The winter slump that inevitably arrives in February is hitting, and hitting us hard. With 9 consecutive days of snow, minimal days with sunshine, and this weeks temperatures threatening single digits, it is hard to see the light of spring and summer weather at the end of this winter weather tunnel. Don’t worry because March 20, the official first day of Spring, is right around the corner when your dreams to get outside, walk the trails, take trips with your family and friends start to become a reality. This news of spring quickly approaching can be exciting for most but depressing for others who are unable to get outside and enjoy the weather due to disabilities or chronic pain.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is described as having pain daily for greater than 3 months. If you are one of the 25 million Americans with chronic pain from one cause or another, below are some tips that can possibly help control your symptoms to allow for better management of your pain to allow for increased participation in outdoor activities as the weather starts to warm up!
Tips to manage chronic pain:
Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing or Meditation
Deep Breathing is such a great tool that I incorporate with most of my patients throughout treatment and with self management as it costs nothing and you don’t need any equipment to perform, just yourself. While performing deep breathing activities, you begin to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is an automatic system in your body that turns on to promote “rest and digest”. It encourages your body to relax by slowing production of the stress hormones that are naturally within our body, lower heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and relax muscles. Reducing stress and relaxing your muscles can be major factors in helping to manage chronic pain.
It is always easier said than done. Stress, anxiety, and anger all increase the opposing system to the PNS, called the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). The SNS acts as our “fight or flight” response where our body automatically starts increasing use of the systems that can help us fight or get away from something dangerous including an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Performing meditation, getting a massage, listening to calming music, or performing a technique called guided imagery all can help reduce stress.
Self Mobilization/Muscle Release
This can be done with a foam roller, tennis ball, Thera Cane, self massager, etc. These tools can be used to reduce pain if used correctly! You can use any of the above devices to apply pressure to sore or aching muscles. When muscles are tender to touch or ache due to pain, joint issues, or nerve related injuries, gently apply pressure over muscles while performing deep breathing exercises. The combination of pressure with deep breathing can further activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) allowing for activation of your nervous system to help reduce pain.
Last but not least, ACTIVITY
The “happy” hormones or endorphins people talk about getting when they exercise are very real, not something made up by someone trying to sell you new exercise equipment. It might seem counter intuitive to move when you have chronic pain, but in many cases exercise can improve your mood and block pain signals from being sent to your brain. Exercise also increases muscle strength and reduces weight, which can help prevent any further injury to your body. Exercise should be specifically tailored to the individual. For inactive individuals, a consultation with your doctor or a physical therapist can help find a safe and effective way to slowly increase your activity level.
Chronic pain cannot be treated or 100% managed with the 4 steps listed above, as every person and pain experience is different. These are tools to be utilized to start your journey to reduce or better manage your chronic pain and allow you to return to activities you enjoy when the warm weather returns. If you have any questions regarding your chronic pain, management of acute or chronic pain symptoms, or are interested in increasing your activity level safely, feel free to contact a therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services. One of our skilled therapists can help manage your chronic pain and get you back to activity!