If you suffer with chronic pain, you probably dream of experiencing life without pain again. Or at least feeling like you are able to actively manage your pain. Lifestyle changes – including the food you eat, your movement patterns, etc – can be difficult for someone without pain but they can feel impossible to someone suffering with chronic pain. But the question is, are lifestyle changes “worth it” to someone with chronic pain. Is this the key to getting your life back?
Chronic Pain is a Complex Problem
If you are reading this, you know that chronic pain is much more complicated than any single lifestyle prescription could “fix”. At least not overnight and certainly not a one-size-fits-all prescription for lifestyle changes.
The roots of how a person can develop chronic pain is still poorly understood, but it appears to have multiple possible pathways. It’s also not yet known if how chronic pain is acquired gives us any direction on best interventions. This is because until recent years most doctors were fairly dismissive of chronic pain patients. (And some still are!)
The Promising Field of Epigenetics
However, the booming new science of epigenetics – the understanding of how your lifestyle choices turn on or off your genetic expression – is teaching us that we have the ability to shift our lived experience within our bodies through our lifestyle choices more than we ever imagined! So while we still are experimenting with the specific lifestyle changes to recommend, there is growing research to support the idea that the impact of your daily choices is significant for your quality of life overall.
Lifestyle Changes Can Put You in the Co-Pilot’s Seat…
While you probably want to feel like you are piloting your own body, chronic pain pushes you into the back seat. It lets you know really quickly that this body of yours is no longer able to do what you used to do. And in the brief times you crawl into the driver’s seat to push through for a certain activity- a trip to the store, a doctor’s visit, your kid’s birthday party, etc- you get pushed back fast and hard! You might pay for that energy expense for days!
Cellular Regeneration is Key
Lifestyle changes are not an overnight cure, but they can help. At the cellular level your body is renewing itself daily – with old cells dying off and new cells regenerating. This process happens on up until the day you die. And those new cells are created with the building blocks you give it – through the food you eat, the air you breathe, etc.
So, in theory, if you can give your body the building blocks for great, healthy cells, you can experience a whole new body within just a few years.
Realistic Expectations for Lifestyle Change intervention
While that might not be exactly how you experience it, this process can progressively allow you to become a co-pilot for the journey. You can help to more actively manage your endurance. You can tinker with your lifestyle pattern to find ways to decrease your pain, increase your tolerance and overall improve your level of functioning with a daily routine over time. This process isn’t easy, of course, but it’s worth it if you want to get your life back!
Where to Start?
Understand that although chronic pain does not necessarily have any direct and obvious cause, it is likely linked to underlying chronic inflammation. Incorporating anti-inflammatory lifestyle interventions can be a good starting point.
One of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle changes I will strongly emphasize is the need to give up sugar. This was one of the key pieces in my own journey to finally kicking my chronic pain to the curb! Sugar does so much damage to our system, there’s no nutritional benefit and we actually tend to be happier and enjoy our life better without it. I get that it’s not easy, but your pain isn’t worth it. (For inspiration, you can check out more about my story.)
Personalize Your Approach with Journaling
To personalize your approach further, consider each of the 5 essentials of a healthy lifestyle and apply it to your own life. Consider what you have already discovered about how your body responds.
For example, with nourishment – think about how your body feels after consuming different kinds of foods. I have found that my body doesn’t process peanut butter or tomatoes all that well. So, while they aren’t “bad foods”, they are uniquely not great for my body.
Learning how your body uniquely responds to various lifestyle changes will be the key to unlocking the ability of your body to heal. Track these observations in a journal to continue making adjustments over time.
Start Listening to Your Body Again… But Not Too Much
Most of the patients I have seen with chronic pain have either stopped listening to their body to ignore pain signals OR they listen to their body so much they can’t pay attention to their external world. Figuring out how to reconnect with your body in a meaningful way can be such a powerful experience. It allows you to connect to the needs and desires you feel within your body which are clues to what it needs to heal.
Of course, connecting to your body is difficult when you are in a flare up because that means you will likely experience the pain in a more active way than you usually do. However, I would suggest that confronting the pain might be a surprisingly empowering experience.
(Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and sell you on the “mind over matter” argument and guilt or shame you for not controlling your pain. That’s absolutely ridiculous. If you could do that, you would have done it already and you wouldn’t have developed chronic pain!)
But How Do You Find the Balance?
As you can probably guess, it’s not an exact science. But here are a few basic steps to take that will start you on this journey.
Decide which end of the spectrum you fall on – paying too much attention or too little attention to the cues from your body
Start making an effort in the opposite direction.
- If you pay too much attention to your body when it’s in pain and ignore the outside world, try to intentionally pause several times throughout the day to just notice. Think about what you hear, what you see, what someone else might be feeling
- If you pay too little attention to your body in attempts to ignore your pain, try to take breaks throughout your day for an internal check up. How do you feel? What feels good? What feels uncomfortable? What does your body seem to be telling you right now?
After a few weeks of making an effort in the opposite direction, experiment with what it feels like to spend 10 minutes in balance with your internal and external cues. You can slowly increase this until it becomes your natural state of being.
Balancing your awareness and responsiveness to internal and external cues will help you understand and interpret the cues your body is giving you.
Your body is always working to heal itself. Your job is to align your actions with those that will allow the body to do it’s natural work of healing.
Is a pain free life possible with lifestyle changes?
Not entirely. But that’s a good thing! Pain is a part of life and it serves a valuable purpose when it’s in balance.
But a pain controlled life is entirely possible!
It will take time and patience to continue making efforts in the right direction, but it is possible. Is there a map laid out of how to do it? Nope. It will also require some intuition, trial and error. But it’s possible.
What do you think? Do you believe a pain controlled life is possible? Do you think this could work or have a story to share? Add it to the comments below so we can learn from each other!