By Tom Macek, MD
Suffering from chronic pain such as bad backs, migraines, arthritis and other pain-inducing ailments can make life difficult. “Any kind of pain can seriously affect your quality of life,” says Dr. Tom Macek, an anesthesiologist and partner at American Pain Experts. “Sometimes, of course, pain is temporary. It quickly fades and all is well. But for some people, the pain doesn’t go away - at least not for long - and that’s what we consider to be chronic pain. In those cases, it’s crucial to determine what’s causing your pain and to get it under control.”
A doctor may prescribe medication and therapy for patients enduring these worst-case scenarios, but Dr. Macek says there are steps anyone can take on their own to avoid or reduce pain. Information worth knowing includes:
• A long winter’s nap can be a pain in the neck. You wouldn’t think you could harm yourself much by going to bed at night, but you actually can cause quite a bit of damage, says Dr. Macek. Neck pain is common. Massages, chiropractic adjustment and medication can help, but in the meantime, a few adjustments with your pillow might provide relief. If you sleep on your back, use a thin pillow that keeps the curvature of your neck the same as it usually is when you’re standing. If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow that keeps your head positioned in the middle of your shoulders. And if you sleep on your stomach, consider changing your habits because that position creates the most stress on the neck.
• The lower back is an injury waiting to happen. If your mother told you not to slump, she was right. Poor posture contributes to lower-back pain, so sit up straight. Lifting heavy objects correctly can also help you avoid back problems. People often bend over to lift things, and that’s a mistake, says Dr. Macek. Instead, keep your chest forward and bend at the knees.
• Try to keep stress to a minimum. Anyone dealing with chronic pain already feels stressed, so it’s best to reduce as much of that stress as possible. To accomplish that, get a good night’s sleep, exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet, including whole grains, lean meats, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit.
“Sometimes, just a few easy steps can help alleviate at least some of your pain,” says Dr. Macek. “But if pain won’t go away and is more than you can bear, it’s time to visit a physician.”
Dr. Tom Macek is an anesthesiologist and partner at American Pain Experts (www.Americanpainexperts.com), a practice that specializes in pain management and therapy. He has served on the anesthesia faculty at the University of Florida and received his medical degree from the Zagreb Medical School in Croatia.