Seven Ways You Are (Unknowingly) Making Your Pain Worse

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Man at computer with neck pain

Sometimes it’s the little things we do or don’t do that sabotage our best efforts to avoid pain.

When you have pain, the hurt can seem to have a mind of its own. It may come and go at will. It takes a toll on your mood and energy level. It can affect how you go about your usual activities. You may think you’re doing all you can to keep pain under control, but sometimes even the most conscientious among us can unintentionally undermine their efforts to feel better.

Medications can help manage pain symptoms, but there’s more to feeling better than just taking prescription pills. Lifestyle and attitude changes are also keys to experiencing success. In this article, we’re going to look at seven ways you might be unwittingly making your pain worse, and how to correct these common errors, with sound advice from leading pain experts and people living with pain.

1) Being a Couch Potato

When you feel bad, working out will likely be the last thing you feel like doing. When people are in chronic pain, they’re often unwilling to exercise out of fear of making the pain worse. However, the opposite is actually true. Being sedentary leads to stiff muscles and joints, causing the muscles and tendons to shorten, all of which can lead to secondary sources of pain. Plus, being inactive makes it more likely you’ll put on weight, which can worsen pain in weight-bearing joints, such as your hips, knees, ankles and feet, and can also cause pain in your neck and back.

Pain Resource Tip: Do some type of regular physical activity. Whether it’s walking the dog, dancing, riding a bike, or even just walking in place, do something that gets your blood flowing. Pick something that you enjoy doing so you’re more likely to stick with it. If you have arthritis in your joints, for example, swimming or aqua aerobics might be a great choice for you because the water’s natural buoyancy reduces impact and helps cushion the joints. Whatever you choose, start at a comfortable pace, take breaks as needed, and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.

2) Burying Your Anger

Chronic musculoskeletal pain especially lower back and neck pain is often related to repressed anger, according to Jeffrey Gross, M.D., a clinical associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “I see it again and again in my practice, more commonly with women,” said Dr. Gross.

What’s more, a recent study at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago found that when people with chronic pain were told to actively suppress their anger during a frustrating task, their feelings became aggravated and pain more severe.

If anyone can attest to this, it’s Martha Beck, 46, life coach and best-selling author of Steering By Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What! Beck, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., has fibromyalgia. “Anger is the emotion that sets boundaries,” she said. “And if I do not set boundaries with my behavior, my body may do it for me. The single worst thing I can do to bring on my pain is to say yes to something when I want to say no, when someone puts pressure on me.”

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