6 Conditions That Could Be Causing Your Chronic Pain

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Plus, the therapies that can help you find relief for good.

By Tracy Middleton

Millions of women are shattered by chronic pain. Many are put on a pharmaceutical diet of opioids that offer diminishing returns in relief—leaving some addicted. But could healing the body begin with treating the mind? (Read Women’s Health health director Tracy Middleton’s investigation into alternative therapies to treat her own chronic pain here.)

While there are dozens of conditions that can cause chronic pain, for six of the most common ones, head-first therapies might help. Here’s how:

FIBROMYALGIA

Lady Gaga revealed her struggle with this disorder in her Five Foot Two documentary. Like Gaga, 4 million people (the majority of them women) experience all over aches and pain, extreme fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. (The cause is unknown, but genetics, inflammation, and nervous system snags are suspected.) One new study found patients who reflected on their emotional experiences with fibro had less pain and depression and more overall functioning than those who had traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. Psychodynamic therapy, which examines how unconscious thoughts and feelings influence the patient, can help with this; find a trained therapist at apsa.org.

CHRONIC PELVIC PAIN

The umbrella term for any non-menstrual-cycle-related hurt in the pelvic area (such as endometriosis or pain during sex) that lasts six months or longer, CPP affects anywhere from 6 to 27 percent of women. One study showed that 20 minutes of daily mindful meditation significantly reduced patients’ pain.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME

Twice as likely to occur in woman as in men, the condition impacts up to 15 percent of people. Mindfulness training (deep breathing, meditation) has been found to help patients avoid catastrophizing about the condition.

LOW-BACK PAIN

Roughly 80 percent of people experience acute low-back pain at some point (from, say, shoveling too much or overexercising); for 20 percent, the pain becomes chronic. The American College of Physicians recently issued new guidelines that advise practices such as yoga and guided relaxation instead of potentially addictive opioids. If drugs are needed, the recommendation is to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation, and muscle relaxants; opioids should be used only in rare circumstances.

HEADACHES

Women are more likely than men to suffer more intense and longer-lasting skull crushers and migraines. In one new study, headache patients had less pain and depression after three weeks of being treated at an interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation program.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

Conditions such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis can cause widespread pain; they occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. One study discovered MS patients who had mindfulness training were less depressed and anxious; a group that received biofeedback as well also reported less fatigue and stress.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice,

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