Five Pillars of Pain-Free Living: Hydration

The last pillar that I would like to explore with you is ‘Hydration’. 

I have really enjoyed writing these blogs and sharing them with you. I hope you have found them interesting and that you have learned some useful tips for managing and reducing your chronic pain. You may be wondering why I have chosen hydration as one of my pillars and how it can affect the pain we experience throughout our bodies. Our bodies are predominantly water, so it is essential for our overall health. It helps maintain body temperature, transport vitamins and minerals, regulates hormones, lubricates joints, and aid digestion.   

You may think about hydration, or rather dehydration, as merely a case of feeling thirsty, but there is so much more to it than that. By the time we feel thirsty, we are already dehydrated. In fact, our cells only need to contract by 3% to trigger our thirst response. 

In the UK, it’s estimated that we only consume around 50% of the water recommended by leading health organisations. This is 2.5 litres for men and 2 litres for women. We must bear in mind that these recommendations include water from our diet, as well as the water we drink. We must be careful that we don’t go the other way and consume too much water as this can also have profound health implications. It’s also worth mentioning that the key is to consume the necessary volume of good old-fashioned water, not other drinks such as coffee, tea or soft drinks.

lemon water

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

Loren Eiseley

Are you aware of the common signs of dehydration? They are:

Feeling thirsty

Dark, strong-smelling urine

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Headaches

Tiredness or fatigue

Dry skin, mouth, lips and eyes

Infrequent urination

Constipation

If left untreated, acute dehydration can become chronic and can cause high blood pressure and contribute to kidney stones.

Hydration and pain

So, how does hydration affect pain? When our brains are dehydrated, our bodies feel increased pain levels, such as headaches, backache, muscle pain and arthritic pain. Up to 80% of our joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the end of our bones where they come together to form joints) is made of water, helping to lubricate and absorb shock. Without sufficient water, we can’t adequately cushion our joints, and we are more likely to experience joint pain. 

Now, let’s think about the spine. It isn’t just our 24 vertebrae that make it up, there are also discs in between each of these bones. Guess what these discs are composed of? Yes, water! Our spinal discs help to cushion the spine and facilitate smooth, comfortable movement. When we are dehydrated, these discs can’t function correctly, and we are more likely to experience pain in the lower, middle and upper back and neck. 

It can be difficult to remember to drink enough water throughout the day. Some people find it plain dull and don’t really enjoy drinking it on its own. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your body hydrated.

Five ways to drink more water:

1. Rehydrate as soon as you wake up 
Drinking water as soon as we wake up immediately rehydrates our bodies. Think about it. Hopefully, we’ve spent about 7 or 8 hours sleeping, which is a long time for our bodies to go without any water.

2. Have a bottle with you throughout the day
It’s harder to concentrate when dehydrated, and we are more likely to feel sluggish and lethargic. Improve your focus and productivity by keeping a bottle of water on your desk. Just remember to drink from it regularly! I know we can’t go anywhere at the moment, but don’t forget to take a bottle of water with you when you go out for your daily exercise. When we sweat, we lose water, so make sure you sufficiently replenish this lost fluid if you are doing any high impact exercise such as running or cycling. 

3. Mix it up
Do you find water a little dull? If so, you could experiment with adding flavouring to make it a bit more exciting. You could try fresh fruits such as lemon or lime, mint or cucumber. Have you tried boiled water? Again, you could try adding some lemon to create a relaxing, cleansing drink.

4. Eat high water-content foods
If you struggle to drink the recommended volume of water throughout the day, you could stay hydrated by adding water-rich foods such as melon, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, oranges, apples and blueberries to your diet. All of which are at least 80% water. Soups are also a simple way to increase your fluid intake.  

5. Drink at mealtimes
Get into the habit of drinking a glass of water with each meal to aid digestion and help you achieve your recommended daily consumption.

“Water is the only drink for a wise man.”

Henry David Thoreau

If you would like to find out more on hydration and its effect on pain, I highly recommend ‘Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty: Don’t Treat Thirst with Medications’ by F. Batmanghelidj.