April is National Occupational Therapy Month: Suggestions to help manage chronic pains

by Tami Gebel,
Occupational Therapist
Veterans Memorial Hospital

Have you ever sprained your ankle, hurt your back, bumped your elbow, and months later you think, “why does that still hurt?” Over 130 million Americans report chronic pain, which means that chronic pain is more prevalent than cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The definition of chronic pain is a continuous or recurrent unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that lasts three to six months beyond an injury or damage to body tissue. Chronic pain can cause decreased strength and coordination. Chronic pain can also cause depressed mood, sleep disturbance, decreased activity level, family and spouse issues, and increased financial burdens. A person with chronic pain may experience a slow deterioration in ability to function at home and work, may no longer seek out social activities, and rely more on the health care system. Overall, the quality of life of a person with chronic pain diminishes over time.

Often times a person experiencing chronic pain has been treated with medication, heat, cold, and/or surgery with no long-term relief. Many times the person with the chronic pain will say, “when I am busy, I don’t notice the pain, but when I am at home at the end of the day is when the pain happens.” Many doctors have probably said, “it is all in your head.” In a way, they are right. When a person experiences pain for a long period of time, chemical and neurological changes occur in the spinal cord and brain. Therefore treating the site of the pain may no longer be effective. For this reason, treatment of chronic pain needs to be focused on biological and psychological. 

Here are some ways a person with chronic pain can treat their pain: 1) Develop lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising. 2) Modify activities and eliminate those that cause the pain. Often times learning different ways to move the body can lessen the pain. 3) Learn relaxation techniques to reduce tension and stress. 4) Exercise to increase strength and flexibility. 5) Learn to focus away from the pain and focus on life goals. Find internal and external distractions in order to make the brain and body busy, so focus is not on the pain.

If you continue to experience chronic pain, and you would like to learn new ways to treat your pain, contact the Occupational Therapists at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.

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