An estimated 1.5 million Canadians between the ages of 12 and 44, and more than 76 million Americans over the age of 20, say they experience chronic pain. Chronic pain is typically defined as pain that lasts for a duration of 3 to 6 months or more, and comes in many different forms. There are three primary types of chronic pain that one can experience: Neuropathic pain, nociceptive pain, and visceral pain. For further definition on these types of chronic pain, click here.
Chronic pain, at times, can be rather unpredictable as anyone living with chronic illness will know. You will have good days and bad days. Some days the pain may be more intense than others and cause you to have to cancel plans – such as social gatherings/outings, and it may also impact your ability to attend work or school. On other days, it may be tolerable, and you might still be able to carry out your day to day activities. While other days, rare as they may be, you might experience no pain at all. In many cases, individuals with chronic pain are sometimes able to determine what their triggers are. For example, individuals suffering from chronic headaches and migraines may notice a flare-up of their pain if they are exposed to certain scents, loud noise, or bright lights; while individuals suffering from trigeminal neuralgia may experience a flare-up when they are exposed to colder weather. These are just a couple of examples.
To get a better idea as to how chronic pain impacts people individually, including what triggers their flare-ups and what helps prevent them, Sheryl Chan, a writer at A Chronic Voice, surveyed a large number of individuals. One of the most common responses received from over half of those surveyed was stress – whether it was as a result of work or school deadlines, stress within their interpersonal relationships, or even stress that was considered to be positive but had them feeling overwhelmed. Another common answer was changes in weather. While the weather itself doesn’t necessarily cause pain flare-ups, the drop in barometric pressure does (this happens when colder weather is about to set in) – something Dr. Ghahary recently wrote about here. Others found their pain to be triggered by overexertion – for example, doing too much in a day or partaking in strenuous physical activity.
When it comes to managing chronic pain, what helps one individual may actually worsen another individual’s condition. For example, taking a warm shower or bath may help to decrease one person’s pain, while that might trigger a severe flare-up in someone else. Given how erratic and unpredictable chronic pain can be, it can be a tricky thing to manage. For many individuals, it’s about preventing flare-ups before they even happen. Some find that pacing themselves through the day and ensuring that they’re taking time in between whatever it is that they’re doing to take breaks to rest as one helpful way of triggering a flare-up. If you know you’re going to have one particularly busy day, try to have the following day completely clear on your schedule and use it as a day to relax and recharge. While conserving your energy isn’t always a guarantee that it will prevent you from experiencing any pain whatsoever, knowing what your limits are can cause your flare-ups to be less severe than they would be on days where you would otherwise over-do things. It can also be helpful to practice different calming techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation. These techniques not only help to relax the mind and reduce stress and anxiety but can also relax the body as well.
The food you eat can also play a role – and it can be negative or positive. Healthy eating is something Dr. Ghahary encourages everyone to do, but it is all the more crucial for those with chronic pain. Things you should avoid if you have chronic pain include sugar, milk and dairy products, foods that are fried, saturated and trans fats, white flour, artificial preservatives, artificial colouring, artificial flavours, nightshade vegetables (such as green pepper, potatoes, and eggplant), gluten, caffeine, and alcohol; while your diet should instead include more protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants.