It may not be easy, but you can find ways to live with your chronic pain. Some key ways to succeed at this are to regularly evaluate your pain and pain-fighting strategies, identify and stick with treatments that work, seek out social and psychological support and involve your health-care provider as a trusted collaborator. The specific approach will vary from person to person, but anyone with chronic pain can make the following changes to better manage his or her condition.
Learn about your condition. Although sometimes there's no explanation for chronic pain, it is often associated with a well-known, even common condition, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia or migraine. Look on the Web or at your local library for organizations devoted to helping people with these problems. For example, the Arthritis Foundation offers free information and other services for those with arthritic pain. There are even organizations devoted specifically to pain control, such as the American Pain Foundation.
Have regular medical checkups. The cause of chronic pain may be difficult to identify initially, but it may become clear over time. Seeing your health-care provider regularly will reduce the chance that something is missed. In addition, your health-care provider can tell you about any new therapies that may have become available. For example, sumatriptan nasal spray, which can help alleviate pain associated with migraine headache, was a real advance a few years ago.
Regular medical care may also prevent the source of your pain from getting worse or may head off new problems. For instance, if you have diabetes, tight control of your blood sugar levels can slow the progress of painful neuropathy, can reduce the pain's severity and may prevent kidney disease.
Take your pain medications. Medications are a central part of most pain-management programs. It's often important to stay a step ahead of your pain, taking pain drugs on a routine schedule. Unfortunately, however, pain medications may be associated with side effects. These side effects can make sticking with a medication program hard. Some patients may give up, opting to endure their pain instead.
However, some of the side effects associated with pain medications diminish over time. For example, antidepressants may initially cause mouth dryness, which will improve by itself over a few weeks. And problems such as constipation, nausea and anxiety that may accompany chronic pain or its treatment can be effectively treated. If the medications your health-care provider has prescribed are making things worse rather than better, don't give up. Talk with your health-care provider about your alternatives.
Keep an open mind. There may be a complementary or alternative treatment that makes little sense to you (or to your health-care provider), but if it is safe, you will know if it works for you only if you try it. Some conventional treatments were once considered alternative until clinical trials proved that they worked. In the case of today's complementary of alternative treatments, you should not deny yourself the chance to reap their possible benefits, especially if conventional therapies have failed.
Make adjustments. Recognizing pain, rather than denying it, does not mean you are giving in to it. Making changes in your life to reduce pain is not an admission that you are not trying to get better, nor does it mean you never will. For example, you may need to change your preferred exercise, from jogging to swimming, or reduce the intensity of your exercise regimen. You may need to use devices that will reduce pain, such as wrist supports or special ergonomic chairs. Such changes may be needed only temporarily. Bear in mind that "playing through pain," rather than making accommodations, can make things worse when you have chronic pain.
Try not to let pain define you. For some people, efforts to eliminate chronic pain dominate their life. Their pain controls them. Unfortunately, this single-minded focus can be counterproductive, as it can push away your family, friends and even health-care providers who seek to help. It can prevent you from participating in activities that can make chronic pain endurable. And it can fuel anger, depression and isolation — a vicious cycle that can make pain worse.
Collaboration with a health-care provider is essential to ensure you are following the most current, aggressive pain treatment program. And support groups or individual counseling for people with chronic pain can provide the perspective and coping strategies needed to put chronic pain in its place.
Get busy. You must learn to strike a balance between managing your pain and living as full and outwardly focused a life as possible. Focusing on aspects of your life other than pain can be liberating, as it can actually reduce the pain you feel. When the brain has something else to do, it can modify pain signals, suppressing them (for example, an athlete distracted by the game may not feel an injury until after the game is over). Many people with chronic pain find that a hobby, career interest or family or other social activities can reduce the effect of pain on their lives by shifting their focus away from the pain.