Experiencing chronic pain is an ordeal, and often a multifaceted approach to pain treatment is necessary to make a significant and lasting difference.
Being aware of the lifestyle factors that influence pain may help to change how we approach our pain treatments.
If pain interrupts our sleep, or we are too stressed to fall asleep and get enough hours of rest every night, our body is not healing and recovering like it should. If you wake up feeling like a truck hit you, addressing your sleeping problems can make a positive difference in your pain, and healing journey.
Research suggests that people with a higher BMI are more likely to suffer chronic pain. It is unclear to why this is. Some evidence suggests that chronic pain itself leads in a maladaptive relationship to high blood pressure. On the flipside losing weight is associated with better pain outcomes. Acute pain puts the body in fight or flight response and makes us more tolerant to pain. When the pain is chronic though, higher blood pressure increases pain sensitivity
(Sacco, Meschi et al. The Relationship Between Blood Pressure and Pain).
The role of weight gain is massively over-emphasised in clinical settings. Weight loss in and of itself is not an effective or holistic rehab plan and should only be one small part of a far more in depth, kind and thoughtful pain management protocol. Especially if you are suffering so much pain that you can’t do the exercise needed to lose the weight.
A healthy diet is an essentially part of avoiding chronic disease. Depending on the kind of pain you have, different dietary approaches are promising. Increased omega-3 intake might help with inflammatory pain. Avoiding polyamines (as found in soy and nuts) can reduce hyperalgesia; broccoli, spinach and vitamin E have a possible effect on diabetic neuropathy. Fasting shows evidence to help improve mood in pain patients who also suffer from depression. Chronic pain is associated with increased cardiovascular risk and a balanced diet helps mitigate the impact of both issues, which makes it an extremely worthwhile topic for pain sufferers.
Exercise & Activity
Certain kinds of exercise might be more useful for certain pain conditions. Personally tailored advise with relevant movements are more successful than general exercise.
For many people with chronic pain it is important to be able to return to their preferred activities of daily living, may they be playing team sports or getting out into nature for gardening, a walk, or a multi day tramp. Many studies show improvements of mood and sleep with increased exercise, and doing what you love surrounded by friends, family and/or nature further helps with co-morbidities and perception of chronic pain.
While no direct causation between smoking and pain is proven, smokers report more pain. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of cardiovascular mortality which is highly correlated with chronic pain. It’s a no-brainer.
Chronic pain is closely associated with depression and anxiety – both of which effect how you perceive pain, and also make pain harder to deal with. Many chronic pain cases cannot be effectively managed without taking factors such as stress and mood, and further, depression and anxiety into consideration.
A big lifestyle factor in pain management is the consumption of alcohol. In ancient times it has been used for its numbing effects but this is transitory and requires high doses. Nowadays it needs to be considered that it interferes with many medications for pain and creates other co-morbitities which can worsen pain.
Unemployed people are more likely to report chronic pain. Factors like the job market and other people’s reactions to pain are major players in the perception and persistence of pain. The fear of re-injury and needing to return to work after taking time off for injuries or pain determine the experience as well.
If you suffer from other chronic conditions, such as coronary heart disease, or obstructive pulmonary disease, you are more likely to report chronic pain than the general population. One suggested mechanism is the added challenges for people with chronic pain to exercise, increasing their cardiovascular risk. Other consideration are chronic conditions turning up the volume and making pain more intense in an already challenged body, and the influence of stress and disability from other diseases. Chronic pain cannot be treated in isolation; the whole person with any other illnesses needs to be considered.
It sounds silly but the main risk of suffering pain is pain. If you already experience pain, you are more likely to develop pain at other sites or acute pain becoming chronic. It is important to address any pains as soon as possible to avoid changes in the brain to make you more susceptible to pain. If you are willing to fight all the battles you have a far better chance of winning the war.