If you’ve been living with chronic pain, New Year's is the perfect time to make a few changes to try and get 2016 off to a good start.
Change is not always easy, but we've provided some very concrete, real-life goals—and tips for reaching those goals—to get you started.
Take a look at these tips, and try adding at least one of these to your list of resolutions:
1. Walk at least 3 or 4 times a week.
The benefits are clear: Regular low impact aerobic exercise is thought to reduce inflammation, strengthen your muscles, and provide healing by sending oxygen-rich blood to the painful area.
Some of our forum members with chronic pain have suggested walking as a meaningful, low-impact aerobic exercise. For success with a walking routine, some forum members advise you to:
- Invest in the right pair of walking shoes. To do this, go to a local running specialty shop. Ask the sales staff to watch you walk and help determine your level of pronation, the degree to which your feet rotate in stride. Finding a shoe that matches your stride may help distribute weight across your body evenly, reducing stress on the back.
- Build walking into your daily schedule so you can’t easily skip it. For example, walk to the train everyday or walk during your lunch break.
- If walking is difficult due to leg weakness or balance issues, try getting a cane or trekking poles. Or walk inside (such as in a mall), where there are fewer tripping hazards.
- If walking is too jarring on your spine, consider walking on a treadmill, which has a more padded, forgiving surface and will be less jarring on your spine. If a treadmill is still too harsh, consider walking in a warm pool—the water will support most of your body weight and take pressure off your spine.
Depending on your individual level of fitness, you may want to start out walking only a few minutes at a time, and gradually—over a period of several weeks and maybe even months—try to walk for at least 30 minutes at least 3 or 4 times each week.
2. Kick electronics out of the bedroom.
Studies have shown as many as 66 percent of individuals with chronic back pain are also living with sleep disorders. One bad habit that's contributing to poor sleep for many people is using electronics like a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or TV while in bed. It's all too easy to get distracted and stay up too late when you should be preparing to fall asleep.
The best way to train your body for readiness to fall asleep is to reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex only. Keep all distracting electronic devices in another room at night.
This is part of observing good sleep hygiene—a routine or series of habits engaged in before bed each night. Other sleep hygiene habits may include regulating the time you go to bed and wake up, taking a hot bath before bed every night, blocking out noise with a fan or sound machine, or what the lighting and temperature are in your room each night.
See: Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene
Here are some other ideas that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep:
- If you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Waiting in bed to fall asleep may boost your stress levels, making achieving sleep even more difficult.
- Consider taking a natural, over-the-counter sleep aid, such as melatonin or valerian root. Melatonin is generally considered more helpful if you have trouble falling asleep. This makes it an appealing option for jet lag or if you have a changing schedule, such as shift work. Valerian is considered more useful in helping you stay asleep. It does smell, but is inexpensive and studies have shown that it is effective for many people.
Each person will have their own personal preferences to fall asleep, and there is no one right method for everyone. Discuss taking any new medications, such as those described above, with your doctor before use.
3. Set a tobacco quit date
Studies have shown that smokers experience pain more frequently than non-smokers.
Quitting smoking can be highly challenging but is definitely worth the effort. Don’t put off quitting. Set a date and stick to it. Share the date with friends and family, so you're more committed to that date and they can help hold you accountable to it.
Here are a few other suggestions to make the quitting process smoother:
- If you associate other habits, such as drinking coffee, with smoking, replace those habits with new ones. For example, if you buy coffee and smoke every morning, buy tea instead.
- Consider using medications to help curb your cravings, such as Zyban or Chantix.
- For the first few weeks of not smoking, limit your exposure to friends or family who smoke, in order to resist temptation.
4. Stand up every hour
Sitting less is key to improving back health; one study found that just 66 fewer minutes sitting each day significantly reduces back and neck pain while also improving your mood.1
Having a lengthy commute and a desk job doesn’t have to mean sitting all day. Some of our forum members reduced their time spent in a chair with the following methods:
- Use a laptop stand or standing desk at work as opposed to a traditional desk. The discs of your lower spine are compressed up to 3 times as much while sitting, so standing at work can relieve pressure on the spine.
- Get up every hour, even if just to get a drink of water. In addition to breaking up the day, this habit will keep blood flow to the muscles in your back more active.
- Give up your seat on the train to someone else. While standing on public transit may not be ideal, it can be good for your back after sitting for most of the day.
- Don't head straight to the couch or recliner when you get home. Take a short walk before you settle in for the evening, and get up frequently while you're watching TV. Better yet, set up a treadmill in front of the TV—or invest in a treadmill with its own screen—so you can stay active while you watch your favorite shows.
Do you have a New Year's resolution not shown here that might help with relieving back pain? We’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment on our Facebook page.
- Pronk NP, Katz AS, Lowry M, Payfer JR, "Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project," 2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110323