Chronic pain management: turn the pain volume down this winter.
The onset of winter can increase the challenges for people living with chronic pain, which is pain, regardless of the condition, that persists for more than three months.
Moving helps chronic pain
As the cold and dark days roll in, it’s understandable to want to hibernate at home more. For people with chronic pain, movement can be an important tool in lessening the impact and experience of pain. It’s a natural inclination to want to move less when we feel pain. However, with months or years of persistent pain, if we move less and less, our bodies become deconditioned. This can lead to a vicious cycle where we feel pain, gradually move less and less, and, in parallel, our pain increases.
Experiment for enjoyment
Movement does not have to mean ‘exercise’ and it can be as little as you feel you can manage on a particular day. Start small and congratulate yourself for making the effort regardless of how much or how little you accomplish each day. Experiment to find a way of moving your body that you enjoy. For many, this may be walking or swimming or
strength training. Find what works for you.
Finding a way
Some people with chronic pain lose their livelihood and may not be able to afford classes or gym membership. You can search for free online tutorials or inexpensive classes in gentle forms of movement such as yoga, dance, Tai Chi or Qi Gong. If you have limited mobility, your local community centre may offer chair exercise classes.
Connecting with community
People with chronic pain often describe feeling isolated and this may worsen in the winter months. This often happens if pain interferes with a person’s ability to keep a job or take part in sports and social activities. They also often describe feeling that people don’t understand what they are going through. They can experience stigma and judgement, which can result in an ever-decreasing social circle. If you don’t know how or when pain will strike, it can be difficult to commit to social events. However, getting out and meeting people can help with your quality of life and this, in turn, can help to lessen your experience of pain.
Finding purpose helps with pain
Cultivating a sense of connection and belonging is an important existential need for everyone, including people with chronic pain. Feeling valued and connected to others can positively influence our experience of pain. While it is important to get out into the world and meet people and move your body as best you can, it is also essential to find
and engage in activities that you care about. A sense of purpose and meaning can act as a defence to buoy you at times when you are struggling psychologically with experiencing persistent pain.
Chronic pain is not the same
All pain is an emotional as well as a sensory experience. Acute pain is not the same as chronic pain. With acute pain, such as when you break your leg, your pain is sudden and time limited. The brain interprets a signal as dangerous (like a break in a bone) and switches on pain appropriately as a protection. Chronic pain, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic migraine, fibromyalgia and more than a hundred other conditions, persists over many months or years. With chronic pain, the brain undergoes changes that mean the pain
dial gets stuck at high volume. The brain keeps interpreting normal body signals as dangerous, switches pain on, and dials up the pain volume. The brain has learned to switch on pain continuously in a way that is not helpful.
People living with chronic pain need support especially in the winter months. A multidimensional approach to pain management and recovery is needed including interventions that help reduce or manage pain, increase functionality, and enhance quality of life. Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) offers a range of supports including self-management workshops, a telephone support line, patient and public involvement (PPI) research partnerships, meetings and public awareness events.
Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) is a national charity providing information, education, advice and support services to people living with chronic pain and those affected. To learn more, become a member, or support our work, visit www.chronicpain.ie