If you suffer from chronic pain, you’ve probably wished you could close your eyes and make the aches go away. Though it’s not quite as simple as waving a magic wand, research shows you may be able to think some of that pain away. Several studies have shown that people who meditate regularly have a higher tolerance for discomfort. Even though they still feel the pain, their brain processes the sensation differently so it doesn’t hurt them as much. Meditation is a skill that takes patience and practice. To start, sign up for a local class or download 360-5’s guided meditation iPhone app. Try to sit for at least a few minutes every day until you’ve built your way up to 30 minutes or more a day.
#2 Practice Your Downward-Facing Dog
If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you might think that relief is out of reach. But research suggests that people with conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis can alleviate pain and the emotional distress it causes by hitting the yoga mat. According to the researchers, gentle forms of yoga promote deep relaxation by pacifying the sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, lowers the heart rate and promotes slow breathing. This part of the nervous system is also linked to the fight-or-flight stress response; when it’s overstimulated, it pumps out adrenaline and can lead to increased sweating, heart rate and blood pressure. Over the course of eight weeks, not only did participants feel better psychologically, they also reported major reductions in pain. If you’re interested in giving yoga a try, choose a gentle type like hatha and look for a class that caters to people with injuries or chronic conditions. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any new workout program.
#3 Get Moving
Think having rheumatoid arthritis (RA) means exercise is off-limits? Think again. People with RA, an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, can improve their quality of life and physical ability by engaging in regular cardiorespiratory conditioning, according to a review in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. The American College of Rheumatology recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, such as walking, dancing or water aerobics, for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
#4 Go Hot and Cold
Can’t seem to remember when to use an ice pack and when to reach for the heating pad? First and foremost, never use heat after exercise, and never use cold beforehand. Ice new injuries within 48 hours to reduce swelling, and use on chronic injuries after working out. Use heat on old injuries to loosen up the muscles and increase circulation to the area.
#5 Do What You Love
Are you taking care of your emotional health? When we neglect our feelings, we often feel it in our body, in the form of an upset stomach, body aches, and exhaustion or heart palpitations. When we’re embarrassed, we might blush; when we’re angry, we grow tense or feel our heart pound. These are examples of the mind-body connection. Holding on to negative emotions can take a toll on our health. Depression, long-term stress and anxiety can all wear us down and compromise our immune system, making us susceptible to colds and other infections. If we’re tense, we clench our muscles, often without even realizing it. This can lead to back, shoulder or neck pain. That’s why it’s important to cope with our emotions in healthy ways. Exercise, deep breathing, meditation, yoga and other mind-body workouts can help fortify our emotional well-being and reduce our body’s reaction to stress. Choose an activity you enjoy, and make time for it every day.
#6 Splurge On Massages
Massages don’t just feel good — they may be good for you. A recent study found that weekly massages were more effective than standard medical care at alleviating lower back pain. Standard care includes painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants and physical therapy. The type of massage didn’t matter; patients who received relaxing Swedish massages got just as much relief as those who were given structural massages — a deep-tissue technique used to realign the bones and muscles. At the end of 10 weeks, those receiving massages spent fewer days in bed, used fewer anti-inflammatories and engaged in more activity than the standard-care group. They also reported improved function and less back pain. If you’re troubled by back pain that isn’t getting better, using massage as an adjunct therapy may help.
#7 Foster Close Relationships
How you relate to others may predict what kind of health problems you’ll face later in life, according to a study in the journal Health Psychology. While people who have intimacy issues are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, those who are insecure, clingy or anxious in the relationships are at even greater risk of chronic pain, as well as cardiovascular issues, like stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure. This study provides further evidence that the mind and body are intrinsically connected. While more research is needed, it’s quite plausible that taking care of your emotional health — by reducing stress, dealing with depression and establishing close relationships — may even prevent physical ailments.
#8 Sit Up Straight!
If you spend several hours a day at your computer, maintaining a proper workstation layout and practicing good posture can help minimize the risk of injuries, aches and pains. Use these ergonomic tips to help your body assume a neutral, strain-free position: Sit upright — no hunching or slouching — with your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Your back should be fully supported by your seat, with lumbar support. Keep your shoulders relaxed, allowing your upper arms to hang naturally. Your elbows should be close to the body and bent between 90 and 120 degrees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your knees should be close to the same height as your hips. Keep your monitor about an arm’s length away; the top of the screen should be eye level, so that you can read it without craning your neck up or down. Also, be sure to stand up and walk around several times an hour to allow your body to stretch.
#9 Go With the Flow
Too sore to exercise? Try Tai chi, a gentle, flowing form of martial arts that works all the major muscle groups in the body. Sometimes called meditation in motion, this low-impact, mind-body workout is perfect for people with chronic pain or injuries. Tai chi builds strength, balance and flexibility, which can help prevent falls and other accidents. In addition, tai chi can reduce stress levels and help alleviate pain, fatigue and stiffness in people with arthritis. That’s according to the Arthritis Foundation’s most recent and largest study to date on tai chi. Exercise is extremely important for people with arthritis. Lack of physical activity can weaken muscles, which puts extra strain on joints. Sign up for a class in your area, or ask Santa to put a beginner tai chi DVD in your stocking.