Easing Chronic Pain by Lowering Inflammation | Torrance Memorial

Published on June 22, 2022

Easing Chronic Pain by Lowering Inflammation

Medical treatment and lifestyle changes can decrease long-lasting pain.

senior male with back pain

Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system. It’s necessary for fighting infection and healing injury. However, too much inflammation that lasts for too long can lead to chronic pain and other health issues.

It’s important to see your primary care physician (PCP) for any long-lasting pain. Your doctor will examine where the pain occurs; discuss its intensity, duration and frequency; and talk about treatment. MRIs along with blood, urine and balance/reflex tests can be used to plan treatment.

Chronic pain is diagnosed when the pain lasts for more than three months. It can feel like tightness, burning or even weakness and can originate from any part of the body. Ongoing and untreated pain affects daily activities, work, exercise and mood. It can cause depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.

Often chronic pain is caused by a long-lasting illness such as arthritis or cancer, or a severe injury. Sometimes the cause is difficult to pinpoint. Depending on the type and cause of pain and your overall health, a PCP can prescribe anticonvulsants, antidepressants, steroids, muscle relaxers and over-the-counter medications. Topical treatments can be helpful, as well as medical marijuana.

Chronic pain isn’t cured—it’s treated. Some risk factors for chronic pain are genetics, obesity, age, injury, occupation, stress and smoking. Nima Moghadam, MD, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network primary care physician, says lifestyle has a major effect on inflammation and chronic pain.

Dr. Moghadam recommends patients with chronic pain exercise in moderation if they are able. Walking, swimming, Tai Chi and yoga are all low-intensity exercises that can reduce pain and relieve stress. “Walking as little as 20 minutes a day can decrease inflammation,” he says. “Start there if you haven’t been exercising regularly and aim for 30 minutes of activity five days a week.”

Prioritize your sleep. Inflammation and chronic pain can increase if you don’t get enough sleep. “Try to get seven to nine hours every night,” Dr. Moghadam says. “You want quality and quantity. It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. Keep your room cool and dark and stay off screens for an hour before bedtime. Consider buying a white noise machine and an eye mask to buffer noise and light.”

Stress increases chronic pain, and chronic pain increases stress. A support group is an excellent way to help manage feelings of sadness or isolation that come with long-lasting pain. Meditation, mindfulness and deep-breathing exercises work for some individuals.

Limit alcohol and do not smoke. Both nicotine and alcohol increase inflammation in the body and can exacerbate chronic pain. Alcohol also affects sleep, and fatigue has a major effect on pain levels. According to the CDC, a safe amount of alcohol is no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

A healthy diet can ease inflammation and chronic pain. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and fish. Leafy greens, green tea, tomatoes, blueberries, almonds and salmon are also good for reducing inflammation. Avoid refined carbohydrates, red meats and fried foods.

Greens including collards, broccoli, kale and spinach have antioxidants that reduce inflammation and minimize damage to your cells. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends women eat at least 1½ cups of dark green vegetables every week. Men should eat two cups.

Lose a few pounds if you need to. Excess weight can make inflammation worse. Obesity is a risk factor for many health conditions. Your doctor can tell you how to get to a weight range that’s healthy for you.

Suffering from chronic pain that lasts for months or years affects your ability to work, enjoy life and care for yourself. Chronic pain can lead to decreased quality of life, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches individuals how to cope with chronic pain. Physical therapy and occupational therapy are also beneficial. Holistic treatments include acupuncture, biofeedback and hypnotherapy.

Nima Moghadam, MD

“If you have chronic pain, you should also get treatment for your mental health. When you experience chronic pain, it is easy to become depressed. Untreated depression or anxiety can make your pain worse and increase your risk of other health issues,” Dr. Moghadam says. “Maybe it won’t go away, but it can be managed with medical treatments and lifestyle strategies. You don’t have to suffer without support.” 

Nima Moghadam, MD, practices at Torrance Memorial Physician Network Primary Care in Torrance at 3701 Skypark Dr., Suite 100. He can be reached at 310-378-2234.