Be Well

A World of Pain

I was sitting on a flight from Melbourne for my day job when I started noticing a pattern.

It seemed to me that every second person getting up and down from their seat looked to be in genuine pain, holding their backs in particular, bent over double, grabbing onto seats to steady themselves. I also observed a diverse range of ages and cultures.

Turns out I wasn’t imagining it. Chronic pain affects 3.4 million Australians with 68% of people living with chronic pain of working age.

I feel fortunate to have experienced sustained pain only a couple of times in my life, but I still remember the experience being profoundly physically debilitating and emotionally diminishing. Not something I would want to have to have to endure for any length of time!

All pain is not the same

People experience pain in many different ways and pain can be acute or chronic:

  • Acute pain is the pain you feel when you get hurt or injured. You may have experienced acute pain from an injury such as a cut or a broken limb or from disease or inflammation in the body. Acute pain can be intense and severe, but it typically resolves as your body heals from whatever caused it.

  • Chronic pain is pain that lasts much longer―usually months and sometimes even years. Chronic pain sometimes has a clear cause, such as an acute injury, a long illness, or damage to and dysfunction of your nervous system. Sometimes it even happens without any obvious reason.

Different kinds of pain have different causes:

  • Nociceptive pain is pain caused by tissue damage. Most acute pain is nociceptive.

  • Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage or dysfunction. You can experience neuropathic pain from injuries or illness that affect the spinal cord and brain (for example, a slipped disc in your spine) or the peripheral nervous system (the nerves throughout the rest of your body). This kind of pain often feels similar to burning, shooting, or stabbing.

  • Inflammatory pain is pain that happens when your immune system activates in response to injury or infection. In addition to causing redness or swelling, it can also make you more sensitive to feelings of pain.

How we experience pain

We feel pain because our nervous system thinks that a part of our body is injured or in danger of getting injured (by accidentally touching a hot stove, for example). Pain is a normal sensory signal that something might be wrong and that you should do something about it. You don’t become aware of pain until your brain processes it.

“Chronic pain has a tremendous personal and socioeconomic impact,” acknowledges a special issue published in the journal Medicines. The researchers go on to highlight the link between lifestyle factors and pain severity. “Inactivity, stress, poor sleep, unhealthy diet, and smoking are associated with chronic pain.” By addressing these aspects of our lives, we can potentially improve our pain management.

While traditional treatments often focus on medication and specific therapies, a growing body of research suggests that lifestyle medicine can also be a powerful tool for managing chronic pain.

So, how exactly can lifestyle medicine benefit those living with chronic pain? Here are some key areas:

  • Diet and Nutrition: Research suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can play a significant role. A study published in Physio-pedia explores the concept of “food as medicine” for chronic low back pain, emphasizing the importance of proper nutrition. Studies have shown that certain foods can trigger inflammation, which can worsen pain. Conversely, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce pain and improve overall wellbeing.

  • Exercise and Physical Activity: Somewhat counter-intuitively, regular exercise has been shown to be immensely helpful in managing chronic pain. The same Physio-pedia study mentions various exercise modalities, including conventional exercises, yoga, pilates, and tai chi, all of which can contribute to pain relief. Exercise helps to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, and increase blood flow, all of which can contribute to a reduction in pain perception. Additionally, exercise is a well-known mood booster, and endorphins released during physical activity can help improve pain tolerance.

  • Stress Management: Chronic pain and stress are intricately linked. Stress can exacerbate pain, and chronic pain can be a significant source of stress. Techniques like mindfulness meditation and even therapy can be remarkably effective in reducing stress and improving pain tolerance. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that mindfulness meditation was just as effective as medication in reducing chronic pain symptoms.

  • Sleep: Disrupted sleep can worsen chronic pain, and chronic pain can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Establishing good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, can significantly improve sleep quality and potentially reduce pain perception.

Lifestyle medicine is not a replacement for traditional treatments, but rather a complementary approach. By making some changes to our daily routines, we can empower ourselves to take charge of our chronic pain and experience a significant improvement and reclaim our quality of life.

Our expert team at Be Well is here to help and complement your medical doctor or specialist. We have had a number of pain-busting breakthroughs by Be Well Members.

See you soon at Be Well!

Navigate to more articles!

Be Well is the first-of-its- kind urban health, wellness and lifestyle club in Melbourne, Australia.  Informed by the science of longevity, Be Well nurtures the relationship you have with yourself and others, to optimise your lifestyle, and live your longest, best life.