5 Ways to Manage Chronic PainNov. 6, 2019
For people living with chronic pain, it’s common to wonder whether the pain will ever end — feeling hopeless or helpless in the daily struggle that comes with it all the while.
You might also wonder what exactly it is you should do when chronic pain becomes too much.
“Sometimes chronic pain resolves with time, but, in many cases, treatment can help actively manage symptoms,” says Dr. Sagar Chokshi, interventional pain physician at Houston Methodist.
What is chronic pain?
What's considered chronic pain? It's defined as persistent pain that lasts for several months or years. Its causes can range from a disease or health condition to previous injury, or no known reason at all.
Chronic pain can interfere with all aspects of your life, affecting your sleep and your mood. It can also cause low self esteem, depression, anxiety and anger. To avoid worsening symptoms, it’s important to seek help.
“Your doctor may ask you to describe your pain as aching or burning; sharp or dull; constant or intermittent; mild, moderate or severe," Dr. Chokshi says. "He or she may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine."
How to treat chronic pain
Once you and your doctor have a better understanding of its circumstances and severity, here are five ways your doctor may recommend managing your chronic pain:
1. Medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen) or prescription ones. When taken as directed by your doctor, these medications can be a safe and effective way to manage pain.
2. Lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, getting regular sleep at night, stopping smoking and doing low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming. Yoga, massage or acupuncture may also provide relief.
3. Physical therapy can help you manage pain and maintain your mobility and flexibility. (Related: Physical Therapy: Why It's Important, When to Go & What to Expect)
4. Coping strategies, such as relaxation, deep breathing and meditation techniques help relieve stress and pain.
5. Nonsurgical therapies may provide effective, longer lasting relief than medication. Your doctor may recommend injections or nerve root blocks containing steroids and/or analgesic medicines to ease inflammation and relieve pain. Other treatments can include radiofrequency ablation and spinal cord stimulation to block or disrupt painful nerve impulses. These are used to treat a variety of chronic conditions, such as:
- Pain in the neck and back, arms, legs or feet due to injured, diseased or herniated discs; compressed or pinched nerves; or conditions like diabetic nerve pain
- Shoulder, knee, hip and sacroiliac joint pain as a result of injury, osteoarthritis or other illnesses
- Headaches caused by irritation or injury to the occipital nerves, which can cause piercing, throbbing or shock-like pain radiating from the upper neck, up to the scalp and around the back of the head