A Guide to Managing Chronic Pain

According to the latest data collected and analyzed by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) reports that as many as 20.5% of US adults suffer from chronic pain, equating to over 50 million people. It is also estimated that chronic pain costs the US roughly $300 billion annually due to lost productivity resulting from chronic pain.

Chronic pain is not just the presence of persistent, physical distress, the condition is far more complex. While it frequently begins following a disease or injury, chronic pain is a condition in its own right rather than being a symptom of something else. The concept of pain is rather intricate. Pain is not simply a physiological experience involving biological factors, it also encompasses psychological and emotional factors. It is important to remember that the perception of pain is subjective and that we experience pain through the senses but also cognitively and emotionally.

Therefore, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to resolving chronic pain, and currently recommended methods of managing chronic pain reflect that. Here, we explore the multiple methods that have become established to manage chronic pain.

Chronic Pain. Image Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Exercise

Historically, people suffering from chronic pain were advised to rest in bed for extended periods. Now, the advice is quite the opposite, keeping moving and engaging in exercise is encouraging. Doctors recommend that light activities that do not put too much strain on the body, such as walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, dancing, and general daily activities and hobbies may be beneficial to those experiencing chronic pain.

Scientists believe that the benefit of exercise for those suffering from chronic pain is likely due to the impact it has on the endogenous opined system and central pain modulatory systems. Studies have implied that the endogenous pain modulatory system of those with chronic pain is often dysfunctional. It is advised that the biomechanics and psychosocial factors that contribute to a particular person’s condition should be considered when prescribing exercise for chronic pain. When selecting an exercise regime for a patient, it is important that it is achievable to promote a successful rehabilitation program.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is often recommended by doctors who specialize in treating chronic pain. The benefits of physical therapy for those suffering chronic pain include improving physical movement, relieving pain, and making vital daily activities more comfortable and easier. Often, physical therapy for chronic pain involves a combination of pain-relief exercises, stretching exercises, and manipulation.

Read here: Living with chronic pain

Chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists are those capable of delivering physical therapy, in certain cases, occupational therapists may also be appropriate for leading these rehabilitation sessions.

Medication

Medication can also be useful in addressing chronic pain. Often, over-the-counter painkillers can be effective at reducing pain to allow those with chronic pain to be more active and alleviate their suffering. The type of painkiller that is most appropriate is dependent on the person and the severity of the pain they are experiencing.

Paracetamol is often considered to be the simplest and safest painkiller, however, it is not free from side effects. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen is also considered a safe and simple option, however, it cannot be taken by those with certain conditions such as stomach ulcers.

Any meditation decided upon for chronic pain should be carefully considered and the recommended usage should be strictly adhered to. Additionally, it is not advisable to take any mediation consistently for long periods unless a doctor has prescribed them.

For pain severe enough to require stronger medication, opiates are the most common option. This class of drugs can both reduce pain and induce euphoria. However, doctors may take a more considered approach in the future when prescribing such drugs, given that former President Obama stated back in 2011 that the country was facing an epidemic” of prescription drug abuse. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are the opiates hydrocodone and oxycodone. The addictive nature of opiates makes them problematic and not suitable for all people.

Meditation and mindfulness

In recent years, research has mounted that demonstrates the multiple health benefits of meditation and mindfulness, practices with roots in Buddhism and other Eastern religions.

Mindfulness and meditation techniques are interesting because rather than intending to dull or remove the pain, these methods aim to alter the relationship the person has with their pain, allowing them to experience genuine feelings of relief while coping with enduring uncomfortable physical sensations. Multiple studies have supported the efficacy of various mindfulness techniques in alleviating pain.

Additionally, numerous studies have shown the efficacy of meditation in alleviating pain, improving quality of life, and decreasing symptoms of depression in those suffering from chronic pain. Scientists suggest the strength of the method lies in its approach to altering the person’s subjective judgment of pain, eventually changing the way they experience it, a theory supported by the brain’s proven neuroplasticity.

References:

  • Geneen, L., Moore, R., Clarke, C., Martin, D., Colvin, L., and Smith, B., 2017. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461882/
  • Kroll, H., 2015. Exercise Therapy for Chronic Pain. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 26(2), pp.263-281. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25952064/
  • Mills, S., Nicolson, K. and Smith, B., 2019. Chronic pain: a review of its epidemiology and associated factors in population-based studies. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 123(2), pp.e273-e283. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6676152/
  • Yong, R., Mullins, P., and Bhattacharyya, N., 2021. Prevalence of chronic pain among adults in the United States. Pain, Publish Ahead of Print. https://journals.lww.com/pain/Abstract/9000/Prevalence_of_chronic_pain_among_adults_in_the.98045.aspx

Further Reading

  • All Chronic Pain Content

Last Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Sarah Moore

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Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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