The old-fashioned treatment for generalised joint & muscle pain, also known as chronic pain, was bed rest for weeks or months on end. We now know this is the worst possible approach. Exercise and continuing to work are key to recovery.
Resting all day may not always be the best solutions if you have a painful condition like back pain.
Lying in bed for long periods may actually make the pain last longer, because inactivity makes you stiffen up, your muscles and bones get weaker, you don’t sleep well, you can become lonely and depressed, and the pain feels worse. You’ll also find that it becomes harder and harder to get going again.
Health and wellbeing
A better approach to reducing pain is a combination of:
- staying at work
- physical therapy
Exercise to beat pain
Choose an exercise that won’t put too much strain on yourself. Good options include:
- exercise bike
- most daily activities and hobbies
Activity and stretching needs to become part of your lifestyle so you routinely do exercise little and often.
Try to be active every day, instead of only on the good days when you’re not in so much pain. This may reduce the number of bad days you have and help you feel more in control.
But try and avoid overdoing it on good days and then paying for this by having more and more bad days.
Try these flexibility exercises and sitting exercises that you can do at home.
Going to work despite the pain
It’s important to try to stay in work even though you’re in pain. Research shows that people become less active and more depressed when they don’t work.
Being at work will distract you from the pain and won’t make your pain worse.
Talk to your supervisor or boss about the parts of your job that may be difficult to begin with, but stress that you want to be at work.
If you have to stay off work for a while, try to get back as soon as possible.
If you’ve been off work for four to six weeks, plan with your doctor, therapist or employer how and when you can return.
You could go back to work gradually. For instance, you might start with one day a week and gradually increase the time you spend at work.
You could also agree changes to your job or pattern of work, if it helps – a health and safety rep or occupational health department may be useful here.
Physical therapy for the pain
Pain experts often recommend physical therapy. This helps you to move better, relieves your pain, and makes daily tasks and activities, such as walking, going up stairs, or getting in and out of bed, easier.
Physical therapy for persistent pain can involve pain education, exercises and learning other self – management skills. It is usually delivered by a physiotherapist who can give you advice on the right type of exercise and activity. You should begin to feel the benefits after a few sessions.
Occupational therapists can support you with environmental changes that can help you remain in work and function better at home.
Your GP can also refer you for exercise on referral classes, and some centres have specific classes for low back pain.
Painkillers for long-term pain
It’s safe to use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce your pain so you can be more active. But it’s important to use painkillers carefully, as they have side effects.
Paracetamol is the simplest and safest painkiller. You could also try anti-inflammatory tablets like ibuprofen, as long as you don’t have a condition (like a stomach ulcer) that prevents you from using them.
It’s important to take painkillers at the recommended dose and to take them regularly every four to six hours, preferably to overcome a flare-up of your pain or to help get you through an impending activity.
Don’t wait until your pain is severe before you start taking painkillers, as they won’t work as well.
If a two-week course of over-the-counter painkillers doesn’t work, ask for help from your GP or pharmacist.