Learning to live with chronic pain takes courage, perseverance, patience and ongoing education. There are many ways to try to cope with and manage your pain. These include exercising, participating in support groups, seeking counseling and practicing relaxation techniques.
Chronic pain is both physically and psychologically noticeable. People with continual pain might find themselves battling not only stress, but depression, fear and anxiety as well. Health experts know that stress is bad for your health in general and for chronic pain in particular. Stress lowers your pain tolerance level, for example. They also know that techniques to help your body and mind relax can alleviate stress, thus helping those with chronic pain feel better.
Some relaxation techniques, such as muscle relaxation exercises, have a better track record with alleviating chronic pain than others, such as hypnosis. But you might find that a more popular technique does not help you at all. The best way to find out is to try it. You might find that a combination of techniques works best for you.
How people relax is very individual, according to Robert N. Jamison, PhD, a Harvard Medical School professor who works with people in chronic pain. “It’s a skill that comes easier to some than to others.”
Here are some of the relaxation techniques that can help people with chronic pain:
Muscle tension is a common response to pain and worry. Tense muscles feel pain more intensely than relaxed muscles. Learning to release tension from muscles is relatively easy. Exercises involve a series of quiet movements where participants actively tense and then relax different sets of muscles in a particular order, such as beginning with those in the head and working your way down to the feet.
Meditation is a mind-body technique in which a person enters a state of quiet contemplation to induce mental and physical peace. By reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and slowing metabolism, meditation can increase your body’s pain threshold. Your mind and body are in a relaxed but alert state of awareness and are distracted and detached from pain. Yoga, prayer and continually repeating or chanting a word or phrase can put you in a meditative state.
Biofeedback measures your success in making changes to your body’s functions through activities such as guided imagery (see description below). Through hand-held machines that provide audio and visual information, biofeedback can measure changes in heart rate and muscle tension and relaxation.
Guided imagery is like a dream that you get to direct. By imagining yourself somewhere else, usually a peaceful, beautiful environment, you refocus your attention and divert your mind and feelings away from your actual situation-and your pain.
Hypnosis can distract people from pain or alter the perception of pain. People in severe chronic pain might try hypnosis as a form of distraction. For those in moderate pain controlled by medication, hypnosis can help them reduce their dosage and clear their minds. Hypnosis also can numb areas of the body where people experience milder pain.
A 1987 study of rheumatoid arthritis patients found that those who actively coped with their disease reported less pain, less depression, less functional impairment and a higher sense of self-efficacy than those who coped with it passively. Consulting a chronic pain expert or pain clinic can help you devise a strategy that combines relaxation techniques with other approaches for controlling your pain most effectively.
Managing your chronic pain is an ongoing effort. Do not give up. People who actively take charge of trying to control and manage their pain do better than those who do not.