9 Things That Make Chronic Pain Worse

Quitting Bad Habits Could Help Relieve Chronic Pain Symptoms

Changing a few simple aspects of your lifestyle can put you in better control of your chronic pain, and may actually decrease the pain you experience. In fact, you'll likely be surprised if you take a good look at these nine things that can make your pain worse, and find any in your own life that can be improved.

If you want to have less pain tomorrow than today, and next week than this week, it's worth taking a close look at what you can do to change your life and get rid of pain.

1
Smoking

Man smoking cigarette
Smoking both raises the risk of chronic pain and increases the intensity of pain you already have. Erik Jonsson/EyeEm/Getty Images

There's no question about it, studies tell us, smoking makes chronic pain worse. And not only does it make pain you already have more intense, but you are more likely to develop chronic pain in the first place. People who smoke are almost three times more likely to develop chronic back pain, and it's associated with many other types of pain as well.

Tobacco and nicotine use decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches your muscles—oxygen that is required for efficient muscle use. Ever tried to go all day without eating? Well, that’s what your muscles can feel like when you smoke. Smoking can also cause fatigue and lung disorders, and it can make it harder for the body to heal itself. It is best for your body if you quit smoking, especially if you have chronic pain.

If you smoke, open up your quit smoking toolbox today.

2
Being a Couch Potato

Man on couch
Being sedentary increases pain, creating a vicious circle. Morsa Images/DigitalVision/Getty Images

 A sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle disuse syndrome. In other words, use it or lose it. Over time, muscles that are barely used lose their strength and endurance. Weak muscles are much less efficient, meaning it takes more work to do simple tasks, like taking a shower.

Not only do weak muscles lead to weaker muscles, but weak muscles can lead to falls. And falls can lead to more pain and less movement, and... You get the picture. There are hundreds of studies that hail the pain reduction benefits of even small increases in exercises. Even if you start very small, start somewhere.

You can avoid disuse syndrome by learning safe, effective exercises for your condition. Check out these 9 ways to beat a sedentary lifestyle that you can begin today.

3
Stressing Out

Frustrated woman pushing shopping cart in grocery store
Stress increases pain both emotionally and physically. Dan Dalton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Stress increases your heart rate, which makes you breathe faster and tightens your muscles. In addition to this, stress can cause agitation and anxiety, which is known to intensify feelings of pain. Practice techniques that help calm you down, such as deep breathing and relaxation. If you can reduce your stress, you can reduce some of your excessive pain.

It's not just the emotional aspect of stress, however, which adds to pain. Stress releases stress hormones such as cortisone, which in turn cause inflammation and yes, more pain.

Start learning about stress management today, but don't get stressed about it. There are actually many enjoyable and even fun ways to lower stress in your life.

4
Focusing on Your Pain

Anxious mixed race woman sitting at table
Focusing on your pain can make it worse. JGI/Jamie Gril/Blend Images/Getty Images

Your brain can only focus on so much at one time. Have you ever  forgotten you had a headache because you were busy? Turning your attention elsewhere decreases the amount of energy your brain can spend on your pain. Allow something else to take center stage and you can decrease your pain experience. On the other hand, giving pain your full attention means that everything else gets blocked out. 

If you find yourself centering in on your pain, it doesn't always work to simply tell yourself you won't think about it. We're human, and saying we won't think about something often makes us focus on it even more. Next time you catch yourself focusing on your pain, try one of these distraction techniques to help manage your pain.

5
Being Non-compliant With Pain Meds

Various pills lying on a white surface
Not taking your pain medications regularly can throw off your pain control. David Malan/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Your doctor prescribes pain meds for a reason: to decrease your pain experience. Despite this, you may be scared of addiction, or even failing a drug test. You may not like your medication side effects. Maybe you just want to detoxify your system.

These concerns are perfectly normal, but consider this: quitting your pain medication cold turkey can lead to worse problems, especially if you are taking opioids or anti-convulsants. If you are interested in pursuing alternative treatment strategies, involve your doctor first.

6
Avoiding Your Doctor.

Doctor and patient looking at digital tablet
See your doctor regularly to maximize your chances for good pain control. Hero Images/Getty Images

 Your doctor should just assume you still have pain, and everything is status quo, right? Wrong. Every day, advances in research increase our knowledge about disorders and medications. Your doctor is your number one resource. Not only can he assess how you are progressing, but he knows if something is newly available that may be better for your condition. You don’t have to see your doctor every week, but make sure to schedule routine visits to discuss your case. You may just learn something new.

7
Eating Junk Food.

Girl eating hamburger
Eating junk food may cause more inflammation which may cause more pain and so on. Dean Belcher/Stone/Getty Images

Refined sugar and saturated fats taste great, but they don’t give your body the fuel it needs to operate efficiently. Remember, efficient muscles use less energy, saving you effort with every move. We are just beginning to understand the important of good nutrition in chronic pain, but we've learned so far has some pain physicians believing that good nutrition may one of the best approaches to managing chronic pain. We knew that junk food causes inflammation, what's now be coined the "inflammation diet" and that fruit and vegetables usually do the opposite. But do we really need a host of studies to tell us this?

We may hate to admit it, but most of us feel better when we eat our vegetables and drink more water. Maybe it’s time to put down that doughnut and coffee and start the day out right with some wholegrain cereal or protein-rich yogurt. Not sure where to start? Talk to your doctor, or consult a dietitian

8
Drinking Alcohol

Bar tender making cocktails
Skipping booze may lessen pain. Marianna Massey/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Not only does alcohol decrease the rate of transmission of some kinds of nerve impulses in the brain, but it can also interact harmfully with medications. Believe it or not, this includes over-the-counter painkillers. Moderate to heavy drinkers also have a greater risk of heart and lung disease. If you have chronic pain, it’s best to leave the bottle alone.

9
Overdoing It

Man relaxing in a lounge chair
Slow and steady wins the race with chronic pain. OJO_Images/Getty Images

Overdoing things on days when you feel good can have disastrous consequences. While it may be very tempting to tackle your entire to-do list on a day when you have virtually no pain, you can set yourself back for several days as you recover. It is better to keep a steady level of activity from day to day—one that you know your body can handle.

This final tip on what to avoid so that you don't worsen your pain may be the hardest to follow. When you have a day when you feel good you may frantically try to catch up—thinking that you'll feel better if you do so. Though it's tempting, pace yourself.

Many people find it helpful to keep a pain journal. It can be hard to see the effects of overdoing it, especially if your pain worsens a few days or a week later. By journaling your symptoms, many of the things that make your pain worse, or instead make your pain better, will become much clearer.

Sources:

Vierola, A., Suominen, A., Lindi, V. et al. Associations of Sedentary Behavior, Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Body Fat Content With Pain Conditions in Children: The Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children Study. The Journal of Pain. 2016. 17(7):845-53.

Tick, H. Nutrition and Pain. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2015. 26(2):309-20.

Continue Reading