Lifestyle Habits That Could Be Contributing to Your Chronic Pain

Jul 01, 2023
Lifestyle Habits That Could Be Contributing to Your Chronic Pain
No matter what its cause or how it affects you, chronic pain can undermine your vitality and diminish your quality of life. Learn which lifestyle habits may be worsening your problem, and find out what you can do about it.

Chronic pain — or pain that persists longer than three months, despite treatment — may affect one area of your body, or your entire body. Whether it comes and goes intermittently or seems to be there through every hour of every day, living with chronic pain can: 

  • Undermine your energy and vitality
  • Make routine tasks more difficult
  • Diminish your overall quality of life
  • Leave you feeling isolated and alone
  • Set the stage for major depression

But whether you’re affected by persistent back or neck pain, recurrent sciatica, disruptive headaches, ongoing arthritis pain and stiffness, or some other form of chronic discomfort, there are two things we want you to know.

First, chronic pain isn’t a static situation: Most long-term pain conditions have an identifiable underlying cause that can be successfully treated with an individually tailored, interventional pain management approach. And second: You play a key role in your own treatment outcome. 

Read on as Dr. Okezie N. Okezie of Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates discusses five lifestyle habits that could be making your chronic pain condition worse — and explains how reversing those habits can ease your pain and improve your health. 

1. Living with uncontrolled stress

When feeling stressed out is the norm rather than the exception, your pain condition can worsen. Simply put, a prolonged stress response can significantly exacerbate chronic pain. 

As one of four key “pillars of chronic pain,” stress is a lifestyle factor that can serve to ease or worsen your pain condition, depending on your response to its existence. Unmanaged stress is associated with increased inflammation and pain through several pathways:

  • Elevated heart rate and respiration 
  • Shallow breathing; muscular tension 
  • Feelings of agitation and anxiety
  • High stress hormone levels (i.e., cortisol)

Reducing your stress levels as much as possible can reduce your pain, too. Start with simple techniques that calm you quickly, like deep breathing, and try other relaxation strategies (i.e., mindfulness, meditation, physical activity, stretching, music, laughter, connection with friends) until you find several methods that work well for you. 

2. Opting to be sedentary most days

Rest and activity modification can be helpful for easing a chronic pain flare, but leading a sedentary lifestyle — or spending little to no time being physically active — only serves to reduce muscle strength, diminish cardiovascular endurance, decrease flexibility, restrict mobility, and worsen chronic pain.

Participating in low-impact, low-intensity exercise for 30 minutes a day can go a long way in managing chronic pain and helping you maintain your base level of strength, endurance, and mobility. To make the transition from sedentary to active, we recommend starting with daily walks or light swimming, along with gentle stretching. 

3. Adhering to poor eating patterns

A diet that emphasizes fast food and other ultra-processed food products is typically high in saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and calories, and low in essential nutrients and dietary fiber. This unhealthy eating pattern — often referred to as the standard American diet (SAD) — has a strong inflammatory effect that readily exacerbates chronic pain.

By swapping red meat, fried foods, and refined carbs for fruits and veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats, you can calm systemic inflammation and reduce chronic pain. 

4. Not getting enough quality sleep

Chronic pain and insomnia may have a strong bi-directional relationship (each one can cause and worsen the other), but that doesn’t mean they’re a healthy combination: An ongoing lack of restful, restorative sleep makes it much harder to manage a persistent pain condition. 

When you’re dealing with chronic pain, it’s important to improve your “sleep hygiene” practices. This means sticking to a regular bedtime, staying away from brain-stimulating smartphone or TV screen light for at least an hour prior to your bedtime, and finding a “relaxing distraction” to lull you back toward sleep when you wake in the night.

5. Smoking cigarettes to cope with pain

You know that smoking is bad for your health. What you may not know — especially if you smoke cigarettes to cope with chronic pain — is that smoking has been definitively linked to both the emergence and progression of chronic pain. Tobacco use also impairs healing and exacerbates fatigue. 

If you smoke, quitting is one of the best actions you can take to improve your health and your chronic pain condition. It’s never too late to quit smoking, and the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll feel the beneficial effects of getting those toxic chemicals out of your system. 

Gain the upper hand over chronic pain

Are you ready to gain the upper hand over chronic pain? Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates can help. Call your nearest office in Humble or Baytown, Texas today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie any time.