A recent 2016 study has estimated that around 43% of people in the UK suffer from chronic pain (pain that lasts 3 months or longer). Living with pain can be difficult, whether it be a medically diagnosed condition such as arthritis, or just unexplained back pain, so it is important that it is taken seriously and treated accordingly. The NHS offer useful advice on living with and understanding chronic pain that may make day to day life easier.
What is sensitisation?
Central sensitisation occurs often in people who suffer from chronic pain. This is where constant pain can actually change the way pain is registered in the central nervous system, the brain and the spinal cord in particular. This means that people who experience sensitisation become more sensitive to pain with less provocation, so that they are not only sensitive to things that should cause pain, but also things that shouldn’t such as ordinary bumps, touch and pressure. Often people who experience this can’t be sure that the pain they experience is worse than it should be as the only have their own memories of pain to compare it to.
Coping with chronic pain
Both the NHS and NICE guidelines recommend staying physically active if you are experiencing chronic pain. While it may be tempting to rest for long periods, this is actually the worst thing you can do as inactivity will end up further weakening your muscles and make the pain last longer. Instead you should try low impact exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates to make stretching part of your daily routine. Likewise, keeping up with your work and daily chores will also keep your body active, and will also distract your mind from the pain.
Breathing and relaxation techniques can also help relieve pain, especially when it is intense. This will help relax your muscles and prevent tension causing you further pain, while also helping you feel in control of your pain. Meditation is a good way to achieve this, as it is proven to help people suffering from chronic pain.
Chronic pain is often one of the causes behind stress anxiety and depression. Understanding how pain works by educating yourself on its causes and effects may help you feel more in control of your pain. The Pain Toolkit is a free NHS endorsed booklet full of ways to combat and cope with chronic pain which is available for download on the NHS Choices website.
Counselling and seeking the support of family and friends are also important in managing the side effects of living with chronic pain. It is important to accept help and comfort where it is offered and to be kind to yourself– putting on a brave face will only hurt you further. For advice on where to seek counselling you should consult your GP.
Stay busy, stay active, do interesting things. These will all help you to focus on the things you enjoy rather than the pain.
The NHS also advise sticking to a regular sleeping routine – even if you find this difficult. Insomnia as a result of chronic pain is common, as many people find their pain gets worse later at night. However, sleep deprivation will only make your discomfort worse, so it is important to try and get regular hours of sleep at night and to research ways to help yourself sleep if you are finding it difficult. Avoid napping during the day, and instead go out for a walk.
There is also research to suggest that mindfulness techniques can help relive non-specific pain, where there is no discernible medical cause of your pain such as a slipped disk. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is based on yoga methods such as mediation, postures and an awareness of thought patterns and there are many videos and guides available online.