These steps, distilled from research and experience, can help manage chronic pain.
Embrace physical therapy.
The more you move, the better you feel. Strategically strengthening and stretching the body, especially parts that are affected by chronic pain, can increase mobility, decrease pain and improve overall mood. Find a physical therapist who is experienced in working with people who have chronic pain.
Avoid loneliness by engaging in activities with friends and family members. If you have physical limitations, find accommodations that will allow you to enjoy the company of others. Use your problem-solving skills to create solutions and avoid excuses. The emotional and physical benefit of engaging with others is immeasurable.
Treat depression and anxiety.
Depression and anxiety can cause physical pain in addition to psychological distress. Talk with a doctor who treats chronic pain if you are experiencing symptoms such as low mood, significant weight loss or gain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, hopelessness, lack of interest in activities, agitation, worry, fear or panic. Treating depression and anxiety can significantly reduce chronic pain.
Practice mindfulness and relaxation.
Stress increases pain, so meditation, biofeedback, positive visualization and progressive relaxation all provide powerful tools to decrease stress and discomfort. Each of these techniques can train your body to relax muscles, increase blood flow and reduce chemical stress responses that are harmful to your body. These activities also decrease anxiety, elevate mood and ease pain. A good counselor or relaxation specialist can help you master these skills.
Join a support group.
Often, an individual suffering from chronic pain feels as though he is the only person in his social circle struggling with this issue. Support groups offer a space for people to share and learn from one another. The American Chronic Pain Association, the American Pain Society and Pain Connection can point you to local resources. Support groups also can be an excellent place to get contacts for physical therapists and counselors who work with people affected by this life-corroding illness.
Avoid extended use of addictive pain medications.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are excellent for acute pain, but they should not be taken over many years because they can make pain worse. It’s important to work with an experienced pain management doctor to transition from addictive — and often ineffective — medications to helpful, nonaddictive medications.
Discover meaning and purpose.
Having purpose in life is essential for boosting your physical and mental well-being. For example, you might be able to volunteer in a library or with your church or a local hospital. Find ways to share your talents at work as well as by volunteering and giving back to your community. This can be a huge challenge for someone whose life and identity have been dismantled by chronic pain. A good counselor can help you navigate this difficult transition.
Whether you have lived with chronic pain for a few months or many years, the tasks detailed here may seem daunting. The Mayo Clinic encourages chronic pain sufferers to reach out for professional help, saying: “Your physical health can directly affect your mental health. Denial, anger and frustration are common with chronic illnesses. . . . A therapist, counselor or other professional may be able to help you put things in perspective. They also may be able to teach you coping skills, such as relaxation or meditation techniques.”