Chronic pain can be debilitating, all-consuming and even frustrating - especially when you've taken every test and tried every medication and you still hurt. You start to think maybe it's all in your head (it's not) and there's nothing else you can do (not true). Research shows the best way to control chronic pain is to tackle it from all fronts; in fact, a published review found that comprehensive pain programs - ones that address biological, psychological and social aspects of pain - are most effective at improving quality of life. For many conditions, medications help; to better manage pain, try these strategies, too:
Move a little every day.
Regular physical activity helps strengthen muscles, reduce stress and improve sleep - all of which help you control pain. And every bit of exercise helps: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that short bursts of daily activity (such as walking or gardening) helped people with fibromyalgia feel and function better. Talk to your doctor to determine the safest exercises for you.
Practice mindful meditation.
Your negative reactions to pain - such as fear or anger - actually can make it worse. Mindfulness teaches you to observe your thoughts and feelings instead of reacting to them, so you'll learn to experience pain as a moment-to-moment sensation, which then lessens the intensity. Research shows mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques can reduce chronic pain and anxiety and increase vitality. To find a MBSR class in your area, visit umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr.
Ask about supplements.
Omega-3 fatty-acid supplements may benefit arthritis, back and neck pain sufferers; and research suggests that vitamin D may help reduce fibromyalgia and bone pain. The dosing for herbal supplements may vary, some supplements have side effects, and others interact with prescription medications, so consult your doctor first.
Accept your pain.
That doesn't mean resigning yourself to suffer but instead changing the way you think about your condition. Research suggests if you stop trying to resist pain and learn to live with it, you'll hurt less and function better. Acceptance is about choosing to move forward and focus on the positives - the things you can do, the parts of your life you are thankful for.
The Doctors is an daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels and psychologist Wendy Walsh. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.