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Pain Management: Simple Strategies for Dealing with Persistent Pain

Just about everybody has to deal with pain at one point in their life or another. However, some of us have to deal with pain on a regular basis.

There are any number of conditions that can cause pain and it comes in many different varieties. Some people deal with constant, burning pain. Others deal with occasional dull aches. Whatever the cause of your pain, there are a number of treatment options available.

Of course, everyone is different and will react differently to the treatments mentioned below. Before starting a new pain management regimen, talk with your doctor or physiotherapist to make sure that it will be in your best interest.

Medication

Probably the first thing most people think of when it comes to managing pain is pain medication. Pain medication can be a very helpful tool. However, these medications all too often come with nasty side effects that can almost make the pain seem preferable. Because of the way in which medication works, some pain pills may be perfectly effective for one person and not at all for another. Another factor to consider is the intensity of your side effects. Some people may use a medication and have no benefit, yet still feel those side effects in full force. As with all medications, be sure to talk to your doctor about how well they seem to be working.

One major downside of pain medication is timing. Most prescription and over the counter pain medications cannot simply be used whenever you want them. Many can only be taken once every 4 hours. Some people find that these pain pills work wonders, but those benefits may only last for an hour or two, leaving them to suffer until their next dose. Obviously, this isn’t the ideal solution for dealing with pain.

Ice and Heat

Another common treatment for dealing with pain is using a topical ice or heat pack. These can provide instant relief to tight or swollen muscles that cause pain. This effect is thought to work via the ‘pain gate control’ theory. The pain gate control theory states that the pain signal sent to the brain can be interrupted by certain stimuli, such as extreme temperatures. This theory can be seen anytime you accidentally touch something hot. Even though that initial touch may cause some pain and minor burns, your body instinctively pulls away from the hot object. Why? Your body is designed to first recognize heat or cold, helping you to get out of the dangerous situation first and let you deal with any smaller scale injuries later. We can take advantage of this by using localized ice packs to the painful swollen area.

Extra caution needs to be exercised when using a hot pack. If you have been in some kind of accident that produced swelling, such as a car accident or a sports-related injury, applying extra heat may feel good at the moment. Once you take that heat off, though, even more swelling will return to the affected area, making matters worse. Also, if you have a metal implant or some other kind of hardware in your body, it may be more likely to get hot and cause internal burning. Again, talk to your doctor or physiotherapist if you’re interested in using a hot pack. They may have more specific instructions.

Person using heat pack for pain management
Heat can be an excellent tool for temporarily reducing pain

Electric Stimulation (TENS)

Along the same lines as the thermal modalities mentioned above, electrical stimulation can help relieve pain. When properly applied, specially designed electrical currents can travel through the nervous system and interfere with the pain signals mentioned above. When our body tries to “read” this incoming signal, it isn’t quite sure how to interpret it. Because of that, when using electrical stimulation you should not feel pain, only a gentle tingling sensation.

Again, though, electrical stimulation therapy isn’t for everyone. The most common reason people aren’t able to use electrical stimulation to deal with their chronic pain is that they have a pacemaker. Anyone with electronic hardware implanted within their body should talk to their doctor or physiotherapist before trying this avenue of treatment. While the current sent through electrical stimulation is very mild, sensitive equipment could be disrupted causing major consequences.

Relaxation & Deep Breathing Techniques

We all lead busy, hectic lives. Between our work, family, and social lives, there are a lot of demands on our time. Globally, society has only gotten more and more stressful as time has gone on. If you are getting physiotherapy or dealing with pain in general, that will be an extra stressor in your life. That makes it all the more important to set aside time for rest and relaxation. Getting enough rest is vital for recovery from whatever is causing you pain. The majority of the body’s healing happens while you sleep, so getting an adequate amount of sleep at night can make for a speedier recovery. Moreover, sleep has a direct relationship with pain. Studies show that a lack of sleep can amplify pain and vice-versa.

Many people find it hard to find time for relaxation. To relax, you don’t have to go to a tropical paradise and unplug from the rest of the world. Instead, all it takes is a few minutes. One technique that can help with relaxation and pain management is focused, therapeutic breathing. Try this:

Close your eyes and take a nice, deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold that breath for 4 seconds, then breathe out for another 4 seconds through your mouth. Repeat this five times, paying close attention to the rising and falling of your chest. Feel the air go in through your nose, down into your lungs, and back up and out through your mouth. Try not to think about anything else happening around you, just your breathing.

