If you suffer from persistent pain from an illness like fibromyalgia or from an injury to your neck or spine, your first line of defense is following the pain regimen your doctor prescribes, including rehabilitation activities. However, coping with daily pain is a complex challenge, and lifestyle choices can also have a mitigating effect.
Specifically, bonding with friends and family, enjoying social experiences, and receiving service from those you care about may modulate your pain levels. While engaging in social activities might not seem like a pain-killer, you’d be surprised how much it can help.
Why Does Social Contact Make a Difference?
Researchers continue to make connections between emotions and physical pain. Because the connection between mental and physiological processes is complex, there is no sure answer about how social contact makes a difference in physical pain levels, but there is evidence that they are definitely linked.
For example, scientists studying a community of mice learned that when a mouse was in pain, the nearness of her nest mates (siblings) reduced her overall pain levels. Strange mice, on the other hand, did not have an effect. Other mammals that have community and familial structure have similar responses.
The presence of familiar and loved individuals increased levels of oxytocin and endogenous opioids. Both are released by the body and have an analgesic (pain-killing) effect. When mice in pain who experienced the relief of social bonding were given an opioid blocker, the pain level of the mouse would increase.
The connection between social acceptance and belonging and physical pain is also evident in another study that indicated those who experience social rejection experience an actual increase in physical pain. Turned around, it’s logical to hypothesize that inclusive efforts from friends and neighbors can dull pain.
It’s clear from these study that the relationships you build and maintain with other are instrumental in managing chronic pain levels outside the regular treatment of your medical doctor.
What Activities Provide the Most Benefits?
So, if you’re willing to make social activities a priority, you can choose activities that will have the greatest affect on your pain levels. Here are some suggestions:
Attending an exercise class regularly with a family member or close friend provides the social bonding you need, while also giving you the benefits that come from exercise. Of course, it’s important never to start any type of exercise without consulting your doctor, as you don’t want to upset your rehabilitation routine.
One study showed that exercise can reduce pain levels by up to 50%. Combined with the endorphins released from experiencing the exercise with others, exercising in this manner could drastically improve your quality of life.
Swimming, in particular is especially beneficial for those suffering with chronic pain, since it’s gentle but still vigorous. You might consider a water aerobics class in your area. Try to attend with a close friend or relative to share the experience together.
Family Gatherings and Traditions
Continue to attend family gatherings if you can. It’s especially beneficial to reap the security and fond memories that come from celebrating family traditions together with those you love.
For example, if you normally enjoy spending Thanksgiving playing football with family, still participate in a meaningful way. Your pain or injury might prevent you from fully engaging, but you can still attend, cheer from the sidelines, or call the plays. Sitting out and remaining indoors while the rest of the family enjoys the tradition only highlights the presence of your pain.
Pain Support Groups
Pain support groups are an excellent social outlet. Those who experience pain find solidarity, increased compassion, and improved feelings of connection. Sharing your experience with others who have been there is therapeutic for both the speaker and the listener.
One study showed that those who engage in social groups with shared pain experiences emerge with improved social bonds, and they have greater willingness to share experiences with those same people in the future.
There’s an old saying: “Laughter is the best medicine.” This saying should be amended to say that laughing with others is the best medicine. Take time to attend movies, live shows, or plays that will make you laugh and share jokes with others.
Laughing with others is very powerful, and the effect is long-lasting. Those who laugh hard during a socially interactive experience with others feel less pain throughout the rest of the day.
While social comedy is best for pain relief, you can also experience the benefits of laughter on days when you cannot make it out of the house. Choose some funny episodes of a favorite show, some online home videos, or read through a joke book.
For more information on how social contact and bonding influences you pain management routine, contact us at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.