In the previous blog, we described chronic pain as persistent, lasting at least 3 months or longer. Most people would assume after months of daily pain, a person would be able to provide a complete description of what they were experiencing.
However, the reality is that chronic pain is complex. No two people experience chronic pain the same way, and there is variability in how an individual will feel from day to day. There are many factors that can make chronic pain better or worse. Some things are out of our control, such as weather and other medical conditions. However, there are many factors within our control including diet, sleep hygiene, physical activity, smoking, and even interpersonal relationships. For patients struggling with chronic pain, optimizing these factors can have substantial impact on pain severity and quality of life.
Because so many things can impact how you feel, it’s important to pay attention to your body’s responses to various situations or stimuli. You would be surprised what you can learn by taking a few minutes every day to pay attention to how your body is feeling!
To get the most benefit from this activity, try keeping a journal. You do not need to write a novel about your day, keep it simple and sustainable. Make pain journaling a part of your daily routine. Simply jot down the day of the week and give your pain a numerical value (use a 10-point scale, 10 being the worst pain of your life and 1 being no pain).
Other items that are helpful to track include:
- Activities. What did you do that helped your pain? What made it worse? Gentle movement (stretching and range of motion exercises) can help pain.
- Sleep quality. How many hours of sleep did you get? Did you wake up feeling well rested? If you slept well, think about why and how you can foster better sleep.
- Diet. What are you eating? Is the food you’re eating helping you? Are there healthier alternatives that you might consider? Food can be a delicious fuel source but there is also a growing interest in the idea of food as medicine.
- Mental health. How is your mood? How are your relationships with friends and family? Many with chronic pain struggle with depression or anxiety. Support system. Who is in your corner? Who can you turn to when things are difficult? Your support system can have a dramatic impact on your ability to get through your day.
- Medication use. What medications did you take? Did they provide relief? How much relief? Were there side effects or other issues associated with the medications? Include prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- Smoking and alcohol use. How often are you smoking/drinking? Have you ever considered cutting down or stopping altogether? These habits can be counterproductive to successfully overcoming a chronic pain issue.
- Other techniques. Have you tried ice, massage, acupuncture, yoga? These are important alternative modalities to consider.
Anything that you can identify that makes you feel better or worse, is important to note. Share your journal with your physician, the data it contains can be helpful in developing your plan of care.