If you’ve sought help for frequent or chronic pain, you are likely familiar with the role that inflammation can play in your pain experience. While inflammation may or may not directly cause your pain, reducing inflammation can minimize your discomfort on a day-to-day basis.
Your physical therapist, general care doctor, or surgeon performs specific treatments or procedures which diminish inflammation, either directly or as a side effect.
But what about the days where you don’t see a specialist? In this blog, we give you four strategies for minimizing inflammation between your physical therapy sessions.
1. Avoid Foods That Encourage Inflammatory Responses
You know that the foods you consume directly affect the way you feel. One of the most immediate connections is between foods and bodily discomfort. If you struggle with pain management between your official appointments, avoid these inflammatory foods:
- Concentrated fats, such as shortening or food grease
- Fried foods, including most types of fast food
- Red meats, which contain more fat than other protein sources
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and confections
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners, such as those found in soda
Confine your consumption of items on this list to 25% of your total diet to ensure that you don’t aggravate your body’s inflammatory response.
2. Fill Your Diet With Healthy, Anti-Inflammatory Foods
In addition to avoiding inflammation-inducing foods, you want to fill your diet with nutritious and anti-inflammatory foods. The following food types should constitute approximately 75% of your total diet:
- Cold water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Dark vegetables, especially leafy greens
- Fruits, including blueberries, tomatoes, and citrus fruits
- Herbs, like turmeric
- Natural fat sources, like almonds, olive oil, and walnuts
3. Rely on Heat or Cold Therapy for Localized Inflammation
Most forms of physical therapy and pain management rely on long-term results. This big-picture perspective means that you may experience some localized inflammation and discomfort between sessions, especially when you first start treatment.
When you encounter acute, localized pain, rely on heat or cold therapy for your initial home treatment. Follow the guidelines below to decide on correct treatment and prevent any injury.
Heat therapy opens the blood vessels in a particular area, improving blood flow. Use heat therapy when you experience muscle spasms, muscle tightness, or joint pain. Most patients find that moist heat penetrates the affected area better, but you can also use dry heat for this treatment.
You may find that you prefer one of the following heat application methods:
- Baths or soaks in hot tubs
- Heat packs, such as electric heating pads
- Hot water bottles
Try to maintain the same temperature for the duration of your heat treatment. Do not leave a heated item on your skin for more than 20 minutes at a time. Avoid using heat therapy when you have visible swelling or an open wound.
Cold therapy reduces visible or external inflammation by constricting the blood vessels in an area. This reduced blood flow reduces swelling and diminishes the effects of bruising. Use cold therapy immediately after an injury, such as a sprain or strain.
Most patients use an ice or gel pack for cold therapy. You can also use frozen foods, but you should pay attention to the item’s temperature to maintain effective therapy and avoid any food damage.
Before you place a cold pack on your skin, wrap it in a towel or piece of cloth to avoid skin damage. As with heat, do not leave a cold pack on your skin for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Use cold therapy for 24 to 48 hours after a new or recurring injury. After this initial treatment period, transition to heat therapy to encourage healing.
4 Seek Treatment for Emotional and Mental Dysfunction
Individuals who experience chronic pain are three times more likely to experience depression or anxiety than their peers who live without persistent pain. Pain management strategies can give you some of the tools you need to battle acute anxiety, sadness, or frustration.
However, clinical mood disorders, mental conditions, or personality disorders require professional diagnosis and treatment. As we discussed in a previous blog, “The Connection Between Your Emotions and Your Pain,” patients often must address emotional and mental dysfunction to effectively manage their pain.
In addition to consulting with your physical therapist, seek the help of a mental health professional.
If you prescribe to specific diet or exercise plans as advised by a medical care provider, always ask your doctor before changing your routines. Your physical therapist or surgeon may also have recommendations specific to your medical history, pain intensity, and current treatment program.
Use any combination of the tactics listed above to manage your body’s inflammatory response and reduce your overall pain, even on days when you don’t see a medical professional.
For more information about chronic pain, pain management, and pain perception, read our other blog posts.