With chronic pain, the goal of treatments is to ease pain and increase function, so the person can resume daily activities and maximize enjoyment and productivity in their lives. Patients and their healthcare providers have multiple options for the treatment of pain. Some have more benefit for certain people than others. Whatever the treatment plan, it’s helpful to view on-going pain similar to other chronic diseases, like high blood pressure or diabetes in that they each need to be continuously monitored and managed.
The most common ways to manage pain
Opioid and non-opioid pain medicines, nerve blocks, surgery and electrical stimulation are some therapies commonly used for chronic pain. While each of these modalities has a time and place, no one treatment helps everyone and some can have associated risks. Less invasive therapies such as psychotherapy (one common form called cognitive behavioral therapy), relaxation therapies (such as mindfulness meditation) and biofeedback have also shown significant benefit to people with chronic pain. These methods can be extraordinarily effective in alleviating and even ending chronic pain.
Many people with chronic pain don't know how these interventions can improve pain, or where to find them. While this is changing, most health insurance companies tend to reimburse interventional procedures as opposed to biopsychosocial care treatments. This leaves some patients erroneously believing that treatments incorporating pain self-management, physical medicine and rehabilitation, cognitive-behavioral therapy and complementary health approaches are not as effective as pain medications, invasive procedures and surgery.1
Self-management of chronic pain holds great promise as a treatment approach. While the details of self-management programs differ, they have some shared features such as being active, not viewing yourself as a sick or injured person and staying involved in your communities. Most programs help people "re-learn" a different way to think, feel and do better, despite persistent pain. In self-management programs, the individual becomes an active participant in his or her pain treatment and engages in problem-solving, pacing and taking actions to manage their pain. People who partake in these programs can significantly increase their ability to handle pain, which in turn improves their function.
Steps you can take
- Understand how your emotions and events in your life impact your pain and how you can modify your thinking and behavior to get better.
- Don’t be afraid. Fear, frustration, anger and sadness all intensify pain. We all periodically experience these negative emotions and we can all learn how to manage them.
- Stay as active as possible. Exercise releases powerful natural brain chemicals that improve your mood and block pain signals. Exercise also strengthens the body, helping prevent re-injury and further pain.
- Regular deep breathing and meditation practice help you relax and reduce pain.
- Focus on the purpose and meaning of your life. Remembering all the people you care about who need you is motivating and helpful.
- Seek out social activities and stay engaged—it is easy for people with chronic pain to become socially isolated, which worsens their pain. Being part of a community is potent medicine.
- Join a support group. Meet others living with chronic pain. Learn from them and help them.