awareness is also key. Be aware of signs of fatigue or physical stress from your body in order to change activities before you experience pain. Avoid known high risk situations for triggers for pain, such as triggers for migraine headaches. Deal with negative emotions as they arise, rather than allowing them to grow into major stress or distress.
Keep chronic pain in check
Even if you do follow these suggestions, a health problem may still cause pain. If you are in pain, take steps to promote healing and prevent the pain from becoming a chronic problem.
- See a health care provider (medical doctor, physical therapist, or osteopathic doctor) for professional advice on how to heal. Discuss the frequency, intensity and length of pain flare-ups.
- Follow professional advice, even if it feels opposite to what you expect you should do. For instance, people with back injuries typically recover faster if they resume usual activities that do not dramatically increase pain. You may be advised to use ice or heat, or do gentle exercises.
- Pay attention to how the pain responds to changes. For instance, does resting, mood, approach to activities or position affect your pain? Does the pain ease off or get worse? If new symptoms arise or pain increases, talk to your health care provider.
- If you are taking medications for the condition or the pain, use them as directed.
- Focus your energy on things you can do to encourage healing. Eat well, keep moving, manage stress, and get enough sleep.
- As soon as you notice that pain increases, change activities. Do not push through the pain.
- Problem-solve to find other ways to get the job done without increasing pain. For instance, try sitting instead of standing.
- Set priorities. Pick the activities where you wish to devote your energy.
- Pace your activities. Think about how you can balance accomplishing what is important to you with how you feel. If you normally get all of your housework or shopping done in one day, try spreading it through the week. See how your body responds. Modifying your approach to activity, including work, will allow you to resume daily activities sooner.
- If you have to reduce or leave work because of pain, plan to return gradually. You may need to attend a return-to-work rehabilitation program. If so, many types of health care providers can assist you with this process.
- Identify thinking and beliefs that dwell on the negative or blow things out of proportion. Replace them with realistic and hopeful thoughts. For instance, remind yourself that most pain resolves within six weeks. Your expectations about recovery and fear of re-injury can help or hinder you.
- Distract yourself from worry by doing fun activities that do not cause pain.
- Communicate with important people in your life about your pain. Explain how they can help you to manage. You might ask for help with household tasks, or request that they do not constantly ask how you are feeling.
While not all pain can be avoided, a good deal of it is preventable. Most of the time, pain is our friend since it alerts us to injury or illness. Most pain resolves within a few days or weeks.
You can avoid unnecessary pain by making an effort to remain fit and healthy and steering clear of activities that may injure you. Be aware of catastrophic thinking and counter it with more realistic thoughts. Pace activities and have fun in your life. Focus on what you can do and what you can control, and communicate your needs. If pain does persist, be sure to get medical help and emotional support.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [GO_FHc11]