Creating a new relationship with your pain may help you to manage your symptoms with more compassion and objectivity.
Consciously connect with your pain. Find out as much as you can about your condition, so that you don’t stress or worry unnecessarily about the pain. It’s also important to know when to listen to your pain and seek help or investigate further, because your pain could be from a multitude of origins or influences.
Rather than setting the expectation of completely eradicating your pain, focus on improving your day-to-day function. You may need to accept that your pain may not go away and that you may experience flare-ups from time to time. When these occur, be kind to yourself and give yourself the support you need. Talk to family, friends or your pain management team to let them know what support you need at these times. See your healthcare practitioner for advice on new coping strategies and skills.
Where possible, try not to allow the pain to stop you living your life the way you want to. You may need to make some adjustments to accommodate and support your condition, particularly if you experience flare-ups. Gently reintroduce activities you used to enjoy and focus on finding fun and rewarding activities that don’t make your pain worse.
A positive mindset and motivation can help you get through tough times. Try mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques or seek professional advice to help cultivate a new way of relating to your pain.
Healthy Habits for Pain Management
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Move your body
- Prioritise sleep
- Avoid alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Set goals and pace yourself
- Focus on a healthy distraction
- Be social and participate in life
- Schedule down time
- Get all the rest you need
- Keep a pain journal and document your pain score every day
- Practice relaxation, use mindfulness and meditation tools to manage stress and pain
- Work with your pain management team to understand any medications (including their side effects) and complementary therapies you may be taking
- Ask for help
Practices to Press Pause on Pain
- Cold and heat application
- Diffuse or apply essential oils
- Yoga and Tai Chi
- Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing exercises
- Physical therapy
- Talk therapy
- Spend time in nature
- Physical exercise (as approved by your health care practitioner)
- Quality sleep
Make a Move
Whilst it may seem counterintuitive, movement can actually be helpful for those who suffer from aches and pains – even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing! Particularly when experiencing persistent pain, there’s a tendency to avoid activities so as not to cause any flare ups of pain. But without exercise, your pain can become worse.
Inactivity from a sedentary lifestyle can cause muscles and joints to weaken over time. This can gradually lead to some people not being able to complete daily tasks like housework or activities they previously enjoyed.
Exercise can make chronic pain more manageable, helping with symptoms by improving muscle tone and strength and elevating energy. Exercise releases endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals or “happy hormones” that help to improve mood and sleep, whilst reducing stress and blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
Exercise can be an effective way to reverse the downward cycle of deconditioning and worsening pain. As a result, exercise helps people with chronic pain to engage in essential activities of daily life and those that they enjoy with more ease.
It can be challenging to exercise when you suffer from chronic pain. Your condition may limit the type, amount and intensity of exercise and exertion you can manage. Look for movements that don’t trigger more pain - it’s imperative not to overdo it.
Before beginning any new exercise regime, consult with your healthcare practitioner. Ask them if aerobic, strengthening or stretching exercises would work better for you and your condition, and seek advice on training safely.
Tips for Managing Movement
- Include enjoyable activities in your routine
- Break exercises into short intervals rather than long stretches
- Start slowly, monitor your symptoms and build up to more strenuous exercise
- Make sure you stop if exercise becomes uncomfortable or painful
- Increases flexibility, relieves tension, reduces stiff and tight muscles, increases range of motion, alleviates muscle aches and helps with everyday movements
Yoga and Tai Chi
- Gentle postures, deep breathing, meditation and visualisation can promote relaxation, reduce stress and improve flexibility and balance
Walking or Biking
- Low impact aerobic exercise warms up joints and muscles, boosts energy, reduces stiffness, increases strength, endurance and heart health. Start slowly and work up to longer stints
Water Aerobics and Swimming
- Alternative to walking for people with mobility issues
- Low impact, relaxes muscles when in warm water, alleviates pressure on joints and weightlessness helps with movement
- Warm water promotes muscle relaxation
- Cold water can cause muscle tension but may reduce inflammation in some circumstances
- Swimming can be therapeutic and help clear your mind
- Water aerobics can also be a social activity
Strengthening Exercises and Pilates
- Helps build stronger muscles to support and stabilise joints to prevent future injuries
- Adequate core strength is important to maintain proper posture and balance, and reduce the risk of injuries
- Pilates consists of simple strengthening movements that focus on alignment