Living with pain

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard @aggergakker

Article by Jennifer Dawson

Could You Cope With Constant Pain?

The proportion of people living with chronic low back pain in North Carolina has doubled since 2009 – and that’s just one example of a long term comprehensive pain condition. So, what can you do when you have a long term health condition and need pain relief – but don’t want to go to the emergency room for urgent care?

First off, forget resting if you have a painful condition like back pain. Lying in bed for long periods may actually make the pain last longer, because inactivity makes you stiffen up, your muscles and bones get weaker, you don’t sleep well, you become lonely and depressed, and the pain feels worse. You’ll also find that it becomes harder and harder to get going again.

A better approach to reducing pain is a combination of exercise, physical therapy, painkillers and staying at work whenever possible.

Exercise to beat pain

Choose an exercise that won’t put too much strain on yourself. Good options include walking, swimming, dancing or yoga. Activity and stretching needs to become part of your lifestyle so you routinely do exercise little and often. Try to be active every day, instead of only on the good days when you’re not in so much pain. This may reduce the number of bad days you have and help you feel more in control.

Go to work despite the pain

It’s important to try to stay in work even though you’re in pain. Research shows that people become less active and more depressed when they don’t work. Being at work will distract you from the pain and won’t usually make your pain worse. It’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor or boss about the parts of your job that may be difficult to begin with, but stress that you want to be at work. If you do have to stay off work for a while, try to get back as soon as possible. You could go back to work gradually; for instance, you might start with one day a week and slowly increase the time you spend at work. You could also agree changes to your job or pattern of work, if it helps – a health and safety rep or occupational health department may be useful here.

Painkillers for long-term pain

It’s safe to use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce your pain so you can be more active. But it’s important to use painkillers carefully, as they have side effects.

Tylenol is the simplest and safest painkiller. You could also try anti-inflammatory tablets like Motrin, as long as you don’t have a condition (like a stomach ulcer) that prevents you from using them. Finding relief with topical painkillers in the form of a foam, stick, spray, gel or cream  may be a good choice if you’re at risk of heart attack or stroke because they allow lower levels of the drug to enter the body than with a pill.  It’s important to take painkillers at the recommended dose and to take them regularly every four to six hours, preferably to overcome a flare-up of your pain or to help get you through an impending activity. Don’t wait until your pain is severe before you start taking painkillers, as they won’t work as well.

Physical therapy for pain

Pain experts often recommend a short course of physical therapy. This helps you to move better, relieves your pain, and makes daily tasks and activities, such as walking, going up stairs, or getting in and out of bed, easier. Physical therapy for persistent pain can involve manipulation, stretching exercises and pain relief exercises. If you have physical therapy, you should begin to feel the benefits after a few sessions.

Coping with long term conditions that require regular pain relief can be extremely isolating. Keep in touch with family and friends and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Reach out to people who understand how you’re feeling and ask for support. By connecting with someone else in the Asheville area who also has a health condition, you’ll be reminded that you’re not alone, and be able to support one another. Why not try joining a peer support group or online forum, where people living with long-term health conditions come together to share their experiences and ways of coping?