Pressure-free pain relief
By Bill Hatton
The key to quality of life is making good choices. But when you’re sober and suffering pain, that’s not always easy. Here, we recommend four pain management alternatives to swallowing a pill for those concerned about jeopardizing their recovery.
1. Keep it simple. Get some fresh air.
Mark Jensen, a cognitive-behavioral psychologist from the University of Washington, says once your doctor approves a type of exercise, do it and more important, do it in a way that you enjoy. Do not be dutiful and compliant and earnest. Have some fun with it!
He recommends one of the simplest activities: walking. Start small, even two minutes the first day, and build up until you can take a 45-minute loop. Make it a positive experience emotionally, and repeat both the exercise and the fun. Invite someone you like (or love) to come along with you. Bring a biscuit for a neighbor’s dog every day, and pet him. Smell the summer air, feel the sun and wave to that person sitting on the porch.
2. Take a yoga class with a friend.
Yoga can do two things: teach breathing and relaxation techniques that support self-hypnosis and provide a form of physical therapy that stretches and strengthens muscles. Both can reduce pain, says Jensen.
As before, make sure you’re doing it in a way that includes smiles and laughter as well as centers yourself. Arrange your schedule so you can get to class at a convenient time. Carpool to the class with someone you like. Have tea afterward together. You’ll no doubt have some things to discuss—like how you got into that position and out of it again. (Clear this with your doctor, who may allow yoga, limit it or recommend specific physical therapy.)
3. Consider the pins and patches.
The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says there’s scientific evidence that acupuncture reduces pain levels. Jensen says there’s also evidence that acupuncture can work in some subsets of patients. Are you one of them? You can get a referral through the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
Similar to acupuncture but with more disputed evidence (according to NIH), is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, which is when patches are attached to your skin that allow a physical therapist to electronically stimulate certain nerves. Think of it as a western, electronic acupuncture. See if your doctor recommends it and if your physical therapist offers it.
4. Keep an eye on the sleeps and eats.
You’ve heard this before from your doctor. Even Jensen couldn’t resist mentioning it. But it’s important. It’s tough to feel good—physically and emotionally—when you’re tired. And if you don’t feel good, you’ll notice your pain more, which means you might start thinking a pill is the answer. Fatigued muscles hurt more and require more energy to coax them into action. Ask yourself if you’re getting enough sleep. If not, what’s getting in the way of it?
Proper nutrition, for example, taking some weight off, can make a big difference in how you feel. Back pain, knee pain, even your breathing, can all be affected by extra pounds.
As your fun exercise program builds up your confidence, help yourself feel even better by setting some modest goals (lose 5 pounds) to take some pressure off.