In school, I imagined that being a physical therapist would be similar to being an auto mechanic for the human body. “My body is pulling to the left; it must be out of balance.” I could see myself looking at the deep connections and finding the one part to correct, “Ah, yes, well… if you were to just stretch this and move that here while you walk it would fix your problem.” Some days and some problems are simple like that, but usually problems are much more complex. Pain can be a sign of poor overall health and may not get better until the person improves his or her overall health.
Pain is the body’s alarm system, signaling any threats to survival. The body produces pain to move us to action when there is a threat to our health and then get us to change our behavior. For example, if I have been sitting too long, my back and legs will begin to hurt. The pain compels me to stand up and move.
Pain is a vital sign of health, similar to blood pressure or heart rate. It is the result of complex interactions with more than one cause. Persistent or chronic pain can be resistant to change until overall health is improved. When healthy, the body will heal most tissue damage without any special treatment.
New studies on pain have taught us the importance of sleep, nutrition, and activity; improving those health factors are essential to reducing persistent pain. Effective pain management strategies may include:
- Sleeping 7 - 8 hours every night
- Exercising 30-60 minutes each day (set a goal of walking 10,000 steps over the course of a day)
- Eating more whole foods, fruits, vegetables
- Consuming less sugar and saturated/trans fats
Adopting these healthy habits can make a difference in reducing chronic pain and pain that has been resistant to medical treatment.
Chronic and severe pain is a sign that something in the body is out of balance – however, remember that it may not be just a muscle or joint that is out of balance. Sometimes, there are structural or medical issues causing the pain that require treatment.
However, staying healthy does make a difference when it comes to pain; our bodies are marvelously adept at taking care of themselves when we are healthy. Making healthy choices is not always easy, but small changes can make a big difference in your health and pain. It is always helpful to set and track goals, ask for support from friends and family or ask a health care provider about more ways to make the healthy choice easier for you.