How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle with Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can affect every aspect of your daily life, and it can make living a healthy lifestyle seem impossible. When you’re always in pain, it’s hard to summon the energy or motivation to prepare healthy meals, exercise regularly or make other healthy lifestyle choices. However, living a healthy lifestyle can actually help you manage chronic pain by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of endorphins, natural painkillers. Here’s how you can harness the power of healthy choices to live better with chronic pain.
Many experts believe that eating a healthy diet can help you cope with chronic pain by lowering your pain levels and even reducing flare-ups of disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. A healthy diet can also help keep your weight down and prevents many other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease. You’ll feel your best and have optimum energy levels when you’re fueling your body with healthy foods, including nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Fish and fish oils are said to be especially good for managing the inflammation that often comes with many chronic pain disorders. Herbs and spices, like garlic, turmeric and hot peppers, can add antioxidants and other important nutrients to your diet.
Watching what you eat can also help you sleep at night, which is important to living a healthy lifestyle. Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, large meals or lots of fluids at bedtime, as these can keep you awake or degrade the quality of your sleep. You should also minimize your intake of sugary foods, as sugar can contribute to inflammation.
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. It also eases the muscle tension that can often occur as a result of chronic pain, which can improve symptoms. Plus, it keeps your body strong and healthy.
You don’t need to be in perfect shape or in a pain-free body to do, and benefit from, regular exercise. Some good exercises for people with chronic pain include walking, swimming and water aerobics, tai chi and yoga. Ease into an exercise routine, so you don’t overdo it, especially if you’re over 40, haven’t had an exercise routine in a while or suffer from chronic heart or other health conditions. Talk to a physical therapist at our pain clinic in Ann Arbor, Michigan about starting an exercise routine that will work for you.
Manage Your Stress
Stress can really exacerbate chronic pain, and the two things can easily begin to feed off and augment one another. You begin to feel stressed because you’re in pain, and this causes physical reactions, such as the grinding of teeth or the tensing of muscles, that cause more pain, so the cycle continues. Taking steps to reduce stress can, therefore, relieve some of your pain.
Write down your stress triggers at home, at work, in your relationships, and in other parts of your life, and then think hard about what you can do to reduce or eliminate them. If you feel frustrated by the amount of housework you have to take on, for example, ask for more help from your partner and family, or hire a cleaning service. If you feel stressed by your hectic schedule, start saying no more often, so you can enjoy more “you” time.
Another great way to manage stress is to start practicing relaxation techniques every day or at least several times a week. You can learn to meditate, use progressive muscle relaxation or benefit from breathing exercises and visual imagery. Meditation and other relaxation techniques take your mind off your pain and help you let go of the physical tension associated with stress.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation can make you feel grumpy, emotional and physically uncomfortable. Getting plenty of sleep helps you feel clear-headed and makes it easier to eat a healthy diet, exercise and generally take care of yourself. Use relaxation techniques at night, in combination with good sleep hygiene, to fall asleep and enjoy good, restful sleep all night long. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night and morning. If you’re taking medications, talk to your doctor about taking medications that make you drowsy at night, and ones that keep you awake in the morning. Exercising during the day can also help you sleep at night, as can eliminating naps longer than 30 minutes long.
Healthy lifestyle choices can be hard to make when you’re constantly in pain. Eating right, exercising, managing your stress and getting plenty of sleep can all come together to reduce your pain levels and minimize your flare-ups. Even when making healthy choices is hard, it’s worth it to live the best life you can.