What to Do When You Have Chronic Pain

By ena ganguly

Every person’s body may have chronic pain differently. We hurt in different places and for different reasons. I hurt from a chronic illness called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It’s not as serious as it sounds. It’s quite common around the world and can cause chronic pain amongst other symptoms. For me, the disease makes me insulin resistance, which means if I were to eat sugar, even white rice or potatoes, it can trigger pain in me. The pain shows up in my hips, my thighs, my lower stomach, and sometimes my lower back.

Here are some ways I manage my pain on a day-to-day basis:

  1. Moving
    • I sit at work most days, so to keep the blood moving and circulating in my body, I try to walk throughout the day. Since I put alarms for every hour and a half, my phone reminds me that I need to drop everything and walk. Walking helps me to stretch out my muscles and get the oxygen rich blood to circulate properly. Some days are more painful than others, so I might even go for an extra walk or walk for a longer time some days. Other days, it’s not as bad, so I might not walk every time the alarm rings. I like giving myself the space to make those decisions because every day is different.
  2. Drinking water
    • This is a message we get for almost everything, from stomach aches to the common cold. Drink more water! The key is to drink more water in the morning so the body flushes out toxins and drink less at night, so, well, you don’t have to get up to pee at night. I’ve started to squeeze half a lemon into my morning water intake, because it alkalizes the body and gets the bowels moving!!!
    • I also like to have an app on my phone that helps me to log my daily water intake. This creates mindfulness, so when I know I haven’t logged any water in and it’s already lunch time, I know what must be done! At the same time, I don’t want to over hydrate, so if I find myself running to go pee every hour and the color of the urine is clear, I give my body some rest from H2O.
  3. Consuming warming foods and drinks
    • As part of keeping my body well circulated and warm, I try to make and eat warming foods and drinks. What that means is consuming foods that are rich in iron and antioxidants, as well as consuming warm temperature foods and staying away from cold foods, like ice cream or ice water. Even spices like cumin and bay leaves are very warming and rich in nutrition.
    • One drink that I love to make in particular is a tumeric almond milk drink that my mom and her fore-mothers made in my family. The ingredients are very simple: tumeric, milk (of dairy or non-dairy persuasion), and honey. It’s so filling and nourishing and so so so simple! I make that drink whenever I feel tired, beginning or ending my period, and just as a quick pick me up.
  4. Applying heat to affected area
    • Through the entirety of my natural life, I always heard my relatives putting heat on any bodily pain they have, except for headaches. It wasn’t until recently that I heard someone, a doctor, advise me to put ice where it hurts. I tried that for a bit, but it didn’t feel right, so I went right back to heat. The heat allows the blood to circulate and helps to decrease inflammation in the body.
    • If you are near a herbal store, go and get some moxa packs, which have mugwort in them and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to encourage circulation in the body. There are these Korean self heating moxa pads that one can buy at almost any local store in the city for a moderate to low price. I know I like to keep a few on hand in case I need them. If you don’t have a Herbal store near you, try a heat pad or a hot water bag. I like using the hot water bag because I enjoy the feeling of the hot water on my body, but for folks who don’t want to go through the hassle of heating up water, an electric heat pad is quick and long lasting.
  5. Stretching
    • Find a good time to stretch those muscles that ache otherwise. For me, it’s in the mornings when I’m stiff from sleeping. I like to practice some restorative yoga poses, some of which are shown in this video that I did just last night. Others are more based on what I need in the moment, like doing some hip opening poses on an exercise ball or some invigorating tai chi poses. There are also some stretches you can do wherever you are, without the need for foam rollers or yoga mats. Here is an instagram page that a few of my friends peruse.
  6. Being open about my pain
    • The hardest yet necessary thing I needed to do for my chronic pain was to be transparent to others about my pain, including when I feel it and what I need. This included those I work with, my partner, my parents, and my health care providers. Once I made chronic pain more normal in my life, be it posting on social media about it or talking to those who also experience it, I felt way more at ease to ensure that my needs were being met. Now, I feel okay visibly carrying my moxa packs and finding moments to walk and stretch out. I’ve never felt more at ease with asking for what I need till now.

Something really important for me to acknowledge is that there will be days when, no matter how much I walk, drink water and stretch, the pain will be present. Maybe it will be better the next day, maybe it will be a week or so before it comes back, but there are those days when the pain seems so unfair and unjustifiable. Please know that you are not alone in feeling chronic pain. There are so many of us out here but we won’t know, unless we start to talk about it. Another important thing for me to acknowledge was that I can always do something to treat the pain, and my body, in ways they need to be treated. I don’t have to ignore my body for anybody’s convenience. Growing into those realizations has been a relief for me, and strengthened my capacity to take care of myself, and allow others to do the same.

Start a conversation on chronic pain with your friends and family. Have you started already? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter (@allgqpoc), and Instagram (@allgqpoc).