Winter is coming…
And we all know what that means…time to pull out the tissues & pour a cup of hot lemon & honey…
Its cold & flu season…(boo!)
For people with chronic pain the winter can be especially difficult….not only does the cold weather trigger additional aches & pains…
Chronic Pain & The Immune System
Many people who live with chronic pain are especially susceptible to winter germs & nasty viruses…
Most people who live with chronic pain have a weakened immune system. (especially those people who have lived with it for a long time).
Pain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response in your body….because the brain interprets the pain as danger.
In order to ‘protect us’ from the perceived danger – the body is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
Among other physical responses – so that we can…
Yep you guessed it – fight or fly from the danger.
The ‘fight or flight’ response is very handy if we come across a bear…
But not so handy for daily stress factors – such as chronic pain.
Prolonged exposure to cortisol – the stress hormone – comes with a long list of harmful consequences including:
- Wear & tear on our body
- Slower healing
- Increased muscle tension
- Impaired memory & ability to solve problems
- Depressed mood
AND….decreased immune system…
So…to help you avoid catching the cold or flu this season…
We have listed 5 simple steps to boost your immune system & fortify your defences.
Step 1 – Food is Medicine
Eating the right kind of foods will provide your immune system with the nutrients needed to keep the germs at bay – or at the very least shorten the duration of a cold
What should you be putting on your plate this winter?
Blueberries, capsicums & sweet potatoes – all bursting with Vitamin C to boost the immune system & protect the respiratory tract lining.
Orange fruit & vegetables (carrots, oranges & tangerines) – the orange colour is caused by beta-carotene which the body turns into Vitamin A, essential for strengthening mucus membranes in the nose & throat
Vegetable soups & stews – it is not just an old wives tale – hearty meals of vegetables & pulses provide excellent germ fighting nutrients. Add garlic & mushrooms to give your immune system a little extra stimulation.
Nuts & whole grains – these are great sources of zinc which is a great immune system booster. Zinc is proven to reduce the duration of a cold if taken within the first 24 hours of experiencing the symptoms.
Spicy Foods – spicy foods are great for temporarily easing congestion & opening the sinuses – try chilli, mustard or wasabi.
Step 2 – Reduce Stress
Stress & the immune system are not friends. This is why it is so important for people living with chronic pain to try to reduce their stress levels.
What can you do to reduce your levels of stress?
Sleep – getting a good night’s sleep can be a struggle for those living with chronic pain. Try to practise good ‘sleep hygiene’ – go to bed & get up at the same time everyday; avoid caffeine after 3pm; avoid alcohol & try reading a book before lights out. Some people also find a sleep hypnosis app helpful try Relax & Sleep Well by Glenn Harrold
Relaxation – relaxation exercises are great for reducing stress & pain. Try different techniques such as gentle exercise, slow breathing or mindfulness. You can access our 3 Minute Mindfulness Guide here.
Socialising – Chronic pain can be isolating & loneliness is associated with weakened immunity. Catch up with old friends in a relaxed setting or join a local chronic pain support group. A good laugh with friends can be an amazing stress buster & pain reliever.
Chew gum – Believe it or not…chewing gum has be proven to slow the release of the stress hormone, cortisol….It has also been found to boost the immune cells in your mouth to help fight off any germs that enter.
Step 3 – Cleanliness is next to Godliness
This is especially true in winter!
You can’t catch a cold if you aren’t exposed to the germs. Try to be extra vigilant about hygiene in winter & encourage your family to do the same.
Catch it, bin it, kill it – This should be your mantra at home & at work if anyone gets a cold this winter. Limit the spread of germs by sneezing into a tissue, throwing it in the rubbish immediately & washing your hands with antibacterial soap.
Wash your hands – As many germs are spread by hand contact as in the air. You will dramatically reduce your chance of infection by washing your hands at least 5 times a day. Always wash your hands after you have been in busy places like on public transport.
Wipe for wellness – Cold or flu bugs can live on cool hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. Wiping high ‘hand traffic’ areas like doorknobs & light switches with an antiseptic wipe once a day can reduce the spread of infection.
Step 4 – Try Natural Remedies
Many people find natural remedies effective at boosting their immunity.
However always speak to you doctor before taking any new remedies– although ‘natural’ many alternative remedies can affect medication & might have nasty side effects.
Supplements – Echinacea has been widely reported to reduce infection rates when taken preventatively. Some naturopaths also recommend Plantago Tincture to heal damaged tissue in the respiratory tract – especially helpful for those with a history of recurring infections.
Herbal Tea – Cooled sage or thyme tea, strengthens the lining of the mouth so can help keep germy invaders at bay. A study from Kyoto University, Japan found that gargling washes reduces the risk of catching a cold by a third.
Grandma’s salt water gargle has been proven by science as helpful in reducing risk from cold germs.
Step 5 – Get Moving
Gentle exercise is not only great for reducing pain it also helps to boost the immune system. Keep the following things in mind:
For people living with chronic pain, it is essential not to overdo exercise & fall into the boom & bust cycle. Using a scientific approach & pacing any activity or exercise will help to avoid injury and increased pain. Activity pacing is also brilliant at increasing your overall strength, fitness & endurance. For a full guide on how to approach activity pacing click here.
Florence Nightingale instinctively knew it hundreds of years ago…but natural light boosts the immune system & helps sick people to recover faster. Science has now proven that blue light – a wavelength found in daylight – stimulates the germ fighting cells in your body. So take a walk outside –and get light onto your face, hands and any bits of skin you can tolerate.
Scientists at a South Korean university have found that regular practice of Yoga raises levels of immunity. It is also great for increasing flexibility, strength & relaxation – so great for people with chronic pain. Try ‘Iyenga’ yoga – which has been proven to provide relief for lower back pain. This form of yoga has moderated poses ideal for people with pain & injuries. Make sure your teacher has experience helping people with injuries.
Chronic pain & the flu is a match made in hell that you could do without.
If you live with chronic pain you most likely have a weakened immune system. Don’t live in fear of the flu this winter. Take simple positive steps to boost your immune system & reduce your chances of infection.