Chronic Pain Management: Tips for Coping and Relief

Reduce your suffering and improve your quality of life with these pain management strategies

Credit: Flickr /JD’na

Managing expectations for pain relief is a critical part of chronic pain management

Try these chronic pain management tips to reduce suffering and improve your quality of life

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you likely have days when relief might seem out of reach. But simple strategies for chronic pain management can make a big difference in improving your quality of life.

What is Chronic Pain?

Dr. Shelley Adams, a chiropractor at Back2Health Chiropractic Kitsilano in Vancouver, says chronic pain extends beyond the expected period of healing. “We expect people to have problems and there are different timelines for different problems.”

Chronic pain usually lasts more than three to six months, if not longer, says Linda Soltysiak, a group leader for the North Shore Chronic Pain Group. Chronic pain can be unpredictable, vary from mild to excruciating and be in one or multiple areas of the body.

Causes of Chronic Pain

“We still do not have a really good explanation why chronic pain persists,” says Dr. Patrick Myers, a registered psychologist at Stress-Less Consulting. Many people have pain without obvious cause and there may be a “biopsychosocial framework.”

Common causes of chronic pain include:

  • Physical injury and trauma — including car accidents, especially if the injury wasn’t treated immediately
  • Medical conditions — such as arthritis, migraines, cancer, fibromyalgia, TMJ and IBS
  • Bad posture — that has caused strain on joints and other body parts
  • Degeneration of spinal joints — due to genetics, injury, inactivity and lifestyle
  • Inactivity – motion improves joint health, relaxed tissues and increases blood supply to keep tissue healthy
  • Diet – diets high in animal fat promote inflammation and poor choices can lead to weight gain that causes joint degeneration and posture issues
  • Stress – creates muscle tension, pulling on joints and increasing irritation, and causes tissue distress due to long-term cortisol exposure
  • Disease – arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer and other illnesses

Complications of Chronic Pain

The hurt of chronic pain can go beyond just the physical. Chronic pain can lead to multiple issues, including:

  • Broken sleep and difficulty getting to sleep
  • Psychological trauma
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Parenting performance stresses
  • Lower work productivity
  • Trouble carrying out housework
  • Difficulties with finances, due to health-care costs, poor work performance or inability to work full- or part-time
  • Fatigue
  • Medication side effects

“[I]t can quickly become a downward spiral that is tough to get out of,” says Dr. Adams. “It can be very tough on families of the people involved as well.”

Navigating relationships can take a toll. Insurance company representatives, employers, doctors, health-care providers, spouses and friends often lack understanding. “The individual suffering from chronic pain often looks normal, and therefore is expected to behave normally,” says Dr. Myers.

The reactions of other people can actually increase pain and suffering. That can lead to a stress response, causing excess tension, overproduction of stress hormones and a lack of sleep. “These symptoms of stress then lead to an increase in pain – a vicious cycle,” adds Dr. Myers.

Chronic Pain Management Tips

Pace yourself
Learn to pace yourself if you’re coping with chronic pain. “Pacing one’s energy output is almost akin to a complete personality transformation,” says Dr. Myers.

Explore treatments
Successful treatments vary from person to person. “What works for one person, won’t work for another,” says Dr. Myers. He points to medication, meditation, relaxation, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, prayer, brainwave entrainment, hypnosis, surgery and nutrition as options to help with chronic pain management.

Manage expectations
Creating realistic expectations for chronic pain management helps, too. “If people have had a problem for a number of years, there is a limited chance we are going to see exponential improvement in a short period of time,” says Dr. Adams. Most problems emerge – and heal – over time.  

Reach out
Many people experiencing chronic pain turn to others for help. Counsellors, psychologists, health professionals trained in chronic pain and support groups may help. “The support group experience offers a source of emotional support from others dealing with the same issues,” says Soltysiak. Blogs and forums can help, too, adds Dr. Adams.

Keep a daily journal. Record the level of pain and your activities, suggests Dr. Adams, so you and your doctor can figure out what contributes to “bad days.”

Make healthy choices
Dr. Adams recommends “a good support network – friends, family, physicians, therapists and a good attitude,” along with a good diet, sleep, meditation, breathing and stress management, and medication. And stay active. Dr. Adams says depression can come from chronic pain. Being connected to activities and people can keep you “doing the things [you] need to do to get better.”

Advocate for yourself
Learning to advocate for yourself may make a difference. “Most chronic pain sufferers are not covered in scars, leaving others to believe — and often comment — that the chronic pain patient is over exaggerating their pain or just plain faking it,” says Dr. Myers. So it becomes critical for those in chronic pain to learn how to make their needs clear.

Living with Chronic Pain

In the end, moving toward acceptance can help. Dr. Myers says people struggle with “the likelihood that they are stuck with some form of this pain for the rest of their lives. That’s a depressing thought, and yet that doesn’t mean your life is over. Life can still be joyous, meaningful, and fulfilling despite the pain.”

If your chronic pain is the result of a car accident, learn more about after-accident rehab. Read on for five signs of chronic pain you shouldn’t ignore.