If you’re among the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. living with chronic pain, you know that some days are better than others — even when you’re rigorously following your treatment plan.
In those instances, the pain is often triggered by something out of your control, like the weather or a sudden bout of catastrophic thinking. Some of these triggers are universal, while others are a bit more personal. Read on to learn how to recognize what’s setting off your pain and the strategies for relieving it.
Nearly everyone with chronic pain can experience a worsening of symptoms when they’re very stressed. If a patient’s pain is relatively stable and they then experience a stressful problem in their life, invariably the pain gets worse.
What to do: Try mindfulness-based stress reduction, which can also reduce pain. Until you deal with the stress, no amount of medication is going to help.
It’s not just a superstition. When the temperature climbs or dives, you may notice a change in symptoms. Even extremely heavy winds can worsen your pain levels.
How the weather affects a person’s pain is hard to prove scientifically, but one January 2015 study in the journal Pain Medicine found that patients with fibromyalgia said that weather changes were one of their main triggers.
What to do: Short of going on vacation, staying indoors during a weather change is the best way to manage the pain. Arthritis patients with chronic pain often feel better if they dress warmly and wear gloves.
Too Little Sleep
Sleep and chronic pain have a complicated relationship. It’s a very vicious cycle. The more pain you have, the less well you will sleep. And the less you sleep, the more you will have pain. In fact, 95% of people with chronic pain have sleep problems.
What to do: Practice something that doctors call “good sleep hygiene.” That means no TV or other electronics in the bedroom. Television and cell phones emit light, and light can stimulate brain activity and make it harder to fall sleep, he says. Other rules: Don’t exercise two to three hours before bedtime and try to finish a meal or alcohol beverage at least four hours before you want to fall asleep.
It’s thought that certain foods (like the processed kinds) may cause inflammation in the body, which then triggers more pain. But the supporting research isn’t “rock solid” and it’s difficult to say how many people these types of foods affect. (And some patients may not make the connection between a flare-up and what they just ate.)
What do to: If you experience a flare-up after eating a certain food, avoid it. Processed fare, for instance, triggers more inflammation than green leafy vegetables or tree nuts. You can also add anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil and salmon to your diet.
When you’ve been living with chronic pain, it’s natural to think that things will get worse. You get a little pain in the tip of your finger and you decide your arm is falling off. Well, that tendency to “catastrophize” will only make you feel worse.
In fact, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: In a 2011 study in General Hospitality Psychiatry, researchers found that chronic pain patients who both catastrophized and were depressed were more likely to have pain-related disability.
What to do: Pay attention to your thoughts. When you start worrying , notice it without judgement. Say, “There I go again,” not, “What’s wrong with me?” By cutting off these catastrophic thoughts, you might find it easier to go about your daily life, suggests the authors of the 2011 study. If you need to seek help, try to choose a psychologist or counselor who specializes in treating chronic pain patients.
For more information on pain management, contact Comprehensive Pain Management in Franklin, MA.