Chronic pain can stick around for weeks, months, or even years, and it has the ability to affect physical and mental well-being in many ways. It’s often a combination of pain management methods like physical therapy, medication, and avoidance of certain activities that can effectively manage ongoing discomfort for many of the 75 million or so Americans living with this type of pain. Another important aspect of chronic pain management is a focus on nutrition and wellness.
Making Healthy Diet Choices
What you eat on a regular basic can have an impact on how well your muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, bones, and nerves respond to other chronic pain management attempts. The type of diet that’s recommended for you will depend on the likely source of your chronic pain. You may be referred to dietician to help fine-tune a diet that makes sense for you.
With conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and non-specific low back pain that are often made worse by tissue swelling and irritation, green, leafy vegetables, blueberries, and fatty fish like mackerel and tuna that have known natural anti-inflammatory properties may provide relief. Keep these nutrition tips in mind to help manage chronic pain:
- Avoid caffeine
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Opt for raw vegetables when possible (cooking removes nutrients)
- Limit sugary foods, snacks, and drinks
- Eat fresh, colorful fruits
Too much rest and relaxation can weaken muscles and increase chronic pain. Exercise for the purpose of chronic pain management doesn’t have to involve a full-scale gym routine. Any regular physical activity has the potential to improve flexibility and strengthen muscles that support bones and joints.
Exercise may also help with pain management by stimulating the production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relievers, which may ease reliance on prescription pain medications. Physical wellness coupled with chronic pain management often includes:
- Gentle forms of exercise (yoga, water aerobics, gentle stretching)
- Daily walking on smooth, flat surfaces
- Working with a physical therapist or trainer to develop a personalized routine
- Making an effort to do some type of physical activity at least 30-60 minutes a day
Living with chronic pain can lead to depression and increased stress and anxiety. People with chronic pain who are depressed or constantly under stress often have less energy and not as much desire to actively participate in physical therapy.
Lingering stress can also make pain worse due to increased muscle tension. Because pain is based on perception, spending most of your time focusing on your pain can also make it seem worse. Mental wellness is sometimes improved by:
- Learning deep breathing or meditation techniques
- Continuing to socialize with family and friends
- Listening to calming music or considering art therapy to shift your mental focus
- Exploring mental imagery relaxation (mental escape)
Receiving an accurate diagnosis of the likely source of recurring pain doesn’t necessary mean it will go away entirely. Chronic pain may also affect any of the 43 pairs of motor and sensory nerves that run throughout the entire body (peripheral nerves) over time. The good news is that making smart wellness and nutrition decisions can make it easier to manage symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.