Chronic pain is ongoing, but oftentimes it is manageable (if not curable). How you manage pain on a day-to-day basis can make a huge impact on your overall sense of well-being. Physical pain can impact your mental, emotional, spiritual and social health, causing a snowball effect.
Before making any lifestyle changes, consult a doctor who’s familiar with both your diagnosis and health history. A shift might be required for your overall pain management strategy. Consider these critical lifestyle changes for chronic pain management, and discuss them with your healthcare team:
- Customize your living and workspace. Whenever possible, both at home and work, personalize your space to best suit your needs. For example, if you have a chronic shoulder injury, make sure you don’t need to reach top shelves that might exacerbate the pain. Dedicate a day or a weekend, with help, to move items within an accessible range to go easy on your shoulder. The same can be applied to any type of chronic pain injury from arthritis to knee troubles.
- Learn to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t a weakness—in fact, for many Americans, it’s quite challenging! If getting help for certain tasks minimizes your chronic pain and prevents injuries, it’s in your best interest. Whether it’s asking for favors, re-distributing household chores, or even hiring someone for certain tasks, help is critical to keeping you healthy.
- Listen to your body. You hear this phrase over and over in yoga classes, but it’s applicable to all parts of your life. With chronic pain comes clues as to what makes the pain worse, and you know what those clues are. Whether you listen to them or not is another story. There’s a good chance that going against your instincts or your body’s cues isn’t going to be worth it in the long run.
- Try natural supplements under professional guidance. In some cases, chronic pain can be helped with natural supplements, but these should only be added or modified under the care of a medical professional. For example, cinnamon is a natural diabetes fighter often used in Chinese medicine. Once you start digging into natural potential painkillers, such as kratom, the information can be overwhelming and dangerous to follow for a beginner. There may be great solutions for you within natural remedies, but stick with professional advice.
- Improve your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is anything that impacts your sleep routine from preparing for bed to the first few minutes upon waking. Chronic pain can be made worse with poor sleep habits, patterns and positions. Track your sleep position for a few days, and discuss it with your doctor. Something as simple as changing pillows or moving from side sleeping to your back can be a huge adjustment for chronic pain.
- Learn to say no. Akin to asking for help, this is a social lifestyle change that’s very challenging and will take practice. If you’re quick to agree to that might worsen your chronic pain, stop doing that. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. In some cases, you may not even have to provide an excuse or reason. We’re wired in our culture to say yes to everything, sometimes to detrimental results. You don’t have to go along with it.
Lifestyle changes take conscious practice, time and effort. You’ll likely slip into old habits, and that’s okay (and to be expected!), as long as you keep working towards a positive shift. Setting short- and long-term goals, having physical reminders, and accepting that it’s not going to be a linear change are central to sticking with lifestyle shifts for good. Your health is the most valuable asset you have, so protect it.