Tired of chronic pain? Medical experts offer 3 helpful tips

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(BPT) - If you're coping with back, neck or knee pain on a regular basis, you're not alone. According to research, one in every two Americans experience musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, which affects the bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles and nerves. The 2024 State of MSK survey of 10,000 Americans with chronic and acute pain conducted by Hinge Health shows that pain is too big a problem to ignore.

Nearly half the survey respondents say chronic pain prevents them from living life to the fullest (47%), while 27% report MSK pain has decreased their productivity at work, and 22% agree it has made them consider leaving their job.

Beyond physical symptoms, chronic pain is also associated with poor mental health. About one-third of survey respondents report feeling depressed, and nearly half report anxiety.

"We live in a nation in pain," said Dr. Jeff Krauss, MD, chief medical officer at Hinge Health. "And many are not accessing what doctors consider the first-line treatment for MSK pain: physical therapy, education and lifestyle change."

The survey found people with chronic pain are more likely to seek over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, despite the fact that 47% of people who do not feel in control of their pain fear side effects or complications from those treatment methods.

In some cases, the real or imagined cost of physical therapy, plus the ability to make in-person appointments, can be barriers. Fortunately, digital PT has helped overcome one barrier. In the survey, 48% of people say a digital physical therapy program would make it easier to follow their care plan, and 43% say they "need" PT care with a digital component. Digital PT stands out as the preferred initial approach for chronic MSK pain, with a 70% satisfaction rate among members.

Here is some advice from physical therapists at Hinge Health for coping with MSK pain, including moving around safely for pain management, increasing motion and boosting sleep. Note: This information is for educational purposes only, and you should always consult your healthcare provider for your unique situation.

1. Keep moving

When experiencing pain, it's natural to want to stop moving, hoping that rest will make the pain stop. Unfortunately, staying still can lead to a downward cycle — with pain increasing and mobility decreasing.

"Movement is medicine," said Dr. Krauss, "and many kinds of pain worsen if you rest too much. Staying active can help you work through joint stiffness and help muscles gain strength over time, which can improve your symptoms."

If your pain is due to an accident or physical trauma, or if you're concerned about increasing pain as you move, see your healthcare provider. Ask about in-person or digital PT options for guidance on how to move safely as part of your pain management plan.

2. Move and stretch gently

Motion can help relieve stiffness and reduce pain over time, with physical therapists recommending an approach to movement that gradually increases your strength and range of motion.

  • Back pain: Stretching is helpful, but avoid awkward twisting, bending or motions that lead to over-tensing back muscles.
  • Neck pain/stiffness: Take breaks from holding one position too long, such as sitting at your computer. Set a timer to occasionally adjust your position, gently stretch your neck or roll your shoulders.
  • Knee pain: Strengthen muscles that protect your knee, especially your quads (the front of your thighs), with exercises like stepping up to and down from a low platform.

A physical therapist can help you learn specific exercises and stretches to support areas of your body causing you chronic pain. Beyond reducing pain, PT can also help treat other conditions, such as strengthening the pelvic floor to address bladder issues.

3. Boost sleep

Pain makes it hard to get a restful night's sleep, and poor sleep can increase sensitivity to pain — leading to another downward spiral. The survey found over half of people (53%) who have experienced pain in the past 12 months say it affects their sleep, and 26% have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. Here are tips to try:

  • Change your pillow: To improve sleep, especially with neck pain, swap out your pillow. Your ideal pillow depends on the issues you're having and your preferred sleep position. Try different kinds for several nights to find what works for you.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: Keep your room cool and dark, and make sure to go to sleep and wake at the same time each day.
  • Relaxation techniques: Meditation, breathing exercises or warm baths can help you relax before bedtime.

"Making an effort to improve your sleep is an important step in treating pain," said Dr. Krauss. “While there are many easy and effective ways to do this on your own, sometimes it’s necessary to work with a professional who can offer proven techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for insomnia.”

Learn more about digital physical therapy at HingeHealth.com.




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