Easy Ways to Manage Chronic Pain


When you wake up each morning, you feel it. It may be sharp or stinging, hot or aching, dull or prickly. Either way, it’s called by the same name: “pain.” When it lasts and lasts, it becomes a disorder known as chronic pain syndrome (CPS). The condition occurs in a wide range of diseases and conditions, including, but not limited to:

  • arthritis
  • migraines
  • fibromyalgia
  • back spasms
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • endometriosis
  • temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
  • chronic fatigue syndrome

To estimate the prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain in the United States, CDC analyzed 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data. An estimated 20.4% (50.0 million) of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain, with higher prevalence of both chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain reported among women, older adults, previously but not currently employed adults, adults living in poverty, adults with public health insurance, and rural residents. But rest assured, there are easy ways to help manage and sometimes, even reduce your chronic pain. 

Get Your Body Moving

We all need to exercise, but pain may keep you from being as active as you should be. The problem is, when you do not exercise, muscles get weak and joints get stiff and you may suffer from even more pain. Try to be as active as you can because exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that ease pain and boost your mood. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise will do the trick, releasing endorphins that decrease your perception of pain. Ask your doctor what kinds of aerobic exercises are appropriate for you. Remember, a well-rounded exercise program includes strength training and stretching activities, too.

Meditate With Mindfulness

Mind-body interventions including deep breathing, biofeedback, and meditation may help you get a handle on chronic pain. In some studies, meditation helped older adults with low back pain or osteoarthritis cope better and experience improved function. In another study, older and younger adults experienced significantly less pain after participating in a biofeedback trial. Tai chi with deep diaphragmatic breathing may help ease symptoms from a variety of chronic pain conditions including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and low back pain. Ask your doctor which interventions are appropriate for you.

Skip the AlcohoL Late at Night

Studies have shown that sleep disruptions may trigger chronic pain. They may also increase the risk of developing depression which exacerbates chronic pain. You may be tempted to reach for a night cap before nodding off, but an alcoholic drink before bedtime can hurt your ability to sleep more than it helps. A drink may help you fall sleep in the short-term, but alcohol reduces deep, restorative REM sleep. You may also be more likely to wake up during the night if you had a drink or two before bedtime. Set the stage for a good night’s sleep and less pain by having a cup of tea or warm milk before bed instead of an alcoholic drink.

Skip the Cigarettes

Many people reach for cigarettes to try to self-medicate chronic pain, but it is not a good idea. Smoking may bring short-term relief of stress and pain, but tobacco use is associated with many detrimental health effects that may increase pain in the long run. Smoking slows wound healing, increases the risk of peripheral arterial disease, causes rheumatoid arthritis, and impedes circulation-increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. All of these may lead to increased chronic pain. If you smoke, quit. If you need help quitting, ask your doctor for medications and treatment programs that can help you kick the habit for good.

Eat A Healthy, Balanced Diet

Eating a healthy diet that is high in anti-inflammatory foods such as lean protein, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats keeps your body strong and helps boost your defenses against pain. Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in oily fish such as salmon may be very beneficial for inflammatory pain conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. Anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids, such as alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) found in foods like broccoli and spinach, may help ease the pain from diabetic neuropathy. This also applies for vitamin E. Ask your doctor what kind of diet is appropriate for your pain condition.

Keep A Journal

A pain journal is a tool that can help both you and your doctor track your symptoms, assess treatment effectiveness, and plan a future course of action. Keep track of your daily pain by recording a pain score between 1 and 10 at the end of every day. Take notes about the activities you did that day and how you felt while doing them. Bring your scores and these notes and share them with your doctor the   next time you have an appointment. This will help your health care professional get a better idea of how your condition is progressing, how your treatment is working, and if any adjustments should be made.

