1. Fool your mind
Pain is a downward spiral – you feel low so you become less active mentally and physically. For Monday’s programme, Professor Whyte tried wearing a special suit that mimicked the pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis.
“That was an eye-opener,” he says. “It was misery, and increased my empathy with the depressive state caused by chronic pain.” Try to fool your mind into feeling better by keeping it – and your body – on the go. Yoga helps because it combines meditative techniques with exercises to improve flexibility.
2. Apply rice (and peas)
The sooner you tackle pain the better. In the show, Dr Kreindler suffers badly bruised legs in a cage fight – and to deal with that he used the RICE technique: rest, ice, compression and elevation. To illustrate how this works, he treats one leg by applying a bag of frozen peas for a maximum of 20 minutes (but not to bare skin), tightly bandaging it and elevating it above his heart, which helps drain the swelling. The other leg is untreated.
“The RICE leg recovered quickly,” says Kreindler, “but the other leg lost 25 per cent of its function. RICE works for strains and sprains, too.”
3. Time your pain relief
If activity is painful, try taking pain relief beforehand. You’ll stay motivated about keeping active, which in turn protects against pain.
4. Do what works for you
The same approach doesn’t work for everyone. If taking paracetamol doesn’t help, for example, try ibuprofen. But if you experiment, read the labels and tell your GP.
5. Track the pain
Pain can be overwhelming, but to get back in control, keep a diary to record when it’s worse and look out for a pattern. Use the times when you aren’t suffering to make proactive changes to overcome it. Dr Kreindler recommends pain-tracking phone apps.
6. Change your ways
How do you sit and watch TV? Do you always park next to the supermarket entrance, or take the lift instead of the stairs? Professor Whyte suggests questioning our “background physical activity” and stepping it up to improve strength and fitness.
7. Eat your greens, reds, purples, yellows…
Abdominal muscle cramp and stitches can be alleviated by drinking plenty of fluids and having a balanced diet. “The more brightly coloured foods you eat, the better. They are full of essential nutrients for maintaining body function and repair,” advises Dr Kreindler. People who suffer from cramp during the night tend to be less active types during the day, and may be prescribed quinine.
Quite why it helps is not understood, but as it’s an ingredient in tonic water, Professor Whyte reckons drinking some at bedtime “might be worth a try”.
8. Make yourself comfortable
Stiff necks, shoulders and headaches caused by sitting in front of a computer could be avoided by working out the best position to avoid tension, says Dr Kreindler.
“Be aware if you are hunched up or frowning for long periods of time,” he counsels, “and try to relax and breathe deeply. Your brain will pick up the signals and think, ‘This isn’t so bad after all,’ helping you to relax further.”
9. Ask what it means
“Pain is there to tell you there’s something wrong,” emphasises Dr Kreindler. “Don’t just try to get rid of it with tablets. Pain in your joints, chest and headaches can be a symptom of something serious. Work out the triggers and discuss them with your GP.”
10. Don’t give up
Professor Whyte has worked with cancer patients and believes even people with a terminal illness can alleviate their suffering. “Don’t assume you can’t do anything about it,” he says. “An exercise programme based on individual needs can make a great deal of difference, psychologically and physically.”
How to Beat Pain is on BBC1, Monday at 7.30pm
This article was first published in the Radio Times (26 May – 1 June)