Chronic pain is a pain in the neck … or knees, or back, or hands. Are you struggling to get through the day, gritting your teeth, unsure if this agony will ever go away?
Here are some tips on how to deal with chronic pain to improve your quality of life.
Tune in to your emotions
It’s clear that emotions are linked to pain, as you probably already well know.
“I’m sure many people could attest to the fact that being in a negative emotional state most definitely increases experience of pain,” says Dr Su-Yin Yeong, the Sydney-based GP behind The Wellbeing Doctor.
“You might have a longstanding back injury that always seems to feel worse if you’ve also had a bad day at the office, or a headache that is absolutely excruciating if you’re also in a bad mood,” she says.
That’s why mindfulness practices such as meditation and journaling are often recommended to help process emotions.
The 4 Ps of chronic pain management
Dr Yeong says GPs are taught “the 4 Ps” of chronic pain management. They are:
Dr Yeong recommends a tailored exercise program involving walking and gentle stretching.
“Exercise can be really helpful for improving mobility and mood, and facilitating the release of feel-good neurochemicals that can help with one’s emotional state, (and) improve their pain experience,” she says.
“A healthy and varied diet is also important for optimal physical functioning.”
Think cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation and mindfulness.
“It can be very difficult at first so I always tell my patients that it’s like physical training – you don’t go from sitting on the couch to running 5km in one day,” says Dr Yeong.
“It can take a while to practise and be proficient at it, but if you are patient and keep practising, you will reap the benefits.”
“There are some specific pain medications that can be used according to the type of chronic pain,” says Dr Yeong.
However, she points out that addiction is a risk, especially when it comes to opioids (such as morphine and codeine).
“Pain medications have to be used judiciously and under the close supervision of your treating doctor,” she says.
“There may be procedures that could assist with relieving the pain, such as a steroid joint injection, nerve block procedures, or even surgeries such as knee replacement for arthritis,” says Dr Yeong.
Don’t go it alone
“Patients need to understand that for a condition like chronic pain, the patient and doctor have to work together as a team,” says Dr Yeong.
“It means setting up reasonable health goals and expectations about the kind of quality of life they can attain.
“By working together, being patient and persevering, patients can have a great outcome; perhaps not living 100 per cent pain-free, but being able to enjoy a functional, good quality of life.”
Watch Ed Phillips and Jo Stanley discuss chronic pain with our panel of experts on House of Wellness TV.
First published online on The House of Wellness.