The good news is that more people are living longer. The bad news is that as a result, more people are also living with chronic pain, which becomes more common with age.
“There are more people over the age of 65 today than under the age of 5. This is a first in our country,” says Robert Jamison, PhD, a professor in pain management, anesthesia, and psychology at Harvard Medical School. However, as people age, many of the body’s systems start to break down, which can lead to persistent discomfort.
Common causes of chronic pain include anything from osteoarthritis and back pain to migraine headaches and fibromyalgia. In some people who have experienced prior nerve injuries or inflamed joints, the nerve endings keep firing even when the initial problem has resolved, says Jamison.
“It’s not a psychiatric problem. It’s true, it’s real, but it’s not a sign that something is life-threatening or progressive,” he says. But this ongoing pain is something that can significantly affect quality of life.
Chronic pain can be more complex and expensive to treat than many other conditions like diabetes and cancer, says Jamison. This is the case because people experiencing persistent pain often require a lot of doctor visits and medical tests. They may also need to work with multiple health care providers to manage their condition.
“So, for a lot of reasons it’s important to manage pain well,” Jamison says.
But to truly keep pain under control, you’ll need to not only partner with experts, but also develop strategies that you can use on your own at home. Empowering yourself to learn how to manage pain without office visits or procedures is often the most successful way to improve quality of life and decrease chronic pain.
“What people can do about it themselves can be just as important as what the doctors do,” says Jamison.
|Mindfulness meditation for painMindfulness meditation can help people manage chronic pain. Here are the basics:In a quiet and comfortable place, sit on a cushion on the floor with your legs crossed, or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Sit up straight but not stiff. Let your hands rest on the tops of your thighs.Start by bringing your attention to the sensations of your body (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent).Next, bring your awareness to your breathing as you inhale and exhale. Pay particular attention to breathing out.When you become distracted by thoughts and feelings (an appointment you must keep or anger at someone) silently and gently label these as thoughts, let them go, and return your focus to your breath.Start by setting aside some time to meditate for five to 10 minutes once or twice each day. You can gradually build up to 20 minutes or even an hour. For additional tips, see the Harvard Special Health Report Pain Relief Without Drugs or Surgery (/prds).|
At-home options to manage pain
The pandemic has not only magnified the importance of at-home pain management strategies, but also brought forth new options. For example, there are now numerous telemedicine options, including online support groups sponsored by pain management organizations, Internet-based mental health support programs, and pain management apps.
Using a combination of strategies can help get your pain under control. Here are some you can try.
Increase movement. While it seems like someone who is in pain should rest and avoid movement, this is actually the opposite of what you should do, says Jamison. Increased activity can help relieve chronic pain, so focus on what you can to be as active as possible. Try at-home exercises, such as online yoga classes, or walking. Also test out an activity tracker. It can help you increase your movement over time and to set small achievable goals that won’t aggravate your condition.
Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This psychotherapy practice can help you adopt healthier thought patterns. It’s been shown to reduce pain and disability by helping people cope with pain more effectively. CBT offers a way to change your emotional response to pain, starting with the understanding that while you may be hurting, your condition isn’t necessarily getting worse.
While therapists often guide people through CBT, you can also try an online CBT program, such as PainTrainer (www.painTrainer.org) or Pain Course (/pc), says Jamison. It can help you develop strategies to pace yourself as you move toward goals and to solve potential problems that crop up in daily life. For example, how can you manage pain when you have to leave the house to go somewhere?
Join an online support group. The pandemic forced many groups to move to a virtual format, which has proven a good option for some. Online meetings can be as helpful as those conducted in person.
“We did a study looking at a weekly pain group session. We monitored people who participated in either a virtual group or an in-person group and found that both groups did equally well in terms of getting better,” says Jamison. But the remote group actually performed better on one measure. “People in the remote group were more compliant and showed up more often,” he said. This is likely because people encounter fewer barriers when attending an online meeting at home than they do leaving home to attend a meeting in person. This is particularly true if they care for a child or have other responsibilities. To find a meeting or other resources, visit the American Chronic Pain Association website at www.theacpa.org.
Use support apps. There are a number of apps on the market that can help people manage different aspects of chronic pain. They can help people track certain behaviors, sleep, and mood, and whether their pain has gotten better or worse. Some apps even allow you to connect with your doctor to share information about your pain management efforts.
“It’s amazing how much you can do through an app,” says Jamison.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
Psalm 1:1-6 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; …
John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
John 16:24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Isaiah 26:3-4 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Luke 6:43-49 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: …
Matthew 5:3-10 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. …
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Proverbs 16:20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
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