9 Things You Never Knew About Chronic Pain
Chronic Pain Management
A throbbing head, a crick in the neck, allover muscle tension—yeow! Chances are you’re no stranger to these kinds of everyday . One in four Americans say they’ve had a bout of pain that has lasted more than a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, fortunately, there’s plenty you can do besides pop ibuprofen to work out the kinks so a sore back or a bum shoulder doesn’t slow you down. There are even lifestyle moves that make a difference. Here’s what you need to know to ward off pain—and feel better if you’re already hurting.
Women Are More Prone to Pain
Women report feeling more intense physical discomfort from almost every kind of ailment—whether an ankle sprain or —says a study from Stanford University. (Lucky us.) Experts aren’t clear on why, but research suggests that a mix of hormonal, genetic, immune response, and psychological factors are involved.
Research from the University of Michigan, for example, has found that fluctuating estrogen levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle may play a role. When the hormone drops, so do pain-dampening endorphins, making the body less able to handle discomfort.
Another theory points to cultural expectations: “We know that men are often compelled by stereotypes to act tough and manly,” says Roger Fillingim, PhD, director of the UF Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida. “So they may be reporting less pain than they really feel. By the same token, women may be encouraged to report pain.”
Rest is not Always Best
Back spasming? Shoulder aching? Your instinct may be to move as little as possible. But doctors actually now recommend the opposite for minor muscle aches and joint pain. “We often tell patients to resume normal activities—including exercise—as soon as possible,” says Jennifer Solomon, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Research supports the advice: One review found that people with lower back pain who were advised to stay active had less pain and better function than people told to take it easy.
Migraines Worsen at This Stage
As if mood swings and hot flashes weren’t enough, seems to bring on more migraines as well. When researchers looked at 3,664 women with these hellish headaches, they found that the risk of having frequent head pounders rose by 62 percent during perimenopause. “Risk was highest at the later stage, when women have low levels of estrogen,” says lead study author Vincent Martin, MD, director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute. The good news: Hormonal therapies, such as the birth control pill or an estrogen patch, may help, says Dr. Martin.
Some Natural Painkillers Work
Acupuncture: Research shows that this technique, a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and relieve chronic pain in the lower back, neck, and knees.
Chiropractic: Chiropractic treatment involving spinal manipulation may work as well as conventional care for lower back pain for up to 18 months, per a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). And a review of research found that the technique may be helpful for neck pain and migraines as well.
Yoga: Another study funded by the NCCIH revealed that people with chronic lower back pain who took up Iyengar yoga, a practice that focuses on proper alignment, experienced decreased discomfort and less disability after six months.
Massage: Not only does it feel ahhh-mazing, but research has shown that this manual manipulation of muscles, ligaments, and tendons can help alleviate chronic lower back and neck pain, as well as knee pain from osteoarthritis.