Chronic pain is best treated by first determining the underlying cause with your doctor. By targeting the source, the treatment may be more effective at removing (or at least relieving) the pain. Here are some common tools used to manage chronic pain.
A heating pad
Heating pads are primarily used for musculoskeletal pain that affects muscles, bones, joints, and tendons, to relax the muscles and relieve joint pain. Affordable heating pads are readily available at pharmacies and don’t have to be expensive to be effective.
Experts do not recommend using a heating pad every day as it can worsen inflammation. People with chronic arthritis may feel comfortable using heating pads intermittently, which can then help over the long term. Another effective treatment is alternating heat and cold therapy on the painful area.
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A wedge pillow
A wedge pillow can help with several chronic pain conditions. For lower extremity edema (swelling from fluid in the tissue), joint swelling, and post-operative pain, Nesbitt recommends lying on your back and placing a leg lifter pillow under your legs with a flat platform on which your calves can rest. This position can help with hip and back pain, and relieve pressure and stress in the lower back.
You may experience hip pain associated with bursitis (inflammation of fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between tissues), arthritis (inflammation of the joints), or the iliotibial ligament (IT) (a thick band of tissue that runs from your hip to your knee) This is done by lying on your side with a wedge pillow between your knees. This position relieves pressure on the upper hip.
The wedge pillow size you need depends on your height and leg length. Body pillows 3 to 4 feet long may be preferred by side sleepers with hip or back pain.
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A pillow to support the lumbar spine
A lumbar support pillow is placed behind your back to provide support and improve posture, and it can be a helpful resource if sitting is chronically painful for you. Nesbitt likes the Therm-a-rest lumbar pillow, which can be adjusted for firmness and is easy to stow away for travel.
According to Dr. Shaw, there isn’t much evidence that pillows can actively treat chronic pain. Instead, pillows are useful to help you find the least stressful or painful position for your body in order to be more comfortable to handle.
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Eating a healthy diet of “fruits, vegetables, and few processed foods” can help anyone, but it’s a critical part of managing chronic pain, especially joint and back pain, says Nesbitt. Avoiding empty calories and minimizing sugar can go a long way in helping you lose weight, which then reduces stress on your joints and back. Fatty and sugary foods are also linked to inflammation, which can become more painful and difficult to treat over time.
Nesbitt suggests the Mediterranean diet, which highlights whole foods, plant-based foods, and healthy fats like olive oil, and includes low to moderate amounts of cheese, yogurt, fish, and poultry.
Chronic pain stemming from various conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia can be treated by moving your body towards one goal. “Exercise is not really optional,” says Nesbitt and should therefore be part of everyday life if possible. “But that doesn’t mean you are a fitness rat – find the best path for you and that is the best exercise.” This can look like going swimming, learning tai chi, or going for a walk while familiarizing yourself with Meets family and friends.
Graduating the amount of exercise or increasing your exercise practice over time can help people with chronic pain. You may only be able to walk 10 minutes at your pain level. However, over time, your tissues will adjust as you work and build your tolerance.
The following practices involve treating your entire body to relieve chronic pain.
- physical therapy is a great part of certain types of chronic pain treatment. It includes full body exercises like walking or stationary cycling and / or more localized exercises with your body weight or other weights. Physiotherapy usually focuses on mobility and getting people back to a level where they can do their daily chores and manage their pain effectively.
- Message therapy involves kneading the soft tissues of the body to relieve pain. Massage can be beneficial if you have tense, overworked, and sore muscles. It cannot be used as a one-time treatment for chronic pain, but rather as an ongoing addition to other treatments. In addition, various massage devices allow you to easily enjoy the benefits of massage from home.
- acupunctureKnown as dry needling in Western medicine, involves sticking thin needles into the skin. The practice can help manage several types of chronic pain, including back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis pain. It can also help sore or weak muscles move with ease.
There is evidence that some alternative treatments can help relieve chronic pain.
- Hypnotherapy, or hypnosis, has helped treat some cases of chronic pain in clinical trials. Chronic pain conditions that have been tested and treated with hypnotherapy include spinal cord injuries, gastrointestinal disorders, and multiple sclerosis.
- Some herbal treatments have centuries of history with roots in China, India and other parts of Asia. For example, ashwagandha, a popular herbal treatment, has been shown to be effective for arthritis pain and swelling. Meanwhile, research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, may also help relieve pain associated with multiple sclerosis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. However, herbal treatments are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of chronic pain, dosage of supplements can vary, and some supplements and herbs can create potential drug-herb interactions. Therefore, consult your doctor first.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) is generally considered safe for chronic pain. Although Dr. Shaw recommends that chronic users do not consume more than 3,000 milligrams total per day, always favoring the lowest effective dose.
Ibuprofen and naproxen, other popular OTC pain relievers, are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to treat acute pain – not chronic pain. Long-term use can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding. NSAIDs can also be riskier in the elderly due to age-related problems such as changes in the body’s response to drugs and increased comorbidities (the presence of more than one health condition). For many people, acetaminophen isn’t effective, but because it has anti-inflammatory properties, they sometimes take it consistently, which increases their risk for these health problems.
Experts recommend trying non-drug pain management options first. “On the whole, I believe that pillow interventions, diet changes, and bodywork are great ways to treat chronic pain before starting any pain medication,” said Dr. Shah.
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