Coping with Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be the result of an injury, illness, or medical condition, or its cause may be unknown. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than expected for an acute illness or injury, or for more than 3 to 6 months. Some people with chronic pain can develop emotional problems and/or physical limitations that impair relationships, hamper job performance, and limit their activities important for daily life.

Effective pain treatments are available. You can also take steps yourself to ease ongoing discomfort.

Treatment ideas

  • Find a health care provider who understands chronic pain, has experience treating pain similar to yours, is willing to talk and listen to you, and is willing to speak with your family.

  • Work with your health care provider to better understand your pain. When possible, determine the underlying cause and come up with a pain management plan. Your plan may include medications as well as nonmedical treatments, such as exercise and meditation. Keeping a pain diary that includes where the pain is, how bad it is, how often it occurs, and what makes it better or worse can help your doctor identify appropriate treatments.

  • Take care of your mental health. If you think you may be depressed or anxious because of your pain or are having difficulty with another emotional problem, tell your health care provider. If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself (suicidality) or another person, it is essential to let a health care provider, or the police, know immediately.

  • Explore your treatment options. Most treatment plans involve a combination of medication and nonmedication options. Some of these medications are known to help with pain caused by injury to nerves, while others help decrease inflammation. In some cases, doctors will prescribe narcotic (opioid) pain medications to treat chronic pain, although this is somewhat controversial. Some drugs are long-acting to treat pain that is continuous; others are short-acting to treat pain that comes and goes. Other, nonmedication treatment options are shown below. 

Variety of options

Treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen and Naproxen, which also reduce inflammation

  • Steroidal drugs, such as prednisone, for more serious inflammatory conditions

  • Opioid pain medications, such as morphine and oxycodone for moderate to severe pain

  • Local anesthetics (often with steroids) that are injected around nerve roots — a group of nerves — or into muscles or joints to decrease swelling, irritation, muscle spasms, and abnormal nerve activity

  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and exercising

  • Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, and/or meditation

  • Physical therapy and manipulation 

  • Psychological and behavioral treatment approaches 

  • Invasive procedures such as epidural steroid injection or spinal cord stimulation