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Chronic back pain and neck pain is defined as pain lasting longer than three to six months. It is the opposite of acute pain, which is temporary, specific, and treatable.

While it can be difficult to accept you will never be fully cured of your pain, it’s important to have strategies that can help you manage it to live a more joyous and productive life. Learning to cope with pain isn’t an easy process and can vary from person to person. Finding your own coping strategies is vital to living well with chronic back pain.

Your doctor will recommend ways to cope with pain. Here are some examples of strategies you can use to make it easier to cope with chronic pain:

Acceptance

The first step in managing your back pain or neck pain is acknowledging that it is something permanent and not temporary. This doesn’t mean giving up on any future cure, but it will allow you to look forward and build a life that can accommodate your pain.

Track Your Pain

Many patients use journals to document their pain, and you can use a pain journal any way you want. Write down what you are feeling and give yourself space to vent your frustrations about pain. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Tracking the level of your pain also can help you identify trends over time, which can help your doctor figure out which medications and treatments are working, and which need improving or tweaking.

Tip: You can track your pain level by using the Symptom Tracker in the DoctorPlan app. Pain tracking helps you give a more detailed picture of your health to your doctor.

Fitness

Physical fitness is one of the treatments prescribed to many patients. It not only improves physical back pain and neck pain, but it can relieve the anxiety and depression that often accompanies pain. When beginning a journey of physical fitness, it is important to find something that won’t make your pain worse. A typical program of back exercises and physical therapy will include a combination of a few steps. Your doctor will typically make the following recommendations:

  • Flexion exercises that will have you bend forward to reduce pressure on the nerves, stretch the back and hip muscles, and strengthen the stomach and buttock muscles.
  • Extension exercises involve bending backward, such as lying on your stomach while you lift your leg or raise your trunk. These exercises may reduce pain while developing muscles that support your spine.
  • Stretching exercises improve the extension of muscles and other soft tissues of the back. These exercises reduce stiffness and improve your range of motion.
  • Aerobic exercises get your heart pumping and include brisk walking, jogging, and swimming. Avoid exercise that requires twisting or bending forward quickly, such as aerobic dancing and rowing. Also, avoid high-impact activities if you have any disc disease.

Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regimen or activity

In addition to exercise, fitness includes weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight is important as obesity can exacerbate chronic pain. Eating a well-balanced diet will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, as well as making you happier and more energetic.

Diet

Take care to avoid foods high in trans fats, refined sugars, and processed foods in general – they can be highly inflammatory. Consult with a doctor or nutritionist to see if your diet could be contributing to your chronic back pain. A proper diet includes calcium and vitamin D to keep your spine strong, too.

Heat & Ice

Application of a cold pack or heating pad can help relieve back pain and be soothing to constantly sore, stiff backs. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and numb deep pain while hot therapy dilates the blood vessels to increase blood supply to the back and reduce muscle spasms.

You can use hot or cold therapy for about 15-20 minutes, 3 times a day. Some people find that alternating between the two works best.

Stay Active

Maintaining a busy and active schedule has also been proven to reduce symptoms of pain. If you are busy doing something, your brain is more focused on the task at hand than your pain. This distraction could be a job, reading, doing puzzles, or just conversing with people around you. As an added bonus, filling your time with family and friends can increase your mood, also helping reduce pain.

Tip: Be mindful of isolation. Don’t retreat from family and friends or activities you enjoy and can still perform.

Medication

Medication is one treatment option available to treat chronic pain. Your doctor will work with you to figure out the right medication—or combination of medications—to control your back pain or neck pain.

If you’re scared that you’re going to end up on a lot of medication for a long time, talk to your doctor about your concern. It’s an important point to bring up, and your doctor can help you find the right path forward for you.