One of the myths about getting older is that you have to just grin and bear chronic pain because it’s part of life. Actually, it’s not. While there are any number of physical conditions that can come with age – and can be chronically painful – there are ways to manage chronic pain that can significantly improve your quality of life.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
1. Get moving.
The most basic way to deal with chronic pain is to stay active. This can be tricky, because when you’re in pain the last thing you want to do is get moving. On the other hand, the more sedentary your lifestyle, the more you’re setting yourself up for worse pain. It’s a lousy conundrum.
How to break the cycle? Look for any physical activity you can do. Start by walking around the block or even walking down the hallway. Search the internet for full body workouts you can do sitting down. When you feel better, you can try to do more. Just don’t forget to consult your doctor first. If you live in an assisted living or skilled nursing community, reach out to the staff to help you.
2. Get social.
The second way to manage chronic pain – getting social – doesn’t address the pain directly. That, however, doesn’t make it less important.
It’s very human to want to be alone when we’re in pain. It’s also really counterproductive. Research shows that maintaining – and renewing – social connections makes pain easier to bear. Why? Well, first of all, getting out and being with people gets your mind off your physical condition. And when your brain has other things to think about, it has less space to focus on the pain. Secondly, the only thing worse than experiencing chronic pain is to be experiencing loneliness at the same time. Because loneliness makes everything feel worse.
3. Get distracted.
Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you’re in chronic pain and doing nothing else, all your brain has to think about is how much pain you’re in. You can manage that pain by distracting yourself – and you don’t necessarily have to leave your chair or bed to do it.
Invite someone over to play a game you like or to watch a movie. Play an online or electronic game. Discover a new favorite author, or rediscover old ones. One of the big pluses of technology is that you can literally access thousands of movies, books and music at minimal or no cost and without ever leaving your chair. Take advantage of it.
4. Get poked.
We’re talking about acupuncture here. Some people roll their eyes at alternative methods of pain management like acupuncture, reflexology and massage, and if you’re one of them that’s fine. Not everyone responds well to these, and they don’t sit well with everyone either. But if you’re open to them, they can be very effective:
- Acupuncture works through the insertion of tiny needles at strategic points on the skin. It has been effective in relieving pain and stimulating the body’s self-healing abilities and natural painkillers.
- Reflexology works by applying pressure to certain areas on the feet. It’s been shown to relieve stress and bring relaxation to the body.
- Massage therapy can relieve pain by relaxing the muscles, tendons, and joints. There is also research showing that massage can “stimulate competing nerve fibers and impeding pain message to and from the brain.”
Just one thing: Make sure you are going to a licensed or certified practitioner. You could be headed for really bad news if you don’t.
5. Get off smoking.
It’s really tempting to smoke as a form of self-medication. The problem – beyond all the well-known problems with smoking – is that it makes things worse. Among other things, smoking impedes circulation and wound-healing, causes rheumatoid arthritis and increases your risk of a whole host of diseases. Basically, trying to manage chronic pain with cigarettes will just bring on more chronic pain.
If you do smoke and you want to quit, good for you. Your primary physician can help you with this, and don’t hesitate to reach out to family and peers for support. If you live in a senior community, the staff and management will do what they can to make the process easier for you.
Remember, whatever method or methods you choose – you are worthy of living a live where you manage your chronic pain – instead of it managing you.