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How to have less pain all day

Whether you wake up stiff and sore or suffer more as the day wears on, these tips can help ease and prevent pain from morning to night.

Hallie Levine By Hallie Levine

Back pain, headaches, stiff joints — sound familiar? Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 American adults, and it can really slow you down.

Aetna® can help. Here are 5 simple tips to help ease common aches and pains throughout your day.

Take a warm shower. A warm shower or bath can help loosen up stiff muscles and joints in the morning. Warm water is better at easing stiffness than dry heat from a heating pad.

Have berries for breakfast. Adding berries to your diet can help ease pain. They may even slow down osteoarthritis. And frozen berries are a great low-cost option. Enjoy berries on their own, or add them to whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies.

Take time to relax. If your pain gets worse as the day goes on, it might be stress. Stress hormones make inflammation and pain worse. When you feel tense, take a moment to relax and sit quietly for a few minutes.

Go Mediterranean. Skip fried and processed foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats. And follow a Mediterranean diet instead. It focuses on fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and fish. These foods are rich in antioxidants. Plus, they have good fats that help reduce inflammation, pain and stiffness. Buy them frozen, canned or in bulk to cut costs.

Try a topical pain reliever. Nighttime pain keeping you awake? Try an over-the-counter, or OTC, topical gel with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like diclofenac. It’s found in Voltaren and generic brands. Talk to your doctor before trying any new medication.

At Aetna®, our goal is to make it easier for you to feel your best. That’s why Aetna® members with a Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan, or D-SNP, have a dedicated care team. The team helps them get the preventive care they need. D-SNP members also get a quarterly OTC allowance. They can use it to purchase pain-relieving products and other approved wellness items.

Visit AetnaMedicare.com/DSNPInfo to learn more ways an Aetna® D-SNP could help you feel your best.

If your joints and muscles have been achy and sore for weeks (or months or even years), you’re not alone. More than half of older adults report having pain over the past month, often in more than one spot on the body.1  Sometimes the cause is clear — maybe you’re healing from surgery or an injury, or you have osteoarthritis. Other times, there’s no obvious explanation. Either way, pain is no fun, and it can get in the way of working or doing what you love.

While pain medications can help, they’re often not ideal to use long term, says pain management specialist Medhat Mikhael, MD. He’s the medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley California. Even over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines carry a risk of side effects like stomach bleeding and liver problems.

But the good news is that there are many other lifestyle strategies that can help. Here are some simple and effective solutions for finding relief from pain at the time of day it bothers you most.


Aetna D-SNP members get an allowance for certain OTC items like pain relievers and cold remedies.  Learn more about D-SNP plans at AetnaMedicare.com/DSNPInfo.


 

How to have less pain in the morning

1. Do some simple stretches

Muscles and tendons tend to stiffen up during sleep, which can leave you feeling tight and uncomfortable when you wake up in the morning, says Kathryn Boling, MD. She’s a family medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. The best way to increase blood flow to areas like your back, knees and hips is to loosen them up with stretches. Try these simple moves — all of which you can do while lying on your back in bed before you get up each morning:

  • Gently pull one or both knees into your chest to stretch your back.
  • Slowly bend and straighten both knees.
  • Rock both knees from side to side.

2. Go for a morning walk

Once you’ve warmed up your joints with stretches, some movement can make you feel better — under one condition: “Walk outdoors when it’s a warm, sunny day, not when it’s freezing cold,” says Dr. Mikhael. “A chilly temperature can actually cause muscles to tighten up more and make pain and stiffness worse.” It’s also important to walk on a flat surface, not up or down hills, which puts a lot of stress on your joints. If the weather isn’t cooperating, walk some laps around your home instead.

3. Take a warm shower

Warm water on tight muscles and joints can work wonders when it comes to relieving morning stiffness. Moist heat is even more effective than dry heat from, say, a heating pad, says Dr. Boling. Just keep the water warm — not hot — so you don’t irritate inflamed muscles and joints, she adds.

4. Eat a good breakfast

If you do take medications or supplements such as fish oil to relieve pain, it’s important to take them with food to avoid a possible stomach upset, says Dr. Boling. “You also need to make sure you drink plenty of fluids to help keep joints lubricated,” she adds. Some good breakfast options: whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and berries, or a berry smoothie made with low-fat milk. Both milk and berries have been linked to less pain and a slower progression of osteoarthritis.2,3


Aetna D-SNP members can often get up to a 100-day supply of medications they take regularly to maintain their health.  Learn more about D-SNP plans at AetnaMedicare.com/DSNPInfo.


 

How to have less pain during the day

1. Take a brain break

You may notice that as the day progresses, your pain gets worse. One reason is stress. “When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that are very inflammatory,” says Dr. Mikhael. “Plus, when you’re anxious, you tend to tighten up muscles instinctively, which puts even more stress on your joints. A vicious cycle develops, where your pain creates more stress, which in turn worsens pain.”