Relaxation is Key

If you suffer from chronic pain, it is necessary to make time for relaxation and to set limits on your activities. Doing too much and being overly tired may make your pain symptoms worse. Learn to say no to parties and events that will sap your energy. Make regular appointments with a massage therapist to unwind with some relaxing massage. Maybe you always feel energized after seeing certain good friends. Make time for people and activities that boost your spirits and make you feel better. Get in tune with your inner self. Listen to the wisdom you have within to live a better day today.

Distract Yourself with Things You Enjoy

Pain draws your attention, but paying attention to your pain will probably make it worse. Distraction is a powerful technique that draws your attention away from your symptoms, so you may feel less pain. Researchers think distraction inhibits incoming pain signals that travel up the spinal cord and are received by the brain. So, get busy to feel less pain. Join a book club, learn to play tennis, or take a cooking class. You may not be able to control your pain, but you may be able to lessen how intense it feels. Knitting and doing crossword puzzles are less physically active ways to distract yourself from chronic pain.

Be an Active Participant in Your Treatment

Your health care provider may use X-rays, blood tests, and other tests to diagnose your chronic pain condition. The doctor uses these results along with those from a physical exam and a description of your symptoms to devise a treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend one or more pain medications as part of your pain management plan. It is a good idea to understand how both over-the-counter and prescription pain medicines work. Monitor yourself for potential side effects. Ask your doctor if alternative medicine strategies such as acupuncture, mindfulness-based meditation, and other related therapies are appropriate for you. Take medications as directed by your doctor. Go to physical therapy if it is prescribed. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding all of your therapies and speak up if you suffer any change in symptoms or side effects.

Be Social and Don’t Isolate

Social support goes a long way in helping you cope with chronic pain. One study in patients who had fibromyalgia found that those who were in the presence of their significant other experienced less pain and less pain sensitivity compared to those who were alone. Social support improves mood, boosts well-being, and helps you cope with your chronic pain condition. Do not isolate yourself. Go out and meet friends, connect with your family, or invite loved ones to your home if you are not able to get out. Ask for help if you need it. Educate yourself about your condition and let others close to you know what you are going through and what you need.

Try Over-The-Counter Medication

Doctors may suggest a variety of over-the-counter medications (OTC) to treat chronic pain from headaches, arthritis, and other conditions. Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are two OTC pain relief medications. Just because they are available over-the-counter does not mean they may not be associated with serious side effects. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage, especially if it is combined with alcohol. NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen decrease pain and inflammation, but they also increase the risk of ulcers and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. NSAIDs may also cause kidney damage and high blood pressure. These medications can also interfere with blood pressure medication.

Try Acupuncture

An ancient Chinese therapy, acupuncture, is proven to be effective for the treatment of chronic pain. The best part is the benefits seem to last over time. Studies prove acupuncture is effective for headaches, chronic musculoskeletal, and osteoarthritis pain. Acupuncture involves the placement of needles into specific points on the body. Studies have shown that acupuncture is only effective for pain relief when the practitioner places needles in actual, proven points on the body. When needles are placed in sham points on the body, acupuncture is not associated with pain relief benefits.

Listen to Music

If you suffer from chronic pain, turn on relaxing, pleasant music. In a study of people who suffer from fibromyalgia, those who listened to music enjoyed and experienced reductions in both acute pain and chronic pain. Listening to pleasant music also led to an increase in patients’ functional mobility. Researchers think music leads to a reduction in pain via both cognitive and emotional mechanisms. What kind of music should you listen to? The types of music patients in the study listened to varied according to their age and cultural background. The most important thing is to choose music that you enjoy and that makes you feel good.

Visit a Pain Management Specialist

There are times when the pain is too much to bear on your own and everything you have tried simply isn’t working. Pain management experts provide diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering from chronic or acute pain.

Most provide the following options:

  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Decreasing patients’ pain and increasing their mobility
  • Reducing or eliminating patients’ dependency on pain medication

Several have multidisciplinary teams that involve doctors and clinicians from a number of specialties, including anesthesiology, physical medicine, rehabilitation, and physical and occupational therapy.

Sources: CDC, WebMD, HealthLine, Mayo Clinic