According to the Gate Control Theory of Pain, our central nervous system has neurological gates that open and close. Opening them makes pain worse, closing them makes pain better. It is challenging to figure out what your personal pain triggers are, but there are a few rough guidelines you can follow to keep your gates in check. To remember these guidelines, just remember the acronym DREAM.
Diet: If you had a fancy sports car, would you fill the tank with cheap fuel or the good fuel? Most people would splurge on the good fuel, and your body should be no different. While it is unlikely that pain will be managed completely with just diet, changing your eating habits can help. Specifically consider anti-inflammatory foods such as bell peppers, broccoli, avocados, blueberries and salmon. Eating anti-inflammatory foods regularly can help improve your gates.
Relaxation: This is much more than stopping to rest. Relaxation means taking active measures to schedule time to slow down, take a break and do something that re-charges your brain and body. Stress is a gate opener, relaxation is a gate closer.
Exercise: It really is the best medicine. Not only does exercise improve flexibility and strength, it also improves mood and stress. There are many benefits to exercise, so make it a priority. You may want to set goals for yourself or find an exercise buddy. Maybe you need to set up a reward system. The bottom line is that this needs to be a priority if your goal is to function more.
Activities: If you’re going to be in pain anyway, might as well be in pain doing what you love. Get out and do something that is engaging and fun for you, it will help close your gates!
Mindfulness/Meditation: Mindfulness is about staying in the present moment. We tend to worry a great deal about the past, which is out of our control, and the future, which is also out of our control. To manage this worry and stress, focus on the present moment and be aware of what is happening right now.
Sleep: When you are in pain, it might be difficult to sleep… but the less you sleep, the more your pain increases. It is important to control what you can about your sleep environment and your sleep habits. Eliminate noise and light pollution from your room, get a comfortable bed and set a sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Most importantly, if you can’t sleep after 15 minutes, get out of bed. You don’t want your bed to become a place of frustration.
Your pain is a moving target, but with a better understanding of your gates and triggers, you can have more control over your life. Just remember the acronym DREAM and start taking control today!