Chronic pain is one of the leading causes of disability in North America
This month you learned that 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from chronic pain, however what is also important to note, is that among those 1 in 5, up to 85% can also suffer from depression. This not only correlates with how poorly chronic pain is managed, but these high levels of depression have the potential to significantly worsen and prolong someone’s pain. Therefore, without proper pain management, increased pain can in turn, lead to increased stress and depression creating a viscous cycle that without some kind of help, can be very hard to break through.
Managing chronic pain demands a consistent holistic approach, because living in chronic pain isn’t JUST pain- it’s a complete physical, mental and emotional assault on your entire body- there isn’t a single area of one’s life that goes unaffected by chronic pain.
To finalize Chronic Pain Awareness Month, I wanted to shed some light on a few areas that have been absolutely crucial in helping me manage and cope with my chronic pain. If it were not for a combination of ALL of these things, I would not be the happy “healthy”, positive person that I am today.
1. Find Balance & Learn to Pace Yourself
The first rule of chronic pain management, is pacing yourself. Figuring out the exact amount of activity you can do without causing a flare-up of symptoms, is truly almost an art form-but imperative in learning to manage your pain. The trick is to work out your time limits on activities such as sitting, standing, walking etc., on good days AND on bad days and then find a sustainable middle ground. Pacing might look like switching from your daily 30-minute walk to a 15-minute walk so that your body can also manage to walk the isles of a grocery store. Finding balance might look like 3 acupunctures treatments one week, and only 1 the next. It might look like working 2 days a week instead of 5 days a week. Pacing yourself might be standing to cook supper and sitting to cook dessert. Learning to live AROUND your pain and not through your pain is important in helping to manage your pain. If you haven’t heard of the ‘SPOON theory’, and you live with chronic pain or with a chronic illness-I highly recommend looking it up.
While there are many treatments available to those in chronic pain, it’s the accessibility of these treatments that makes the biggest difference in whether many of us are able to benefit from them or not. What works for one person, is not going to give the same results to another, which is why chronic pain is best managed when we approach it from a holistic mindset.
Whether we receive acupuncture that can help ease and relax our muscles, focus on massage therapy to help reduce muscle and fascia tightness or get cupping to help bring inflammation to specific areas in order to promote healing- receiving regular treatments that help decrease our pain and increase our quality of life is extremely important.
Whether we see a psychologist and learn about the mind body connection…the link that ties our thoughts and feelings to our pain, or focus on our mindset, finding purpose and self-compassion- changing our perspective around chronic pain can be the difference between a happy life and a miserable life.
Whether we receive steroid injections to help numb our pain and reduce inflammation, whether we opt for surgery that may or may not bring relief or whether we have to learn to manage our pain at home with heating pads, ice packs and muscle salves-it’s important to remember that what works for one person, is not going to give the same results for another. However, the more treatments that we have the opportunity to consistently try, the more likely we will find a way to help manage our pain.
3. Nourish your Body
Our greatest wealth truly is our health and it’s unfortunate that most of us don’t realize this until it is too late. How we treat our bodies is often reflected back in how our bodies treat us…later in life. What I mean by this, is if you don’t take charge of the areas of your health that you CAN control NOW, and look after your body, where are you going to live if you no longer have your health?
Focusing on finding a balance of nourishing our bodies with healthy whole foods while also never forgetting to nourish our mind with foods that can bring comfort or connection is a super important aspect in finding a sustainable diet to help manage chronic pain. When someone lives in chronic pain, systemic or chronic inflammation is often also present, which is why incorporating an anti-inflammatory diet can be extremely beneficial in helping to reduce chronic pain.
A great place to start is by eliminating processed foods, refined sugars and seed oils such as canola oil which all cause an inflammatory process in our bodies, which can increase pain. Instead, we want to focus on incorporating whole, colourful foods such as sweet potato, leafy green vegetables and berries, which all have powerful effects in helping our bodies to heal and reduce chronic inflammation. EveryBODY is different, and therefore a diet that works for one person, will likely not give the same results to another. When adapting to an anti-inflammatory diet, the key is to FOCUS on nourishing your body with foods that make YOU feel YOUR best.
4. Mindset Matters
This is THE most loaded topic, and the topic that I believe, has the potential to be the most life changing. While this topic definitely needs a blog post all of its own, I will dive in quickly with the hopes of bringing some new coping mechanisms to light for the 1 in 5 of us, that live in chronic pain.
Never let the things you can’t do, keep you from doing the things that you can do.
I believe that we create our own reality, WE get to decide the tone of our day- no matter the pain level we are in or the hardships we may be facing in life. By focusing on things like gratitude, joy and finding purpose and meaning in our days-our minds are constantly forced to widen our lens and see things from a different perspective. We could wake up every day, complain, feel miserable about the pain that we live in, the limitations we are constantly faced with and focus on all of the independence we may have lost- OR we could wake up, be grateful that our body still has the ability to walk, that we have lungs that allow us to breathe in the fresh fall air, and that we have friends and family who love and support us no matter what. By focusing on the good, the good gets better, and unfortunately, by focusing on the BAD, or more specifically the PAIN…the pain gets worse. Recognising that we have the choice on what thoughts we give power to can have profound effects. Sometimes a change in perspective is all it takes to find the light in our chronic pain.
As Chronic Pain Awareness Month comes to a close, I hope that above all else, you learned that chronic pain doesn’t just affect our physical bodies and that the only way to truly manage our pain, is by having accessible care for ALL that live in chronic pain. The only way to ensure that future changes are put in place to increase chronic pain management, is by bringing awareness.