Ochsner's Riza Cruz, MD, Offers Five Ways to Live Well with Chronic Pain

No matter what causes chronic pain, it takes a toll on a person's mental and physical wellbeing. Dr. Riza Cruz, primary care physician at Ochsner Health Center – Sherwood, offers these tips for the body and mind in improving overall health.

“Chronic pain is a complicated disease state,” says Dr. Cruz. “As a physician, I feel it is important to address pain from many different angles. I often recommend physical therapy and lifestyle modification to my patients, in conjunction with medications and procedures. I have also found that there are some things that patients can do to decrease their pain without medications or procedures.”  

These simple steps can also result in the added benefit of improving overall health. They are:

-Quit smoking: Smoking can cause tiny blood vessels to constrict in all parts of your body, including your heart, lungs, and kidneys. It also causes constriction of the tiny blood vessels that supply intervertebral or spinal discs, leading to poor perfusion which can compromise their function and structure and lead to pain. Smokers have also been shown to have higher pain scores and not respond as well to pain medications as nonsmokers. Smoking may change our pain thresholds or alter the way pain signals are transmitted to our brain. Therefore, smoking cessation is very important in the management of chronic pain.

-Exercise: Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which can be thought of as hormones that make you feel good. These potent “feel good” hormones can directly combat chronic pain receptors and lessen pain. The added benefit of exercise is an improvement in overall strength that can help support the spine and decrease stress on the bones, ligaments, and discs of the back.

-Eat a healthy diet: A healthy, well-balanced diet can decrease weight and improve blood flow. Obesity is a major contributor to chronic pain because it adds more stress to all of our support structures. Obese patients are also at a higher risk for diabetes, which can damage blood vessels. A diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugars is best, and don’t forget to include plenty of fruits and vegetables.  

-Get plenty of sleep: Pain sensation is heightened when you are sleep deprived. It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Avoid alcohol and sweets before bed to improve sleep quality.  

- Use complementary techniques: These techniques include nontraditional approaches to pain management, such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.