By Savitha Tudi
Chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts for more than three months, can manifest itself in many ways. And its cause can be as diverse as the population itself. There are a number of common approaches to treating chronic pain and helping those suffering from it to overcome a constant presence.
I work with patients to identify specific therapies to manage pain in order for them to live with fewer restrictions and limitations.
It is important to understand everyone has a different pain threshold. It’s well documented that people experience pain differently. There are patients with essentially the same injury as captured on an MRI, and yet one person may feel little or no pain. Another person, though, may find the pain debilitating. Once this reality is understood, one can begin to understand the underlying causes of pain and how to manage pain on a case-by-case basis.
Stress, anxiety and depression can intensify some forms of pain and create a cycle of discomfort that requires an individualized treatment plan that treats the whole person — not just a point of pain.
Often the first line of treatment for chronic pain is to prescribe pain medication, which for some people can be very effective. For many others, however, medication simply does not provide enough relief.
If you treat chronic pain with medications only, eventually the medications stop being effective. And the threat of dependency can become an additional problem that needs to be addressed.
Medications are very useful, but they should only be one element of a treatment plan designed for the entire person. Understanding other stressors in a person’s life — family life, diet and exercise abilities or other limitations — is important too.
A physician must take a multi-pronged approach to treating chronic pain. This includes counseling, alternative therapies like yoga and acupuncture, socialization and physical therapy, in addition to medication. Though, sometimes surgery is the most appropriate solution for pain.
Obviously, the best way to treat chronic pain is to prevent it in the first place — oftentimes this is accomplished through diet and exercise. There are a number of exercises vital to preventing many common types of chronic pain. Core exercises help reduce stress and strain on the back muscles. Strengthening the core muscles can eventually prevent back pain.
Strengthening the legs and the muscles around the knee can alleviate arthritis and assist in mobility. People who are fit experience overall wellbeing and less stress, which in turn reduces pain.
The final piece of the chronic pain puzzle can be diet. Many foods are very effective in fighting inflammation. These include fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids (fish, fish oil and walnuts), whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat, lean protein (chicken), and spices such as ginger, turmeric and curry.
Dr. Savitha Tudi is an M.D. at Element Care’s Cumming’s Center in Beverly, MA. She can be reached at 978-712-3360 or visit www.elementcare.org for more information. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.