Women are generally more likely to experience chronic pain in their lifetime than men are. Depending on the source, women are anywhere from four to seven times as likely as men to suffer from fibromyalgia, are more likely to develop osteoporosis, are at greater risk for arthritis after the age of 55, and women have more back pain than men as they age.
Young men are more susceptible to both arthritis and disc degeneration, but the statistics slip towards the other gender around the 50s, and risk for chronic pain diseases like fibromyalgia are always higher for women. While there are many different factors that unfortunately feed into why women experience a greater number of issues regarding loss of bone strength and density – some of which are genetic, and many of which are a result of oncoming menopause – it’s just as important to help both young and older women find ways to cope with their pain, move forward to find effective ways of healing, and figure out ways to deal with the condition as it develops, for better or for worse.
Some people life with chronic pain for years. Others, for a lifetime. There is no real way of telling someone how long they’re likely to struggle with their condition until it’s completely understood what it is, but pain is very complex. Thankfully, it can also be managed in a great number of different ways. The good news is that pain management today is more advanced than ever, with a greater variety of tools at our disposal to help patients feel better and get stronger. But professional treatment, surgical interventions, and medication aren’t everything. Here are a few things you can do to continue your healing at home, and in life in general.
Reduce Daily Stress
Certain stressors are unavoidable. Life is stressful, after all, and there’s only so much we can avoid before things begin to overwhelm us later down the road. But many people struggling with chronic pain have trouble letting go of their responsibilities and accepting that they might be better off asking for some help, taking longer breaks, and generally offloading some of the weight they have on their shoulders. If you genuinely wish to improve your condition, you’ll have to take a look at your daily life and ask yourself honestly – completely honestly – if you’re not a little too stressed out.
Reducing daily stress can involve a small change like only cooking a meal once a day and getting help for dinner, delegating tasks instead of doing them yourself, working from home and teleconferencing with occasional office visits for a while instead of coming into the office every day, or adjusting your schedule so you have more time to rest throughout the day.
Cut Back on Drinking & Smoking
It’s important to unwind, but alcohol and nicotine are highly ineffective ways of doing so. For one, both alcohol and nicotine only temporarily relieve stress, but actually drive your stress tolerance way down, causing you to get anxious and irritable at a much quicker and much more terrifying pace. The long-term mental effects of even just moderate alcohol and tobacco use can be devastating for someone looking for a calmer life, and less overall pain.
Pain is also exacerbated by alcohol and tobacco use. Cutting down and, ideally, eliminating drinking and smoking can help you reduce your overall pain, as well.
Try Relaxation Techniques
They’re not for everyone, but relaxation techniques can go a long way if you find them to be genuinely effective. These are different techniques you can apply to calm yourself, whether through guided meditation, counting, teas, scented candles/incense, sensory deprivation, special therapy, massages, or other ways.
Some people react well to audio-visual cues from so-called ‘ASMR’ videos, although these have nothing but anecdotal evidence to support effectiveness for inducing a calm and positive mood. Hypnotherapy can also be effective for some individuals, if applied through a professional. While such alternative therapies are not always effective, pain can be relieved through a very wide array of tools – the trouble is finding the right ones for any given individual. That’s why it’s important to try as many as possible.
Get Frequent Massages
Massages are not just relaxing, but they’re often analgesic. Massages promote blood flow and release endorphins that reduce pain. If what you do requires you to work physically regularly (contributing to your pain), from lifting something to cleaning on a daily basis, then massages can be crucial for preventing muscle tenderness/soreness and improving your day-to-day symptoms of pain.
The neurohormonal effects of massage therapy are still being studied, but research shows that a combined release of oxytocin and endorphins as well as better blood flow largely account for the touted benefits of a good massage. Massage therapy is more than just kneading and prodding – a professional masseuse specializing in pain relief can gently and procedurally guide you through a program that can address your issues and needs.
Track Your Chronic Pain
There will be times when you’ll feel like you’re having a great day. There will be times when you’ll have a couple days in a row without much change or progress. But there will always be times when you’re in so much pain that you’re worried things are never going to be different.
A good way to keep an eye on the progress you’re making in the long-term is to keep a pain journal. Write down how you feel throughout certain set times of the day on a daily basis and go over the data yourself. Take note of the things you’ve been doing to reduce the pain and go over your notes to see what helped you make the most progress towards feeling better, and what’s arguably not helped out at all.
Your Food Matters
Cutting down on smoking and drinking is a good step in the right direction for improving your overall health, and in turn, reducing your overall pain. Alcohol use and tobacco can stress the body, increase inflammation, and worsen swollen joints and aching muscles.
But to take things a step further, pay more heed to the rest of your diet as well. Anti-inflammatory diets try to avoid foods that might disagree with a person’s gut or body or might promote or increase inflammation throughout the body. Avoiding preserved or processed meats, dairy, fried or cooked oils, seed oils and sugars can reduce inflammation. On the other hand, increasing your intake of vitamin K, fresh herbs, fatty fish and whole grains can reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is important for the body, as a way to react to trouble. But many people with chronic pain suffer from chronic inflammation. Discuss what dietary changes you should make to lead a more pain-free life with a dietician, and your doctor.
A generally healthier lifestyle can go a long way towards helping women reduce their overall inflammation and pain. Other tips include spending more time with friends, prioritizing a good night’s rest, and moving around at least a few times a week, whenever bearable.