This only takes a few minutes but can make a world of difference when it comes to stress. Even though for most of us, stress isn’t the primary cause of our pain, reducing our stress will help us to better deal with our pain by redirecting our attention.

Myofascial Release

When people feel pain, their first instinct might be to go and get a massage. This might help, depending on who you find. If you are able to find someone who is trained in myofascial release (typically a physio), they will be able to make a big impact on your pain.

Myofascial release treats the fascia – a thin layer of tissue just beneath the skin and above the muscle. When this tissue gets contracted or pinched, it can restrict our movement and cause pain. Throughout your whole body, layers of fascia are interconnected. That means that a problem in your left shoulder could cause referred pain down to your right hip. A physiotherapist trained in myofascial release will be able to help you identify what spots may be the primary cause of your pain and what you can do to treat it on your own.

Many stores sell self-myofascial release tools, such as a foam roller or massage ball. As with any tool, these are only effective if you are trained and how to use them. Talk to your physio about what you can do to deal with your pain through myofascial release.

using foam roller for myofascial release pain management
A foam roller is a great tool for self-massage

Exercise

Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, exercise can be a beneficial and natural way that we can relieve pain. One of the benefits of exercise for pain relief is that it releases endorphins. These chemicals help our body more properly heal and manage the pain that we are currently experiencing. It can also put us in a better mood and help clear our minds.

Depending on the cause of your pain, exercise may also be a practical step to take towards long-term relief. As you work to strengthen muscles, you may be improving the very structures that are causing you pain in the first place. These exercises don’t have to be lifting heavy weights or running excessive distances. Instead, even light strengthening or stretching can help to relieve pain. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “motion is lotion.” This can prove to be true for many people dealing with chronic pain.

Lifestyle Modification

Changing Movement Patterns

One of the simplest but most commonly overlooked ways to deal with pain is through lifestyle modification. We have all done our routine tasks more or less the same way our entire lives. For example, we have probably been cleaning the house and sweeping the floor with the same motion ever since we were young. However, as we get older this motion can cause added stress to our back, neck, knees and other regions. Because this is something that we do so frequently, we probably don’t even think about it as being something we can change. A simple adjustment, such as using smaller sweeping motions while we clean, can make a major difference in our pain.

Avoiding Prolonged Sitting

Another frequent offender when it comes to routine tasks that cause pain is sitting. Sitting on its own may be comfortable and even potentially cause some relief from our pain. If we are not mindful of our posture, though, sitting can make things even worse.

It is recommended that we not spend too long in the same position. More and more we see people making use of standing desks, taking breaks to stretch at work, and many other things that can help prevent some of the damage associated with sitting.

One place that we might not think about, though, is in our car. When we sit in our car for an extended commute, we stay in the same position for possibly hours at a time. Even in the best position, this will cause agitation and pain to our back. The best way to deal with this, as inconvenient as it may be, is to regularly get out of our car and stretch. This is essential for journeys longer than an hour.

posture when working at computer
Consider your posture during different tasks, especially ones you spend a lot of time doing!

Read more about our ergonomic services here.

Activity Pacing

Another technique for dealing with pain can best be explained through a metaphor. Much like we set a budget for our money, we need to budget our pain throughout the day and week. For example, you may love to work in your garden. However, you know that when you spend any significant time working in the garden, it raises the pain level in your lower back.

The simplest thing for you to do? Stop gardening. But what if you want to keep gardening? You don’t have to stop! Instead, you can find more comfortable ways to do what you want to do. Most importantly, though, you need to be sure that when you do your gardening, you don’t have anything else important coming up. If you always work in your garden just before some other activity that can aggravate your pain, you will likely find that you have “overspent” from your pain “budget.” Instead, plan ahead for activities that may cause you pain and be sure that you have time to recover after. That way, you don’t have to give up the things you love.

Your physio will help you plan activities and devise a program to increase your tolerance and capacity over time.

Find A Physiotherapist

Clearly, there are many ways to deal with pain, but it can be extremely challenging. Pain is a highly individual experience and generic advice can only take you so far. The best recommendation we can give is to seek out an experienced physio you can trust to work with you to develop a tailored pain management plan. Every situation is unique – find what works for you.