Avoid Chronic Pain Triggers

If you’re among the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. living with chronic pain, you know that some days are better than others — even when you’re rigorously following your treatment plan.In those instances, the pain is often triggered by something out of your control, like the weather or a sudden bout of catastrophic thinking. Some of these triggers are universal, while others are a bit more personal. Read on to learn how to recognize what’s setting off your pain and the strategies for relieving it.

Stress

Nearly everyone with chronic pain can experience a worsening of symptoms when they’re very stressed, says George D. Comerci Jr., MD, a professor of internal medicine at the University of New Mexico School of medicine and an attending physician at the school’s Pain Center. “If a patient’s pain is relatively stable and they then experience a stressful problem in their life, invariably the pain gets worse,” he says.

Weather Changes

It’s not just a superstition. When the temperature climbs or dives, you may notice a change in symptoms, says Mel Pohl, MD, the medical director of the Las Vegas Recovery Center and author of the book, The Pain Antidote: The Proven Program to Help You Stop Suffering from Chronic Pain, Avoid Addiction to Painkillers — and Reclaim Your Life. He says that even extremely heavy winds can worsen your pain levels.

Too Little Sleep

Sleep and chronic pain have a complicated relationship. “It’s a very vicious cycle,” says Comerci. “The more pain you have, the less well you will sleep. And the less you sleep, the more you will have pain.” Adds Dr. Pohl of his experience working with patients, “95 percent of people with chronic pain have sleep problems.”

Inflammatory Foods

It’s thought that certain foods (like the processed kinds) may cause inflammation in the body, which then triggers more pain. But as Comerci points out, the supporting research isn’t “rock solid” and it’s difficult to say how many people these types of foods affect. (And some patients may not make the connection between a flare-up and what they just ate.)

Catastrophic Thinking

When you’ve been living with chronic pain, it’s natural to think that things will get worse. “You get a little pain in the tip of your finger and you decide your arm is falling off,” Pohl says. Well, that tendency to “catastrophize” will only make you feel worse, he says.

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