Managing chronic pain through small adjustments

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Serious chronic pain afflicts at least 116 million Americans every year. Living with chronic pain can be excruciating painful, both physically and emotionally. But there are things you can do to make life easier. From simple changes in how you arrange your home, your car, and your computer, to working to understand your pain, exploring pain management options, and tending to your emotional needs, you can take charge of your life.

When you suffer from chronic pain, even everyday tasks such as getting dressed can become a challenge. To aid in pain management, you can modify your home to help make daily life a little easier. For starters, rearrange closets, cabinets, and shelves so that frequently used items are easy to access. For example, if bending over is painful, don’t store pots and pans in the lowest cabinets.

Driving can exacerbate pain if your seat isn’t properly adjusted. The driver’s seat should be situated so that your feet comfortably reach the pedals and you have maximum windshield and mirror visibility. You driver’s seat should have a lumbar support that can be adjusted to hug the curve of your lower back, which helps to minimize pain. For additional support, consider purchasing a lumbar support seat cushion.

Just as the driver’s seat in your car can exacerbate pain if not properly adjusted, spending hours at a desk can also do so. The desk chair should be adjusted so that your feet rest flat on the floor. Also, the top of the computer screen needs to be at or just below eye-level when you're seated. Additional support can be provided with an articulating keyboard and mouse on a slide-out tray. Be sure to keep your wrists in a neutral position while typing; they should not be bent back.

If you’re in the same position for long periods of time in the same position, such as working on a computer or driving, you need to take breaks. Experts agree that taking shorter breaks more often is preferable over longer breaks that occur less often. The so-called “perfect” combination is taking a 17-minute break every 52 minutes. However, if that’s not feasible, aim for a five to 10 minute break every 60 minutes, which is more beneficial than a 15-minute break every two hours.

Mental Health Maintenance

Chronic pain and its limitations often have a negative effect on your mental health. “It can be extremely difficult to maintain a healthy mind when the body continues to struggle,” says A Healthier Michigan. Chronic pain triggers anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, and trouble focusing. All of these issues worsen chronic pain. It’s a vicious cycle. Additionally, lower activity levels and poor coping skills cause more intense pain, so continuing exercise and having a support system are crucial parts of chronic pain management.

Your friends and family can be a great support system. Talk to them about your condition and your feelings. The better they understand, the better they can help. You can also find support groups for chronic pain suffers near you or online. Also, maintain open communication with your doctors, who can suggest exercises that help with pain management. Consider seeking counseling from a mental health professional. Cognitive therapy may be especially beneficial to chronic pain sufferers.

Other Methods

Research your chronic pain to learn as much as you can and to stay up to date on the latest pain treatments. While prescription opioids may help alleviate pain, they can create a physical dependency, even when used correctly. As such, it's important to implement holistic therapies into your daily life to supplement or replace an opioid prescription. Consider alternative therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, relaxation training, meditation, and hypnosis.

While you should know your limits, look for ways to modify your hobbies and home life to make them more manageable. If you love gardening but squatting and bending are painful, consider using planters and gardening at a table so that you’re able to stand. Rearrange your home, car, and desk. Small changes can add up to big relief. And don’t think you have to through anything alone; lean on support from friends, doctors, and support groups. In the end, just remember that your pain does not define you.

Text: US Health Corps