Tips on how to manage chronic pain

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Updated 2nd May 2018

I have lived with chronic pain for the majority of my adult life. Whether it’s back pain, migraines, IBS, ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia, pain has been an unwelcome companion for years. I have found a few ways of coping with pain and I wanted to share my experiences.

By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. Chronic pain is physically and psychologically stressful, and the constant discomfort can be exhausting. But there are steps you can take to help ease and manage your pain.

1. Pain Triggers

Firstly, it is important to establish what your pain ‘triggers’ are. We all have ‘triggers’ that can aggravate our symptoms. Some are universal, others are unique to us. By finding out what these are we can manage our pain more effectively and take back some control. Start by keeping a symptom, activity and food diary – it will help you identify your triggers. You can buy apps to help you collate this information – I use one called FibroMapp. It can take time to find out what your triggers are but it is worth the effort. My triggers are:

✔Stress
✔Sugary and fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and gluten
✔Hormones
✔Tight clothing
✔Overexertion
✔Overstimulation e.g loud noises
✔Changes in the weather
✔Lack of sleep

2. Reducing your pain

Next, you need to find ways to reduce your pain. There are many options available. Here are a few that I use:

Painkillers
Whether it’s prescription or over-the-counter medication, painkillers can help to ease your symptoms. Painkillers come in many forms – tablets, patches, injections and topical creams.

CBD oil
I find CBD oil great for my everyday pain, and it helps to numb the intense pain I experience during a Fibromyalgia flare. CBD oil reduces my pain to a more manageable level – I really would be lost without it. I live in the UK where full spectrum cannabis oil is illegal, but if it was an option I would try it.

If you would like to find out more about CBD please read my post What is CBD? Everything you need to know

Muscle Relaxants

I find muscle relaxants effective for my stiffness, back pain, muscle pain and muscle spasms. There are a few types available on prescription or over-the-counter but there are natural alternatives too. I personally take CBG regularly, which is a legal cannabis compound like CBD, but I also take Diazepam occasionally.

Hemp Balm
Effective for localised pain, painful muscles and joints and also helps ease my headaches and migraines. There are other topical creams and balms available but I have found hemp balm to be the most effective for my pain.

TENS machine
Again, good for localised pain. I have effectively used a TENS machine in the past to treat back pain. It’s not so helpful if you have pain in multiple locations.

Massage
Massage is something that can done at home or by a professional which can make a real impact. You can also buy massagers which allow you to treat the painful areas yourself. It’s especially effective for muscle pain and trigger points.

Heat therapy
Applying heat to the affected area can help ease pain. I find this more effective for muscle and joint pain than nerve pain. I use a heated throw but a hot Bath/shower could also help.

Cold therapy
I use ice packs to ease nerve pain and it definitely helps. Ice packs also help ease my migraines. Experiment to find out what works for you.

Magnesium
I use magnesium oil spray on my painful muscles but dissolving Epsom salts into your bath is also very effective and you have the added bonus of heat and water. Magnesium also comes in tablet form.

Water therapy 
When we are immersed in water it takes the pressure off painful areas of a body. Even a soak in the bath can give relief.

Alternative therapies
Acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology and many other alternative therapies can help ease pain. I have had acupuncture and reflexology treatments in the past and I have experienced noticeable relief with both.

Exercise
I am currently limited when it comes to my ability to exercise but even a few basic stretching exercises can help.

3. Coping with pain

By reducing your pain levels and finding your triggers, you have already taken some positive steps to managing your pain. Unfortunately, even after this you will still experience some pain. Here are some tips about coping with pain.

Manage your stress
Emotional and physical pain are closely related, and persistent pain can lead to increased levels of stress. Learning how to deal with your stress in healthy ways can position you to cope more effectively with your chronic pain. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in approved physical activity are all positive ways for you to handle your stress and pain.

Try to remain calm

When you experience a flare of your pain, try to stay calm. I know this isn’t easy but the more agitated and upset you get the more severe the pain will become. I learnt this hard lesson when I started experiencing migraines in my teens. When you get upset your heart rate increases and this causes the pain to increase and throb. Stress and the added tension will also aggravate your pain.

Become active and engaged
Distracting yourself from your pain by engaging in activities you enjoy will help you highlight the positive aspects of your life.

Find support
Going through the daily struggle of your pain can be extremely trying, especially if you’re doing it alone. Reach out to other people who are in your same position and who can share and understand your highs and lows.

Talk to yourself constructively
Positive thinking is a powerful tool. By focusing on the improvements you are making (i.e., the pain is less today than yesterday or you feel better than you did a week ago) you can make a difference in your perceived comfort level.

Mindfulness Meditation
I find mindfulness meditation an effective tool and a comfort. I have been pleasantly surprised with it’s effectiveness and it helps me cope with my daily pain and the anxiety that accompanies it. Please see my previous post about Mindfulness meditation.

I hope this has given you some useful tips about living with chronic pain. Do you suffer from chronic pain? What have you found that has helped you?

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