You've seen all the doctors and specialists, and you've had all the tests—then, at the end of it all, you’ve discovered that your back pain is "chronic."
For many, this is an unfortunate reality thanks to conditions that are not easily treated and rarely cured such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Chronic pain from these conditions often follows a pattern of low-level discomfort with intermittent flare-ups of more intense pain.
Living with chronic pain day-in and day-out can be exhausting and frustrating. But you can limit the severity of your pain—and the effect it has on you—with the following 3 strategies:
1. Become an expert at pain management
No one pain management technique works for everyone. With this in mind, you need to be open to trying all sorts of methods and techniques to diminish and manage your pain.
Keeping your pain at the lowest level possible will help keep you active, which in turn will minimize your chronic pain further and help prevent it from getting worse. It will also help decrease the stress that is often associated with chronic pain. Common pain management techniques include:
- Cold therapy
- Heat therapy
- Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications
- A healthy exercise regimen—possibly in a pool
Aside from those above, which can be done on your own, pain management procedures such as epidural steroid injections can also help. Also, some people find alternative treatments quite helpful, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage therapy.
To find what works best for you, try various combinations of pain management techniques. But be patient, as it may take quite some time before you find the right combination of treatments.
2. Find a support network
Chronic back pain can be an isolating experience. You may not be able to be as active as you once were resulting in saying "No" to social gatherings. You may have also stopped participating in some of your favorite activities (like running, playing soccer, etc.)
As you become more isolated, your experience of the chronic pain may increase because you have less stimuli to distract you from your back pain. Additionally, you increase the risk for developing mental health issues like depression.
I encourage those that are experiencing chronic back pain to try and find a network of social support to limit the isolation effects that chronic back pain can have on an individual. The key to a support network is not only finding people who are empathetic and supportive, but also finding a health distraction from the pain. This does not necessarily meaning always being around only other people with chronic pain (such as a pain support group, although these can be helpful). Rather, this can be a set of friends and family who regularly visit you, and have various interests that can be pursued even with your chronic pain.
3. Practice imagery control techniques
When treating your chronic back pain, it is important to remember the powerful role your mind can play in reducing your perception of chronic pain.
In particular, with regular practice, imagery control techniques can bring you meaningful relief in a matter of minutes. Interested? You can start by trying "the altered focus technique." Here is how to do it:
- Begin by focusing your attention on a part of your body other than your lower back.
- Next, alter the sensation in that part of your body. For example, you can imagine your hands becoming cold or warm (whichever feels better).
- Hold this sensation in your hands for several minutes, and your experience of chronic lower back pain will likely diminish.
A great benefit of imagery control techniques is that you can practice them wherever, and however, often you want. This grants you a level of control that isn't available from many other kinds of chronic back pain treatments.
If the above three strategies don't help reduce your chronic pain, don't despair. Instead, ask your doctor for a referral to a pain specialist to discuss other possible options for chronic back pain relief. There are a great many approaches to pain management.