You may not be able to fully eliminate arthritis pain. However, you may find partial relief without drugs by leveraging your brain and nervous system.
Here are 5 ways you can “game your brain,” to make it work better for you and your arthritis pain.
Distraction is well-regarded as a defense against pain perception. It can trick the brain into ignoring pain, at least for a little while.
Obviously, different people are distracted by different things. You may want to consider activities or media that are:
- suspenseful (streaming a live sports match)
- scary (watching a horror movie)
- urgent (reading about breaking news)
- social (talking to people online)
- related to love (doing a favor for a loved one)
- engaging for multiple senses (eating a delicious meal)
- challenging (working on a puzzle or problem-solving)
- novel (learning something new)
Check out: Chronic Pain Champions’ online word search
2. Blood flow
It’s important to acknowledge that nervous system activity influences how dilated or constricted one’s blood vessels are–thus influencing arthritis pain. By keeping fight-or-flight reactions in check, you may increase your odds of low-pain days.
Another way to change blood flow is using temperature to send a helpful signal to your brain and nervous system. When inflammation causes pain and swelling, your blood vessels become dilated or widened. For these symptoms, ice creates helpful constriction. On the other hand, sometimes blood vessels become narrower, causing stiffness. In these cases, heat creates helpful dilation.
Either way, you’re using calculated signals to make your nervous system change blood flow, reducing pain. That’s pretty cool.
Hypnosis may help retrain the brain to feel less distress in response to pain. According to Arthritis.org, in 4-10 sessions, most people feel some level of improvement in their relationship to pain. And, while it might not be common knowledge, hypnosis teaches you how to help yourself, on your own, outside of sessions.
4. Guided imagery
Practicing guided imagery meditation can help your brain feel like it’s experiencing something other than arthritis pain. Even if it doesn’t directly help your pain, guided imagery can serve as distraction or as a calming tool in the face of discomfort. This type of meditation can reduce the body’s levels of cortisol, all by harnessing the brain’s ability to imagine a different experience. Some arthritis sufferers even use less pain medication after practicing this visualization technique.
Calls for perspective can veer into “toxic positivity.” We mention this last because it’s only a good solution if you’ve tried everything else. If you’re at a loss and just need to get by, shifting your perspective can give you a temporary mood boost to push through the pain.
- What can you still do despite your arthritis pain?
- How has your pain been worse in the past?
- What would change if you weren’t in pain?
- Is there an experience that might feel more difficult than this one?
- How can I support myself even if I can’t relieve the pain?
In the end…
You may not be able to change your arthritis, but you can sometimes change how your brain perceives and responds to the pain. One last thing to try when you’re at your wits’ end? Talking it out with someone who can relate.
For the moments when the pain overwhelms you, or you’d like help figuring out next steps, Supportiv chats are available to talk any time of day or night (really-no appointments, no wait).