Pain is a fact of life that all of us will experience at some point, whether from a significant event like major surgery or a chronic condition, or from a more inconsequential injury like shin splints or a rolled ankle. Defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, pain affects not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. So, how can you cope with and recover from pain in a healthy way?
Let’s discuss some basics first:
Types of pain
Pain can manifest as anything from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing sensation, and can vary in intensity. There are two main types of pain that we will experience throughout our lives: chronic pain and acute pain.
● Acute pain is a normal response to a medical condition or an injury. This type of pain comes on suddenly and is short-lived, typically lasting less than 12 weeks. Acute pain will dissipate when there is no longer an underlying cause. Causes of acute pain include surgery, broken bones, dental work, burns or cuts and childbirth.
● Chronic pain is ongoing pain lasting longer than six months, beyond the time expected for healing. This pain can continue even after the underlying injury or illness has healed or gone away. Pain signals may remain active for weeks, months and even years. Some people may experience chronic pain without any previous injuries or damage to the body. Chronic pain is linked to certain conditions like headache, arthritis, cancer, nerve pain, back pain and fibromyalgia.
Not only can pain affect your emotional well-being, but it may work the other way around, too — studies suggest that your emotional state can impact your experience of pain. Understanding the cause of your pain and learning how to effectively cope with it can help you live a more fulfilling life.
Depending on the severity, pain management strategies may include:
● Medications: Your healthcare provider may recommend specific medications to relieve your pain and discomfort depending on its origin. Antibiotics can help treat underlying infections, muscle relaxers help to ease spasms and anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce swelling in the body. Make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s instructions to effectively treat your pain and its underlying cause.
● At-home remedies: Minor pain from injuries to bones or muscles may be treatable at home using the RICE method — rest, ice, compression and elevation. As you rest, apply ice or a cold compress to decrease swelling and pain. Compressing the area by wrapping it with an elastic bandage may also ease swelling.
● Exercise: When you’re in pain, your first instinct is to give yourself a break and rest. Unfortunately, reduced physical activity over a prolonged period can lead to a reduction in muscle strength, leading to potentially more pain and more rest needed to recover. Gentle forms of exercise like walking, swimming or yoga can help to ease some of your pain by slowly building back muscle strength and flexibility while reducing fatigue, pain sensitivity and inflammation.
● Counseling and therapy: Physical pain can take a toll on your mental health as well as your physical health — you may find yourself feeling tired, anxious or depressed, which may worsen the pain you’re experiencing. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage your pain by changing how your mind reacts to it. By replacing negative thoughts and behaviors with positive, productive perception and coping skills, you can change your awareness and thus your experience of your own pain. Other forms of therapy, counseling or meditation can also help you manage the emotions caused by your pain.
● Hands-on treatment: For a more direct approach to pain relief, you may choose physical therapy, massage, acupuncture or Osteopathic Manipulation Treatment (OMT), all of which are designed to reduce pain, improve alignment and help your body function better overall.
● Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle changes can alleviate some of your pain or discomfort. If you carry extra weight or have obesity, for example, losing weight can help ease certain types of pain. Studies suggest that dropping just one pound alleviates four pounds of pressure on the knees, and that arthritis patients experience better pain relief and overall function after losing weight. It’s also important to prioritize sleep, since your body uses that time to rest and repair after a long day. Reducing your alcohol consumption also allows for better sleep and makes room for more positive coping mechanisms.