Steps to Manage Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is persistent pain that affects many people and can last for several months or even years.

Occupational and physical therapists can play an important role in managing chronic pain by introducing concepts that include posture awareness, self-administered manual therapy techniques, strengthening and flexibility exercises, body mechanics instruction, and simplification of daily activities.

Occupational and physical therapy is used to alleviate sources of chronic pain, including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic headaches
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Neuropathic pain caused by injury to tissues or nerves

Occupational therapists focus on modifying the person, procedure, or environment to increase participation in daily activities. This may include developing customized plans and objectives to address your self-care, vocational, and leisure goals. They also help patients understand the underlying cause of their pain, in order to reduce the severity of reoccurrences. Once taught properly, these techniques can be done at home so that the patient can learn to manage pain and dramatically improve their quality of life.

Physical therapists focus on increasing movement while reducing inflammation, stiffness, and soreness. This is done through guided stretching, graded exercise, self-manipulation, and massage.

The following tips will help you learn how to manage your pain at home.

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Exercise to Relieve Chronic Pain

Graded forms of exercise can be one of the best pain management options for chronic pain. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day at least three to four days a week will help with chronic pain management by building endurance, strengthening muscles, stabilizing joints, and increasing flexibility. Exercise may range from walking around your house to swimming in a pool, depending on your symptoms and physical abilities.

Exercise works to help the body heal itself by encouraging the production of the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine helps to manage chronic pain by allowing you to maintain the ability to move and function physically, rather than becoming disabled by chronic pain.

As a chronic pain treatment, occupational therapy can teach people how to move safely and functionally in ways that they haven’t been able to for quite a while. Occupational therapy can also help people learn body mechanics, how to simplify work tasks, and ergonomics to help alleviate pain which is caused by incorrect positioning.

As a chronic pain treatment, physical therapy can teach people how to pace themselves with exercise, and how to begin exercise without injury.

Engaging in low impact activities such as yoga can greatly improve chronic pain, especially in the back and limbs. Yoga focuses on flexibility and stretching. This can aid in alleviating pain by working to open up and relax the back muscles.

Be sure to clear yourself with a physician before beginning any type of exercises. It is also a good idea to let your yoga instructor know if you are experiencing any back issues, as they can suggest alternate exercises for you to ease back pain and prevent further injury.

RELATED: Common Contributors to Back Pain

Massages and Stretches for Pain

Massages and gentle stretching can aid in the control of chronic pain. Occupational and physical therapists can teach you how to perform proper stretching and self-massage therapy. These techniques can help ensure you are moving your muscles in ways that will help heal, and not further injure, yourself.

For chronic back pain, you can massage your back using a tennis ball. The tennis ball allows you to focus on a concentrated area of your back, providing a deeper massage than can be achieved using your hands.

Stretches can also help ease chronic pain in your limbs, back, and neck. Ensure you are healthy enough to engage in stretches. Learning how to do proper stretches can also ensure you do not further injure yourself.

RELATED: Can Yoga Help With My Back Pain?

At Home Remedies for Chronic Pain

In addition to massages, stretches, and exercises, chronic pain can be eased through relaxation and avoiding overuse of the affected area. Hot showers, warm baths, and gentle heat applications can all help relax tense muscles and provide relief.

Ensuring you are engaging in proper sitting and standing posture can also help to ease certain types of chronic pain.

Working with an occupational and physical therapist to create a comprehensive self-management program will allow for greater control over chronic pain.

For more information, visit the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute website.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.