One way to break the cycle of pain is by trying a mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the here and now without passing judgment — positive or negative — on what’s happening in the moment.4  Examples of mindfulness exercises include:5

  • Sitting quietly for a few minutes and paying attention to your breath
  • Doing a body scan, where you mentally check in with how your body is feeling from head to toe
  • Closing your eyes and listening to the sounds all around you

Research shows that these sorts of activities can help reduce your body’s perception of pain, which makes it easier to handle.6

2. Change the menu

Foods that are processed or high in fat or sugar may be tasty, but they also promote inflammation, which can worsen arthritis, says Dr. Mikhael. Fortunately, there are plenty of other delicious foods you can eat that won’t make pain worse.

Your best bet is to follow a Mediterranean diet. It’s mostly free of refined grains like white bread and pasta, processed and packaged foods, and foods with added sugars. Instead, a Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, as well as healthy fats like fatty fish, avocados and olive oil.

“These foods are all rich in antioxidants and good fats that help reduce inflammation,” says Dr. Mikhael. One study published in the journal Biomedicines in 2020, for example, reported that eating a Mediterranean diet helped reduce pain and stiffness in people with inflammatory and rheumatoid arthritis.7

3. Keep moving

If you find that you spend most of your day sitting, try to get up and move every 30 to 60 minutes. It doesn’t have to be much — just take a quick walk across the room or do a couple of stretches, suggests Dr. Boling. “Any sort of movement increases blood flow to muscles and joints throughout the body, which helps reduce pain,” she explains.

One good exercise to try is a lunge stretch. To do it:

  • Stand with your left leg forward, knee slightly bent, your left foot flat on the floor.
  • Shift your weight forward, leading with your hips, until you feel a stretch in your right upper thigh. This is your hip flexor, which can tighten up after you’ve been sitting for long periods of time.
  • Hold for 10 to 30 seconds (you may need to hold a chair for support).
  • Repeat with your other leg.8


Questions about your pain medications? Aetna D-SNP members can get answers and help managing their medications from their care managers.  Learn more about D-SNP plans at AetnaMedicare.com/DSNPInfo.


 

How to have less pain at night

1. Switch up your sleeping position

Sleeping on your stomach may cause morning pain, says Dr. Mikhael. It puts your neck in an unnatural position and puts pressure on your spine.9,10 He recommends sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees to keep your spine neutral. Or sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees. It’s also a good idea to follow the Goldilocks rule when it comes to pillows and mattresses: “Not too soft, and not too hard, but somewhere in between,” says Dr. Mikhael.

2. Play with temperature

It can be difficult to nod off at night if you’re in pain. But getting enough sleep — and especially high-quality sleep — can make a huge difference in how well you can tolerate discomfort when you’re awake, says Dr. Boling. To help bring on sleep, she recommends that you set your thermostat to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. “Our bodies naturally experience a slight dip in core temperature at night. So turning it down in the house as well helps signal to your body that it’s time for bed,” she says.

3. Get a good rubdown

One safe option to help relieve nighttime pain is an over-the-counter cream with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like diclofenac (found in Voltaren and generic brands), says Dr. Mikhael. Research shows that they work well to relieve pain. Plus, the very act of massaging the cream into your skin may help relax you enough that you easily drift off into dreamland.


1National Institute on Aging. NIA supports research on pain in older people. May 13, 2014. Accessed July 13, 2021. 

2Lu B, Driban JB, Duryea J, et al. Milk consumption and progression of medial tibiofemoral knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Arthritis Care Research. June 2014; 66 (6); pp. 802-809. Accessed July 13, 2021. 

3Basu A, Schell J, Scofield RH. Dietary fruits and arthritis. Food & Function. January 2018; 9 (10); pp. 70-77. Accessed July 13, 2021.

4Mindful. What is mindfulness? July 8, 2020. Accessed July 13, 2021. 

5Mayo Clinic. Mindfulness exercises. September 15, 2020. Accessed July 13, 2021.

6Mayo Clinic Health System. Use mindfulness to cope with chronic pain. September 25, 2020. Accessed July 13, 2021. 

7Tsigalou C, Konstantinidis T, Paraschaki A, et al. Mediterranean diet as a tool to combat inflammation and chronic diseases. An overview. Biomedicines. July 2020; 8 (7); p: 201. Accessed August 13, 2021.

8Arthritis Foundation. Relieve tension and stiffness with stretching. Accessed July 13, 2021.

9Cleveland Clinic. Is your sleep position causing you back pain? August 29, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2021.

10Cleveland Clinic. Back, side or stomach: which sleep position is best for you? January 18, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.

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