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Nine Things That Make Chronic Pain Worse

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Updated May 16, 2009

Changing a few simple aspects of your lifestyle can put you in better control of your pain. Here are nine things that make chronic pain worse.

1. Smoking

Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches your muscles -- oxygen that is required for efficient muscle use. Ever tried to go all day without eating? Well, that’s what your muscles can feel like when you smoke. Smoking can also cause fatigue and lung disorders, and it can make it harder for the body to heal itself. It is best for your body if you quit smoking, especially if you have chronic pain.

2. Being a Couch Potato

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle disuse syndrome. In other words, use it or lose it. Over time, muscles that are barely used lose their strength and endurance. Weak muscles are much less efficient, meaning it takes more work to do simple tasks, like taking a shower. You can avoid disuse syndrome by learning safe, effective exercises for your condition.

3. Stressing Out

Stress increases your heart rate, which makes you breathe faster and tightens your muscles. In addition to this, stress can cause agitation and anxiety, which is known to intensify feelings of pain. Practice techniques that help calm you down, such as deep breathing and relaxation. If you can reduce your stress, you can reduce some of your excessive pain.

4. Focusing on Your Pain

Your brain can only focus on so much at one time. Have you ever gotten forgotten you had a headache because you were busy? Turning your attention elsewhere decreases the amount of energy your brain can spend on your pain. Allow something else to take center stage and you can decrease your pain experience. On the other hand, giving pain your full attention means that everything else gets blocked out. Think of what you could be missing!

5. Being Non-compliant With Pain Meds

Your doctor prescribes pain meds for a reason: to decrease your pain experience. Despite this, you may be scared of addiction, or even failing a drug test. You may not like your medication side effects. Maybe you just want to detoxify your system. These concerns are perfectly normal, but consider this: quitting your pain medication cold turkey can lead to worse problems, especially if you are taking opioids or anti-convulsants. If you are interested in pursuing alternative treatment strategies, involve your doctor first.

6. Avoiding Your Doctor

Your doctor should just assume you still have pain, and everything is status quo, right? Wrong. Every day, advances in research increase our knowledge about disorders and medications. Your doctor is your number one resource. Not only can he assess how you are progressing, but he knows if something is newly available that may be better for your condition. You don’t have to see your doctor every week, but make sure to schedule routine visits to discuss your case. You may just learn something new.

7. Eating Junk Food

Refined sugar and saturated fats taste great, but they don’t give your body the fuel it needs to operate efficiently. Remember, efficient muscles use less energy, saving you effort with every move. We may hate to admit it, but most of us feel better when we eat our vegetables and drink more water. Maybe it’s time to put down that doughnut and coffee and start the day out right with some wholegrain cereal or protein-rich yogurt. Not sure where to start? Talk to your doctor, or consult a dietician. You can also find some great nutrition information right here at About.com:
Quiz: Is Your Diet Healthy?
Eat More Fruits and Veggies Every Day

8. Drinking Alcohol

Not only does alcohol decrease the rate of transmission of some kinds of nerve impulses in the brain, but it can also interact harmfully with medications. Believe it or not, these include over-the-counter painkillers. Moderate to heavy drinkers also have a greater risk of heart and lung disease. If you have chronic pain, it’s best to leave the bottle alone.

9. Overdoing It

Overdoing things on days when you feel good can have disastrous consequences. While it may be tempting to tackle your entire to-do list on a day when you have virtually no pain, you can set yourself back for several days as you recover. It is better to keep a steady level of activity from day to day -- one that you know your body can handle.
Related Video
How to Choose Pain Medication
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