Pain affects millions of Americans every day, including many who are burdened with chronic pain.
September is national Pain Awareness Month.
In Michigan, the Bureau of Health Professions' Pain Management and Palliative Care Program, located within the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs, is on a mission. The goal is to inform the public on how they can safely and effectively manage their pain to improve their quality of life and their ability to function.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Doing daily activities differently: There are many simple things you can do in your everyday routine to reduce the stress on your joints and muscles to relieve pain. For example, try using a jar opener instead of using your hands, or having someone help you lift heavy objects.
- Heat: The next time you wake up with the aching back or knee, step into a warm steamy shower to help relieve the pain. Take a little longer than usual. The warm water will help stimulate your blood circulation, while helping to loosen up muscles, tendons and joints.
- Cold therapy: Following an acute injury, cold therapy is considered a first line of treatment. The cold reduces tissue inflammation, which reduces pain. If a cold pack isn't on hand, try a bag of frozen vegetables.
- Exercise: Physical activity is essential to maintaining good health and maintaining a healthy weight. The key, of course, is to find an appropriate activity that supports your health rather than an activity that aggravates your condition. This may require doing something new - like yoga, tai chi, Pilates, water aerobics, swimming, or simple stretching. You might even find that you really enjoy this new activity. Consider trying it with a buddy, too.
- Relaxation: It can be surprisingly hard to relax, but try taking a few minutes out of your day to simply kick back and relax. Empty your mind of your to do list, at least for a few minutes, and curl up on the couch with a good book and a nice cup of hot tea and let it all go. The world won't come to an end, and you'll feel better. Which is, after all, the goal.
- Avoid/reduce stress: It's impossible to avoid all life stressors, but we can do a lot to reduce stress. For example, you might want to consider avoiding events, situations, and people known to be stressful.
Sometimes, management of pain involves reaching out to the right health care provider. Discuss the many health care options with your family doctor or pain specialist. Consider some of the following options.
- Counseling: Living with pain is known to put stress on close relationships with friends and family. This stress can aggravate your chronic pain condition- worsening it. This can become a vicious cycle of increased stress causing increased pain and increased pain causing greater levels of stress. It is common for people with severe chronic pain to suffer from depression and/or anxiety, resulting in lost work and lowered productivity and an overall decrease in the quality of life. If you find yourself in this situation, it is often very helpful to seek counseling or therapy. For many people, getting the extra support from a counselor is an essential part of taking charge of one's pain condition.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture originated in China during the sixteenth century and has gained more acceptance in the medical community. The acupuncturist places fine, sterile needles at specific "acupoints" in the body. The traditional belief is that the needles help to promote the flow of the life force/Chi thereby restoring balance. The western perspective is that the needles stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue thereby boosting the body's natural pain relievers.
- Massages: If you've never had a massage, it is worth exploring. Today, massage therapists work in many different settings besides spas, and are trained to work on relieving tight muscles and connective tissues, thereby reducing pain. Massages can be very relaxing, too. Physical Therapy: If you have had a recent injury or suffer from chronic pain, your physician may suggest physical therapy. Physical therapists offer a host of safe and effective treatment options, including exercise and stretching regimens, electrical stimulation, topical anti-inflammatory treatments, relaxation techniques, and a host of other treatments.
- Interventional Pain Management: Some chronic pain is very difficult to treat. In such cases, a pain management specialist is recommended. A number of "interventional pain management" treatments are available for severe, unabated pain. These include sometimes invasive techniques including nerve blocks, steroidal injections, technologies that disturb nerve transmission of pain signals, and a number of other treatments for difficult to manage pain.
These are just a few examples of things you can do to help manage your pain. Keep in mind however, that not all pain conditions can be cured, but most can be effectively treated and managed.
For more information on managing pain, visit LARA's Bureau of Health Professions Pain Management website: www.michigan.gov/pm.