Q: What else can someone do to relieve pain besides take a prescription pain reliever or undergo a procedure?
A: There are so many self-help things you can do. Something as simple as trying to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can help. With pain, you’re in a vicious cycle – you take more narcotics, your REM sleep decreases, and then you’re tired and you don’t want to exercise. If you can get through the first week or two of extra pain by doing the proper exercise, like 30 minutes of walking daily, long term that’s going to have an impact. Most people give up on simple walking, but it can have a huge impact long term.
Q: For people treating pain with exercise, do you have to be willing to get worse in order to get rid of pain eventually?
A: In the case of exercises, that’s true. If the pain goes up four-fold, you’re doing something wrong, but proper exercise will make you a little worse for a while before it makes you better. It’s a pain desensitization period. Think about if you have raw skin on your knuckle and you tap it. At first it hurts, but if you tap it more and more it will get desensitized. You’re doing the same to your chronic pain structure when you exercise. There is so much data on this with rehabilitation for back pain, for instance. You become pain desensitized by proper exercise with gradual increases in stress. The overall consensus for exercise therapy is that it has a positive impact. It can be something simple — it doesn’t have to be fancy machines or stretches.