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4 Ways to Manage Chronic Pain

Hi, I am Brant Loose from CHI Health St. Mary in the physical therapy department, and today I really want to dive into chronic pain and some of the things that you can do to bring your pain down. A lot of times, you might be told that you have to live with your pain, or there’s nothing we can do for it, but that is just not the case. When it comes to chronic pain, there is no magic pill, but truth be told there are 4 little things we can do that really make a difference. We want to talk about exercise, nutrition, sleep, and, the biggest one, being positive.

Exercise to Help Chronic Pain

I wanted to take a moment to look at exercise. We all know that it helps our hearts, lungs, and muscles, but I really want to talk with you about the fact that we’re not exercising enough. In fact, only about 24% of Americans are getting the minimum amount of exercise according to the American Sports College Medicine group, as well as only 26% of our adolescents. So, as a whole, one out of four of us and our kids are only meeting the minimum threshold. We've got to move more, and there's so much evidence that shows that with chronic pain we can bring those pain levels down by moving more. In fact, a 6 mile run releases a natural opioid release that is about the same as 10 mg of morphine. So if we can just move more, we can start to bring that pain down. It may feel counterproductive because we may feel like, “If I move I hurt.” But just understand instead, “If I can move, it will help me feel better if I can stick with it.”

Sleep Helps Pain Levels

The next one I want to go into is sleep. We now know, based on research, that if we don't sleep well, we actually get more back pain. We followed people in their sleep cycles, and if they didn't sleep well, it was a precursor for back pain. The effect goes both ways; we’ve got to be getting enough sleep. The other thing sleep does, if we deprive you of sleep and if we measure how sensitive you are to pain, and then take sleep away and measure the next day, you now can no longer tolerate the same amount of pain. So now we know sleep directly influences how you respond to pain.

Take the CHI Health Sleep Risk Assessment to see if you have sleep disorders that can be aided by our team.

Eating Healthy to Manage Pain

Nutrition is another thing. We’ve got to eat those leafy greens and eat better. I am not a nutritionist, so I am not going to try to dive too much into it, but understand if you have a race car, you’re not going to put cheap fuel in it. Same with your body. So, I really recommend you get out there and talk with a nutritionist if you are in chronic pain, and figure out what you can do differently because it will drastically affect your pain.

Stay Positive for Less Pain

The last piece of the puzzle is staying positive. When we look at positivity, know that it is the biggest predictor of whether or not you get better with conservative care. In 2013, a research study was done and what they found is that it didn't matter how big your rotator cuff tear was, didn’t matter how much pain you had, the biggest predictor of whether or not you got better was, “Do you believe you're going to get better?” That is the biggest predictor! It doesn't matter what's going on in my shoulder or where the pain was, they just wanted to know, “Do you think you'll get better?”

Another study showed a group of participants either red or blue lights, and then they poked them with a very cold device. They then had them report how painful it was. If they thought was going to be hot and painful, it was an average of 8/10 pain ranking. It they though it was going to be cold, the average was a 2/10 pain ranking. What you think is going to happen in your expectations drive how much pain you're going to be in.

Another study looked at chronic shoulder pain. The researchers looked at swelling. Participants who just thought about moving their arm, increased the amount of swelling without even moving it. So your brain has a huge roll in what you expect and what you perceive. But know that if you can be positive, and you expect, “I can do it. I can get better,” that drives those pain thresholds.

In the chronic pain world, when you’ve been told repeatedly, “This is your life, it cant get better,” it's really easy to go negative fast. So I really encourage you to be positive and focus on how exercise can make it better. Americans consume 80% of the world's opioids, and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone. Yet we are the second highest country for chronic pain. There's more to it than pills.

We can do things through movement, nutrition, diet and sleep that can drastically change your situation. So if you have chronic pain, or you have any questions about movement, about sleeping better, or anything else related to chronic pain, I want you to feel free to reach out to us at CHI Health St. Mary’s in Nebraska City, and we can talk about ways to decrease your pain to live a happier and healthier life.

Brant Loose, PT, DPT, TPI-M3-J2-F2, FMS, SFMA, YSAS
Brant Loose, PT, DPT, TPI-M3-J2-F2, FMS, SFMA, YSAS

Brant Loose is a physical therapy provider at CHI Health.

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