Being properly hydrated is critical to holistic pain relief. The big question is what does “properly” mean to you?
Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to participate as a support team member during the bicycling race called Race Across America or RAAM. I was the massage therapist for a team of four cyclists and eight crew members. The race began in mid-June on West Coast—beautiful Oceanside, California. We traveled to the finish in Annapolis, Maryland in just over seven days. The cyclists rode as a relay without stopping for overnight resting periods. In fact, none of us had “normal” sleep for the entire race. We just grabbed our zzzz’s as we could, rotating crew and cyclist duties to continue moving forward. It was one of the most physically challenging events I’ve ever participated in—as much for our crew as our cyclists.
And you’re wondering what this has to do with hydration, right? Well, that’s when the phrase “hydrate or die” became a part of my regular vocabulary. We went straight through California’s famous Death Valley! But hydration was just as important every other day of our eight-day trip. Riders and crew were pushing themselves to the limits of physical and mental endurance. We had almost no time to eat a “proper” meal, but fuel was critical. So we grabbed healthy food as we could. No matter the food choices, we always made sure water was available for everyone.
If you’re living with chronic pain, hydration is no less important. Not one system in your body—muscles, bones, blood, lungs, heart, digestion, etc.—can work correctly if it doesn’t have enough fluid. The water we drink supplies that fluid.
Think about your pain, whether muscle tension, headache, or something else, as a communication from your body. Often pain is a cry for more hydration—more water!
How Much Water is Enough?
You probably grew up with the message I did, “Eight eight ounce glasses of water a day is best.” There is some disagreement about whether this advice is truly logical for all of us. And hydration is bioindividual just like all other decisions we make in our lives.
I’d recommend letting two things be your guide: thirst and urine color. These two guides are a simple way to tell what your body is communicating. When you’re thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. So drink water. And know that you may need more than a glass. You may need well more than eight ounces, and that’s where having a refillable water bottle can be so helpful. They are larger and often designed to keep water cool if you prefer it that way. When you’re dehydrated your urine will be dark yellow or almost brown. That’s another cue to drink more water. The more hydrated you generally are, the easier it will to change that urine color to clear. If you’ve been dehydrated for a long time, it may take more time and more water to change that color. Let your body teach you the best amount for you, adjusting for conditions like heat and activity level.
Will Other Liquids Hydrate Like Water?
The short answer is no. But I know you want to know more. Somewhere in the last few decades, we’ve decided that water doesn’t have enough taste. It’s not as interesting to our palate as some of the other options, especially the multi-flavored soda and “energy drink” concoctions we find on shelves today. So we choose coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, juice—there are a multitude of options!
Many of these options contain caffeine, which actually dehydrates us. Caffeine flushes water out of our system, which is exactly the effect we need to avoid. I’m not saying you have to completely eliminate caffeine (although that’s something to consider), but if you’re living with chronic pain it may not be helping your body feel better. It’s always your choice!
I did recently find this interesting research on coconut water, which is being touted as a healthier choice for electrolyte balance than the Gatorades of the world. You might find coconut water to be helpful as an addition to your plain water intake, especially in the heat of summer or physical activity. But be aware that all coconut water isn’t created alike.
Here’s a simple way to be sure you get enough hydration. First, buy 4-5 refillable water bottles and mark each of them with a different interval during the day. So one says 8am – 11am, and the next says 11am – 1pm, 1pm – 5pm, 5pm – 10pm. Use the intervals that work with your sleeping and waking cycle during the day. Start the first one immediately upon waking.
When the first bottle is empty then you move on to the next and so on. And notice that the intervals between them are shorter in the morning. Drinking more water in the morning helps detoxify us, and also means we’re less likely to have to get up in the middle of the night for the bathroom.
If you find that carrying multiple bottles of water is impractical in your day, set some timers on your phone as reminders. Name the timer something like, “Have you finished 24 oz. of water since 8am?”
Thanks for reading … now go drink some water!
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