Chronic Pain Prevention

Chronic pain prevention includes adequate treatment of pain after surgery or injury, getting enough sleep and exercise, and reducing stress.

There is no way to ensure the prevention of chronic pain. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk that you will develop chronic pain.

Some ways to reduce the risk of chronic pain are:

• Ensure adequate pain control after surgery or injury
• Sleep enough
• Get enough exercise
• Reduce your stress
• Treat depression and anxiety

When the pain from an injury, illness, or surgery is not treated and becomes severe, the likelihood of chronic pain increases. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but it may be related to changes in the brain circuitry related to pain, or to changes in the nerves (or, most likely, both).

That means you should treat any acute (short-term) pain that you have, to reduce the risk that it will become chronic (long-term) pain. For example, after you have surgery, don’t just live with the pain. In our society, we’re often taught to be “tough” and to ignore pain, but unfortunately, this attitude could lead to the pain becoming chronic and affecting many aspects of your life. Instead, tell your doctor how much pain you’re having, and use your pain treatment as necessary to manage your pain.

Other ways to reduce the risk of chronic pain are related to your general health. Because those who have poorer general health have a greater risk of chronic pain, taking care of your health can help you to avoid chronic pain along with a host of other medical problems. You should make sure that you get enough sleep; around 8 hours per night on average. Society often teaches us to devalue sleep and view it as a waste of time, but it’s actually a crucial time for your body to repair itself.

Getting enough exercise helps to keep your mood stable, keep your body functioning well so that it’s less likely to hurt, and do many other positive things for your general health. Ideally, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. You don’t have to “hit the gym;” walking is an excellent form of exercise. Eating a balanced diet also helps to protect your general health.

Stress is an important risk factor for chronic pain. Those with a lot of stress in their lives are more likely to develop chronic pain. In some cases, you may be able to reduce the stress in your life; for instance, you could take on fewer projects at work, or get more help with the housework. In other cases, you can’t get rid of the stressor in your life (such as the death of a loved one), but you can learn ways to reduce your stress response and cope better with your problems. A therapist or counselor can be very helpful in learning ways to do this. Additionally, meditation, biofeedback, yoga, and other activities can be helpful in managing stress.

Chronic pain may cause depression and anxiety, but may also be caused by them. If you have depression or anxiety, then you’re at risk for developing chronic pain. Treating the underlying mood problem helps to reduce this risk. Talk with your doctor about your mood; there are many ways to treat mood disorders, including therapy and medications.

References

National Institutes of Health. “Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment.” NIH Medline Plus 6, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 5-6. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html

National Cancer Institute. “Pain.” (2015) http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/pain

American Academy of Pain Medicine. “AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain.” http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx

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