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What to Do When Your Pain Doesnt Go Away

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Everyone has experienced an instance of acute pain—it’s generally sharp and comes on fast. Maybe you sprained an ankle while running, threw out your back picking up a box, or burned your hand on a hot pan. Most acute pain lasts roughly a few moments to a few months, and it goes away when the source of the pain heals or is treated. Chronic pain is a different beast.

According to statistics from the Institute of Medicine, 100 million men and women in the U.S. are suffering from chronic pain at any given time. For whatever reason, the pain just lingers—usually lasting six months or more. Perhaps that sprained ankle never heals up quite right, or lower-back problems continue to cause pain after too much sitting or standing.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Pain becomes chronic when the source or cause of the pain heals, but the body’s pain signals keep firing on all cylinders. Or when there is no cure for the underlying source of the pain, or when the cause, such as a medical condition, is misunderstood. While chronic pain strikes older adults more frequently, Steven Severyn, MD, director of the pain clinic at Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University, says he treats men and women of all ages.

“I see patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic strains, improperly healed fractures, issues with the connective joints and tissues, conditions like fibromyalgia and migraine headaches, and digestive issues,” says Severyn. “Most of the time, the pain is in the setting of some pretty clear pathology. But healing is often incomplete when it comes to chronic pain.” Why? Because treatment must take a multi-faceted approach, according to Severyn. There are three key components involved in appropriately managing chronic pain: behavioral health, psychological stability, and physical activity.

Chronic Pain Management: Behavioral Health

You might be aware of every zap, pang, and jolt, but do you really know your pain? Getting ahead of your pain, and understanding the behaviors that affect it and the situations that stress it, can help you come out on top. “Make it a goal to manage the root problem or condition, and your level of functionality, rather than just the pain,” says Severyn.

If you have a bad day or a rough workout, try to figure out what caused your pain to kick up. Did a restless night of sleep lead to a migraine? Did fried food cause your IBS to flare? Did your back start screaming after raking all the leaves in the front yard? The right behaviors should deliver the right outcomes for your pain; if your condition is becoming worse, making adjustments is crucial.

Chronic Pain Management: Psychological Stability

Feeling blue tends to pair with pain. Chronic pain can often trigger mental conditions, such as anxiety and depression, so maintaining social support and continuing to do things you enjoy are critical, says Severyn. “Counseling, support groups, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are all positive ways to help heal,” he explains. And try to mentally frame your pain in a positive directions. Focus on what you can do, not what you think you can’t, says Severyn. Don’t skip that hike with friends just because you fear your back might give out, or your fibromyalgia might flare. It’s much wiser to have some fun.

Chronic Pain Management: Physical Activity

The last major player in pain management? Don’t stop moving. “There is often the temptation to ‘sleep it off’ or rest,” says Severyn. But moving can help keep muscles and joints limber, and ultimately help relieve your pain.

Find activities you enjoy—yoga, biking, jogging, playing soccer, dancing—and continue to do them regularly. And don’t worry about overexerting yourself, and exacerbating the pain. “It’s fairly uncommon to see someone with chronic pain truly overdo it with exercise,” says Severyn. “I always say do as much as you want to do, as much as you can,” he says.

Seek Help for Chronic Pain Management

If you suffer from chronic pain, assembling a team of health providers that you trust can be beneficial. But a good general practitioner will be able to spearhead symptom management with a comprehensive approach. “Your best strategy is to find a physician who can help you manage pain with behavioral health, psychological stability, physical activity, and medications in concert,” says Severyn.

Pain-relievers, such as NSAIDs or narcotics, may be involved in your treatment, but there’s much more to pain management than pills and procedures, says Severyn. “There’s equal place for complementary therapies, too—things like acupuncture, meditation, Reiki, or yoga,” he says.

Whenever you’re dealing with pain, compile a comprehensive team of providers, stay positive, keep doing the activities you love, and maintain the healthy habits that keep your daily functionality high.

 

Jenna Birch is a health and lifestyle writer. She has written for several media outlets, including Men’s Fitness, Runner’s World, Yahoo! Health, and SELF.com. A self-proclaimed nutrition and fitness junkie, she still can’t resist the allure of an occasional chocolate lava cake. (Everything in moderation, right?)

This article, What to Do When Your Pain Doesnt Go Away, first appeared on Fitbit Blog.