The current COVID-19 outbreak has created unprecedented challenges for all of us. New terms like “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” have suddenly entered our social consciousness and become the new norm. While these behaviors are critically important to prevent the spread of the virus and must be taken very seriously, most of us have nonetheless experiences a shift in how we go about our daily lives. This change in routine has undoubtedly resulted in difficulties for many, not least of all those suffering from chronic pain.
But staying in place does not mean you have to stay in pain! There are a bunch of ways you can manage your chronic pain without leaving the house.
Get Good Sleep
Getting quality sleep is essential for relieving your pain. Sleep boosts immune response, improves brain function, and helps the body heal and recover. Here are some things you can do to help maximize the amount and quality of your sleep:
- Stick to a schedule – Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Regulating your body’s clock can help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the whole night.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime – A large meal is tougher for the stomach to digest than a light snack and can make it harder for your body to relax and fall sleep.
- Have a good sleep environment – Make your sleeping area a place of peace and serenity. Keep it clean and tidy, and remove anything that could distract you, such as TVs, tablet or phones.
- Get regular exercise – Physical activity during the day improves sleep quality at night. It can also increase sleep duration and reduce stress.
Don’t let “sheltering in place” make you sedentary. Getting daily exercise is essential to managing your pain and keeping you healthy. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay active while practicing appropriate social distancing. A regular routine of low-impact exercises, including stretching, walking, yoga, Pilates, biking, and light weightlifting, can significantly reduce your pain and improve your quality of life in many ways:
- Improved bodily function – Regular exercise can result in increased flexibility, improved circulation and blood flow, alignment of the body, reduced stress, increased oxygen flow, enhanced coordination, and as we just learned, better sleep. Collectively, these upgrades can reduce your pain.
- Durable joints – Keeping your joints moving strengthens them and improves overall mobility, which makes performing daily activities and tasks much easier.
- Stronger muscles – Having strong muscles helps support your spine, which can prevent stress and strain injuries. Stronger muscles and tendons also align the body and protect bones and joints from impacts.
- Better mental health – The effects of chronic pain can often take a mental and emotional toll, which in turn can further worsen physical pain. Staying active can help boost self-esteem and improve your mental state.
- Healthier weight –Extra weight puts added pressure on your spine, joints, and muscles. This forces your body to work harder to support that extra weight, which can result in pain flare ups, muscle strains, pinched nerves, and accelerated structural degeneration. Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and fend off these negative consequences.
Make sure you talk to your pain provider before starting an exercise routine. He or she can help determine if exercise is appropriate for your pain condition, and if so, recommend the best options.
A healthy diet plays a huge role in managing your chronic pain. Different foods cause different reactions in the body, and it’s important to know which ones will help your pain and which ones will make it worse. Here are some tips on what to eat and what to avoid:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids – Fruits, vegetables, and omega-3’s have shown to decrease inflammation in the body and reduce muscle and joint pain. Choose foods like berries, leafy greens, winter squash, walnuts and pecans, salmon, kidney and navy beans, and seeds such as chia, flax and hemp.
- Eat less refined, processed “junk food” – Heavily refined, sugary, and chemically processed foods are known to irritate muscles, disrupt sleep, and interfere with immune function – three things that can enhance chronic pain.
- Avoid nightshade vegetables – While vegetables are a nutritious and important part of any diet, vegetables in the nightshade family – such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants – can potentially increase joint pain and arthritis symptoms in some individuals due to neurotoxins in the plants. Continue to include veggies in your diet but consider avoiding these ones.
We have covered some really important pain relief strategies so far. But most of us unfortunately can’t spend our entire day eating, sleeping, and exercising. Many of us still have responsibilities like working or watching the kiddos. Plus, we all need a little “me time” to relax and blow off steam. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to relieve from your pain. There are plenty of simple home remedies that can help you fend off the pain as you go about your day.
- Use heat or cold – Applying a heat pad or a cold compress can provide some wonderful, albeit temporary, pain relief. Ice is generally best for reducing inflammation and swelling, while heat is best for muscle aches and stiffness. The important thing is to listen to your body. If it doesn’t feel right, stop.
- Take a hot bath or shower – A hot bath or shower will help dilate your blood vessels, promote blood flow, and help your sore and tightened muscles relax. It can also help you relax and unwind, which is a great added bonus.
- Distract yourself – Do something to keep your mind focused on something other than your pain, like watch a movie, read a book, do a puzzle, or go for a refreshing walk.
Change Your Behavior
These strange and difficult times have thrown a wrench into our familiar routines and forced us to change our behaviors in many ways. But that isn’t entirely a bad thing. There are some behavioral changes that could help reduce your pain and improve your life. These may not all be applicable to you, but at least one of them is likely something new that you should consider trying!
- Try Delivery – If you don’t already use home delivery for your shopping needs, now is the time to try it out. When shopping, you are usually focused on the task at hand, and not on all the walking, twisting, bending, and lifting that goes with it. Having your goods delivered will not only help keep you safe from contracting COVID-19, but it also eliminates a lot of unnecessary movement that could cause your pain to flare up.
- Consider quitting smoking – This one is not necessarily specific to sheltering in place, but now is as good a time as any. Smoking impairs the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to bones and tissues, which can accelerate structural degeneration and cause or worsen chronic pain. For perspective, 18% of the US population are smokers, but smokers make up more than 50% of patients seeking pain treatment.
- Take up meditation – Mindful meditation is a great way to relax your body and your mind. Meditation promotes slow, rhythmic breathing and a calm, relaxed state of mind. Studies have shown that deep, slow breathing while relaxed can alter your perception of pain and provide relief.
Keep a Pain Diary
A pain diary is a great way for you to better understand your specific pain situation. Not only can this help you identify different things that help or hinder your pain, but it will create a detailed record that your pain provider can use to prescribe the best possible treatment.
Things to Note in Your Pain Diary:
- Indicate whether your pain interrupts daily activities like walking, working, or sleeping.
- Note what medications you took, when you took them, how much relief they provided, and for how long.
- Describe other treatments you may have tried and whether they provided any relief.
- Note any side effects of pain medicine.
- Keep track of anything that makes the pain improve (better when you are sitting instead of standing, better after a hot shower, etc.)
Most of us are quarantining at home right now, and for good reason. All of us need to do our part to keep each other safe and get past this. But you don’t need to quarantine your quality of life. By incorporating some basic strategies into your time at home, you can better manage your pain and make this whole situation a lot more bearable. Be disciplined, take control, and relieve your pain!
Pain Care from Your Favorite Chair
In the face of these unusual and challenging times, Twin Cities Pain Clinic is still here for you. We are continuing to serve patients via telemedicine virtual visits. You can meet with one of our specialized pain experts without getting up from your favorite comfy chair!
Appointments are available so schedule your virtual visit today!
We understand virtual visits might not be a viable option for everyone. If this is the case, please call us to discuss other options. Together, we’ll make it better.