Everyone feels pain from time to time. When you pull a muscle or sprain your ankle, acute pain is your body’s way of letting you know something is wrong. After your injury heals, you stop hurting.
Chronic pain is different. Your body might experience pain for weeks, months, or years after the injury. Doctors often define chronic pain as any pain lasting from three to six months — or longer.
Chronic pain can take a significant toll on your mental health and your ability to function in everyday life. But with a comprehensive pain management strategy, it’s possible to effectively manage chronic pain and live a fulfilling life. Here’s what you can do to help manage chronic pain.
Physical activity might seem counterintuitive—you may think you should rest and protect the part of your body that’s in pain, or you might be scared to move out of fear of causing more pain. Although rest is essential for acute pain—like a pulled muscle—rest can worsen chronic pain. In fact, inactivity causes the muscles to become weak and stiff, which can further intensify chronic pain.
It might feel difficult to find the motivation to stay active, but slowly riding a bike, walking, swimming, or doing chair exercises can help you manage your pain effectively. Additionally, try breaking activity into smaller chunks, like three 10-minute walks throughout the day instead of one 30-minute walk.
Work with a therapist.
Although accepting the reality of chronic pain isn’t easy, therapy has been proven to reduce the emotional struggle associated with chronic pain, along with co-occurring depression and anxiety. According to pain psychologist Ted Jones, Ph.D., the way patients think about their chronic pain plays an important role in pain management. Catastrophizing, or telling yourself that your situation couldn’t get any worse, has been shown to be a key predictor of negative treatment outcomes.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) have been proven to help patients change their thinking. Instead of focusing on your pain, psychotherapy helps patients move forward by focusing on the positives.
Take your medication as prescribed.
Opioids can be an important component of an effective pain management plan, but to avoid side effects and the risk of addiction, it’s important to only take pain medication under a physician’s supervision.
Physician anesthesiologists have extensive training and experience in prescribing opioid and non-opioid pain medications. If you need help managing chronic pain, your primary care doctor can refer you to a physician anesthesiologist to ensure your pain is under control while minimizing potential side effects. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, opiate and pain management programs can help you take steps toward a safe recovery.
Experiment with holistic remedies.
After a diagnosis of chronic pain, the first line of treatment is typically pain medication. However, while these medications may work for some patients, others may experience side effects ranging from nausea to heart complications. For patients interested in experimenting with holistic pain management remedies, whether alone or in combination with pain medication, there are several options to consider.
For example, cannabidiol (CBD), a type of cannabinoid found naturally in cannabis, has been shown to help with pain management. In a systematic review, CBD was shown to effectively relieve neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and fibromyalgia without causing negative side effects. Many people with chronic pain use topical CBD products, CBD oil, and CBD miracle gummies to manage symptoms and help reduce pain, inflammation, and overall discomfort. Note that CBD does not get you high, so it’s considered safe to use while performing everyday activities.
Manage your stress levels.
Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, and stress can make your body more sensitive to pain. By taking control of your stress, you can find relief from chronic pain and improve your mental health.
Several techniques can help you lower your stress levels and promote relaxation. Try listening to calming music, reading a book, or practicing mental imagery relaxation. As a form of mental escape, mental imagery relaxation creates soothing, peaceful images in your mind. In addition, relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help the body and mind relax.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for managing chronic pain. Ultimately, experimenting with pain management techniques and working with your primary care doctor can help you find the most effective ways to manage your pain.