Health File

December 26, 2011 by Sharon Adams


Tips For Common Canadian Conditions

At some point in life everyone experiences acute pain from broken bones, wrenched joints, burns, sports injuries, childbirth, illness or medical procedures. About 20 per cent of Canadians also live with chronic pain, and that percentage climbs as we age. Statistics Canada has reported that 27 per cent of seniors living on their own and 38 per cent of those in health institutions live with chronic pain.

Health professionals are calling for development of a national pain strategy that would guide health-care workers, patients and their families. This national plan, to be discussed at the 2012 Canadian Pain Summit in Ottawa, will address better assessment and treatment of pain, guidelines for pain management, education of professionals and patients.

Recent editorials in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and Pain and Research Management, say pain is poorly managed in Canada, (online at and The problem is found at every level, from patients who “grin and bear it” to health professionals who dismiss pain as a symptom of some other problem that should be treated first, to families who think that pain is an inevitable part of aging.

While the experts work out the national strategy, people in pain can take some action to help themselves.  If you or someone you care for lives with chronic pain, try some of these tips from hospitals and international pain associations:

  • Gentle exercise can ease some pain by blocking pain signals to the brain and by easing stiff and tense muscles, which contribute to pain.
  • Breathe deeply. Concentrating on your breathing lessens pain by keeping anxiety, which worsens pain, at bay, and helps you feel more in control. Quick, short breaths not only make you feel dizzy, but can make you feel anxious or panicky and increase pain levels.
  • Distract yourself. An activity you enjoy such as socializing, reading, playing video games or pursuing a hobby moves the pain more into the background.
  • Get some sleep.  Although pain may be worse at night, sleep deprivation can worsen pain. Keep a regular bedtime routine and talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist about how to manage medications, exercise and social activities to get adequate rest.
  • Get out. Keeping in touch with friends and family contributes to good mental health and provides a good distraction. Instead of giving up visits altogether, plan for shorter visits, pick up the phone or invite people for a coffee break.
  • Explore alternatives. Acupuncture, acupressure, massage, yoga, meditation, talk therapy and other new techniques may help.

The Canadian Pain Society has links for self-help at

There’s good news in the annual battle against putting on extra winter poundage.

Weight watchers can buck up their will power with some simple changes that result in healthier eating—without giving it extra thought.

In a psychology convention presentation titled From Mindless Eating To Mindlessly Eating Better, Cornell University consumer behaviour professor  Brian Wansink said most of us are too busy to focus on every bite we eat, so we eat too much.  Downsizing is the answer.

People don’t automatically stop eating when they’re full. He measured how much people ate from a 22-ounce bowl of soup compared to those who ate from bowls of the same size that were secretly filled by a pressure mechanism under the table.

Those with the “bottomless bowl” ate 73 per cent more soup, but didn’t realize they had eaten more. He also found people think one serving is the same size as whatever container the food is served in. Adults ate 45 per cent more popcorn from extra-large containers than from large containers; kids given a 16-ounce cereal bowl served themselves twice as much as children given an eight-ounce bowl.

Eating dinner on a smaller plate, breakfast from a smaller bowl, drinking from a smaller glass—all help mindlessly cut calories.

He found people can pare a couple of pounds a month by  eating off salad plates rather than dinner plates; moving healthier foods to eye-level in cupboards and refrigerator; not eating in front of the television.

Queen’s University researchers have news about another common condition plaguing Canadians, especially this time of the year. In any given month, a third of Canadian adults have a sore throat, cold or the flu. Having the sniffles is nothing to sneeze at, according to the report which talks about the costs of colds and flu on the economy.

Although the report, titled Why Colds And Flu Matter, says school kids bring cold and flu bugs home to their families, adults also contribute significantly to spreading infection.

Rather than calling in sick, most adults drag themselves in to work, where recycled air, shared photocopiers, door knobs and elevator call buttons contribute to spread of infection. The study reported $25 billion is lost in the U.S. (Canadian figures weren’t supplied) due to lost productivity from colds, and the cost rises to $40 billion when costs of doctor visits and medicine is tallied. Canadians spend more than $300 million each year on over-the-counter cold and flu treatments alone.

You can do your part to stop this minor ill from having major consequences—economic and otherwise—by breaking the chain of infection. Washing hands frequently, keeping your hands away from your face, coughing and sneezing into your arm and disinfecting doorknobs and light switches and other shared surfaces, are recommended by Health Canada (online ).

Oh yes—and stay home when you’re sick. Please.

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