By Beverly Nelson
There are dozens of conditions that can cause chronic pain, including osteoarthritis, cerebral palsy, cancer and mitochondrial disorders. And while each one presents with unique symptoms, pain is one that doesn't have to stop you from living a whole and happy life.
According to the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, there are numerous treatment options for chronic pain, including over-the-counter medications and complementary treatments such as acupuncture and electrical stimulation. The most common medicines used to treat mild to moderate pain are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medication and antidepressants. But, these are not without their risks. For instance, NSAIDs may trigger stomach ulcers, tinnitus and liver or kidney problems. More alarmingly, prescription pain medications such as OxyContin and oxycodone, which are used to treat severe pain, may become addictive.
If you are currently taking a prescription opioid, there are certain signs to look for to help you determine if you're heading down the path toward addiction. Abuse may be indicated by a higher tolerance, behavioral changes, social withdrawal and taking the medication when you're not feeling pain, according to the National Addiction Institute. Your risk of becoming addicted is very low if you follow your doctor's orders and also take other measures to enhance your overall health and reduce pain.
Diet and Exercise
Diet and exercise play a crucial role in pain management. The Mayo Clinic underscores the importance of exercise, specifically for arthritis patients, by citing that physical activity combats fatigue, increases flexibility and reduces joint pain. Exercise has also been shown to help prevent weight gain. This is especially important for overweight people with chronic pain conditions because obesity contributes significantly to strain on the body, which can exacerbate discomfort.
The food you eat can also help or hinder your pain-management goals. Eating a diet high in fats and sugars but low in real nutrients can make you feel bogged down and sluggish. This will leave you with little energy to deal with even mild pain. Focusing on healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, however, can help you stay healthy from the inside out. And, a mounting body of evidence suggests certain foods such as cherries that contain anthocyanins that reduce inflammation, and salmon that contains high levels of omega-3s that improves blood flow, can help fight pain naturally.
Mind Over Matter
While medical care, diet and exercise can reduce pain, meditation can help you cope with the pain that remains. Psychology Today reports many hospitals now encourage patients to practice mindful meditation when dealing with arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis and pain associated with chemotherapy. While the mind cannot physically alter pain, it can change your perception so that pain ranks lower in terms of severity. Advanced practitioners of mindful meditation claim a sense of pain reduction of up to 90 percent.
It's important to remember when dealing with chronic pain that you are not alone. There are hundreds of support and advocacy groups nationwide that can help you connect with others dealing with similar circumstances. The National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association can help you connect with a support group in your state. Sometimes, all it takes is to have your voice heard and your feelings regarding your condition acknowledged to give you the strength to continue fighting the invisible battle that is chronic pain.
It is possible to live a whole and healthy life despite the agonizing and ever-present adversary you face with each movement. You don't have to do it alone, and with diet, exercise and a community of hope, you can reduce your pain and enjoy life.
For more information on clinical trials, conditions and treatment, pain management tools and support groups, visit the American Chronic Pain Association online at TheACPA.org.
Beverly Nelson created StandUpForCaregivers.org, which aims to protect and advocate for the health and wellbeing of adult caregivers. Her goal is to build the website into an online community for caregivers. She works as an office manager and is the primary caregiver to her 83-year-old mother. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Anthony, and has two grown children.