There’s no doubt that living with chronic pain can be excruciating physically and emotionally. But there are things you can do to make life easier. From simple changes in how you arrange your home, your car, and your computer to working to understand your pain, exploring pain management options, and tending to your emotional needs, you can take charge of your life.
Modify Your Home
Navigating your home can be challenging when you’re living with chronic pain, according to Evan Levine, DC, a chiropractic physician in New York City. To aid pain management, he recommends these steps: “Place objects that you use every day within easy reach, and rearrange closets, cabinets, and shelves to make your activities a little easier and less stressful.”
Adjust Your Car
Don’t exacerbate your chronic pain by adding stress and strain when you drive. Instead, make your pain management plan more effective by adjusting the driver’s seat so your feet comfortably reach the foot pedals and you also have maximum windshield and mirror visibility. Moving the seat's lumbar support so that it hugs the curve of your lower back can be a great pain reliever. You can also purchase a lumbar support seat cushion if the car seat isn’t providing adequate support.
Make Your Workstation Work for You
Spending hours at the computer can exacerbate chronic pain if your workstation isn’t ergonomically sound. “Adjust your chair height so your feet rest flat on the floor,” says Dr. Levine, “and adjust your computer monitor to ensure the top of the screen is at or just below eye-level when you're seated.” In addition, for better pain management, try using an articulating keyboard and mouse on a slide-out tray, and be sure your wrists are in a neutral position and not bent back when you're typing. Be sure you take mini breaks when working at a computer to stretch, move around, and rest your hands and eyes.
Seek Emotional Support
Chronic pain and its limitations can wreak havoc on your emotions and relationships. Talk about your condition and your feelings with family and friends and keep lines of communication open. Ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed — this can benefit both you and loved ones, who may not be sure how to offer assistance. Online or in-person support groups can also play a role in your pain management, as can discussing your feelings with your pain treatment team.
Do Your Homework
Research your chronic pain and learn as much as you can. Then stay up to date on the latest pain treatments. In addition to using a pain reliever, consider alternative therapies. “Acupuncture, biofeedback, relaxation training, meditation, and hypnosis may be helpful in coping with chronic pain,” says Levine. Cognitive therapy, a form of counseling aimed at identifying and changing potentially destructive thinking, behavior, and emotional responses, may be especially beneficial, according to Levine.
Take Control and Get Active
Consider keeping a chronic pain journal. By writing detailed notes you can help your pain treatment team identify what makes your pain better or worse, how long it typically lasts, how well pain medication is working, and any possible side effects. Gentle exercise — with your doctor’s consent — may also help with pain management. Ask your doctor which types of exercise might work well for you.
Make Your Doctor Your Partner
Ask a lot of questions so that you completely understand your chronic pain. Bring a relative or friend along to appointments to help you remember the details of your medical visits. Talk with your medical team about your pain and how severe it is. If you’re taking pain medication, discuss how well it is or isn’t working, as well as any other avenues you might like to explore. If you have multiple doctors, try to make sure that your entire pain management team is in sync.
Don't Let Your Pain Define You
While it's important to know your limits, you should also be careful not to let your chronic pain overshadow every aspect of your life. Look for ways to modify your hobbies and see if there are any products that might make everyday living easier, such as ergonomic gardening tools if you have arthritis. Taking up new hobbies and meeting new people can also be beneficial in pain management. It may be difficult particularly at times of flare-ups, but remember that you are more than just your pain.