We meditate, we practice mindfulness, we pace ourselves – and yet, sometimes we still find ourselves in a severe flare of pain. For many us, the first instinct is to push through it. Our thinking becomes muddled by pain, and we forget about pacing. Next to go is our practice of mindfulness, and we find ourselves frustrated and depressed. And in this state, it’s difficult to remember meditation is the way out of suffering.
Here is a list of tips to deal with severe pain flares from my book, Peace with Chronic Pain. These are all things to do at home, because it’s not everyday we can get to our favorite body worker. And even when we do see the chiropractor or acupuncturist or massage therapist, it’s easy to undo their work. Try these tips out and see if they work for you. For the benefit of others who find this page, please add your own tips in the comments!
Treat your body like a sacred object. After all, it is a manifestation of God.
Meditate everyday. Even a few minutes of meditation can boost your energy and improve your mood. When you don’t feel like sitting is often the time you need it the most.
Maintain your mind through the practice of mindfulness. Pay attention to your thoughts and constantly direct them to higher and happier states of mind, no matter what is happening to or around you. Focus on beauty and gratitude to pull you up, and strive to see the positive side of every situation you encounter.
Practice pacing and be mindful of your body at all times. If an action you are performing (or a position you are sitting or laying in) is increasing your pain, make the appropriate adjustments. If you cannot do it differently, then take a break until the pain recedes. An example: You’re putting three plates in the cabinet at a time and your pain is increasing. Start putting just one plate away at a time. It may take longer, but you’ll be in less pain when you’re done.
Heat up a hot pack, or put on a cold pack. If you feel heat coming from your muscles, the cold pack will most likely work the best. If your muscles feel unbearably tight, try the hot pack. You can also try alternating them every twenty minutes to help get the circulation going. When the whole body is in spasm, hot packs on your lower back and neck can calm things down.
Stretch like a cat. Cats stretch every time they get up. Even if they jump up in fright, once the threat is gone, they stop and stretch. There’s no regimented way to stretch; do whatever feels good at the moment, giving all of your muscles the opportunity to lengthen before moving around, before settling into bed for the night, and during long rests on the couch. Remember, a stretch is never painful – rather, it is a gentle pulling sensation.
Roll your ankles in small circles, first in one direction, then the other. Roll your shoulders gently, one at a time. Roll your neck. Be aware of any resistance as you roll; if it hurts, try rolling the opposite direction or change the size of the circle. Never force a movement; if your body doesn’t want to roll that way, it’s OK. Do only a few rolls at a time.
Use a Theracane self-massage tool daily. This tool looks like a long hook with a variety of knobs, which allows you to massage your entire body with minimal strain. It costs around $40 and comes with an instruction book.
Take lots of breaks. While you are resting, DO NOTHING. Reading a book or magazine takes energy and uses your brain, arms and hands, which means reading is not resting. If you need something to keep your mind busy, then watch a video or listen to music.
If you have one, plug in your TENS unit. The pulsing of the electrodes interrupts the pain signals coming from your muscles. If you don’t have one, ask your doctor or chiropractor if one would help your pain.
Use a pillow on your lap while driving to relive arm and shoulder pain. This is especially helpful on the way home from receiving bodywork at the chiropractor or physical therapist. I keep a u-shaped travel pillow in the car. When I’m driving, I rest my arms on it so I can reach the steering wheel without my shoulders having to hold my arms up. When I’m a passenger, I use the pillow to support my neck.
Learn to say NO without guilt, sadness, anger, or remorse. You are the only one who knows what your body can tolerate today. Respect your body by declining to do things that increase pain, or by leaving early. Remember to check-in with your body frequently because things can change from hour to hour. You do not need to explain yourself to anyone; if you feel the need to say something before leaving, let your friend know you’re tired and need to rest.
Remember all people have something going on in their life with the potential to cause suffering. While chronic pain is certainly very difficult to live with, others also face challenges everyday that intrude on their peace of mind.
Warm baths help to soothe sore muscles. If you don’t have a bathtub, then soak your feet in a large pan or in one of the many foot bath/spa products available. Bath salts vary widely, and I’ve found some to be more helpful than others. In my experience, Himalayan Crystal Salt is the best, but hard to find. My next choice is Dead Sea Salt. If you cannot find either of these, then try plain Sea Salt or Epsom Salt. Lavender oil (check to make sure it’s real lavender, and not just fragrance) is also helpful, as it has a relaxing effect.
A spa pillow for the bathtub is helpful. You can also try rolling up a washcloth to provide cushioning for your neck and head in the tub.
Keep a variety of pillows for your bed and your couch, so you can switch whenever you need to. Placing a pillow between or under your knees can help relieve pressure points.
Headphones and a CD or MP3 player with relaxing music on your nightstand will give you something to focus on as you let your body rest during the nights you wake up and cannot fall back asleep.
Always be positive, optimistic, and realistic.
Thank you (in advance) for sharing what works for you in the comments!