Introduction to chronic pain

It is estimated that between 12%-20% of the population suffer from chronic pain, which is defined as consistent pain lasting 3 months or more. This can be debilitating for sufferers, with many people feeling constant pain over many months or even years

Chronic pain can be split into two categories:

Chronic Secondary Pain is caused by an underlying condition such as arthritis or endometriosis whereas Chronic Primary Pain is when the cause is unknown. With painkillers often not working, patients can be left feeling lost and in search of alternative pain relief methods. Pain can also be very personal with its levels unable to be felt by others, often making it a very isolating experience for most sufferers.

The effects of painkillers

Many people suffering with chronic pain will use some level of painkillers. However, painkillers may not always be the best way to treat a complex issue like chronic pain as the root of the problem is not always clear and diagnosis will be broad and hard to treat. Many people can also grow dependent on strong painkillers, with little difference made to the actual level of the pain – studies show that painkillers do more harm than good in this scenario, and lifestyle and mindset changes can be key in decreasing reliance on strong pain killers.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, you may feel concerned about eradicating or even reducing the amount of pain relief that you take, worrying that the pain will inevitably increase or get worse. However, as painkillers are not proven to work on consistent pain, alternative methods are proven to be the best way to manage it over time and will also decrease a lot of the common negative side effects associated with long term pain killer use.

Self-management

As daunting as it may seem at first, self-management has been shown to greatly improve the wellbeing and quality of life of someone suffering with chronic pain. Over time, the effects of slowly and steadily becoming more active and implementing new lifestyle and mindset changes has been instrumental in living with chronic pain. One of the first steps is acceptance of the pain as a part of your life, and then focusing on working towards reducing this to a manageable level rather than eradicating the pain entirely straight away.

Pacing is an effective technique to practice where patients can break tasks down into much smaller increments, so they don’t over-exert themselves and cause further pain, especially if they are starting from a very sedentary lifestyle and gradually upping their activity as endurance levels increase. This means that on days the patient feels better, they don’t then do more than they normally would and in turn cause further pain and a longer recovery time, instead they keep their activity levels consistent and build the momentum in a sustainable way.

Setting small but manageable goals such as getting outdoors every day (even if this means spending time in the garden) will give you something tangible to work towards, don’t focus on any negatives but instead set time-bound and realistic goals with a clear action.

Therapies that can help

There are many therapies and exercises that can help alongside self-management that will target different needs.

Some of these include:

Exercises
Although the last thing that you may feel like doing is exercising, gentle activity will help you recover and build your pain tolerance. Walking or swimming are great starter exercises and will loosen muscles and increase blood flow around your body – as well as releasing those feel-good endorphins!

Manual Therapies
Physiotherapy and manual therapies can help build tolerance to physical activity as stretching and strengthening the muscles can help prevent further injury. If needed, physiotherapists can also provide a pain management program tailored to increase physical activity and movement.

Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy and acupuncture can work for some individuals too. Gentle exercises such as yoga and tai chi can help manage pain as they combine mindfulness with movement.

Mental Health Support
Chronic pain can have a detrimental effect on mental health, which in turn also takes a toll on the body – so it is important to have a healthy outlet to release any frustrations. Mindfulness is a good practice to learn to relax and meditate in the surroundings of your own home..

Flare-ups and how to manage these

Unfortunately, in the world of chronic pain, flare-ups may happen from time to time. The key is not to lose any progress made and having a plan of action in place so that you are prepared and do not panic. Try to stay as active as possible, as hard as it may be – it will make recovery much quicker and easier to manage.