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How to Manage Chronic Pain

Pain isn't necessarily a bad thing. How would you know your appendix was inflamed if it didn't hurt? Pain is your body's way of telling you that something's wrong and you need to act. It gives your body a voice.

But that voice loses its purpose when pain becomes chronic and unrelenting.

What is chronic pain?

Everyone is familiar with the temporary pain of a stubbed toe or a sprained wrist.

That's acute pain. It usually improves once the cause has been treated.

Chronic pain isn't easily relieved. According to the Arthritis Foundation, pain is considered chronic if it's lasted for at least three months. But, in some cases, chronic pain can go on much longer. It might be caused by an old injury, such as a sprained back, or a disease, such as arthritis.

“Chronic pain can make the ordinary tasks of daily living extraordinarily difficult,” says Joshua Bailey, MD, St. Claire HealthCare Pain Management physician. “It can take away your ability to work, enjoy life, and be active. It's a problem that can overwhelm your life, causing fatigue, anxiety, and depression. But there are steps you can take to manage chronic pain.”

Your pain management plan

Once you're told you have a condition that causes chronic pain, your first questions will probably center on finding relief.

“This is where your pain management plan begins,” says Dr. Bailey. “You should work with your healthcare provider to design your plan. You may need to try several different treatments before finding the combination that works for you. Your plan might include medications, an exercise regimen, and other therapies. You'll want to track what methods you've used and which have worked best. You can do that using a pain diary.”

A pain diary

Keeping a pain diary can help in a lot of ways.

You can keep track of your medicines so that you have a record of what has worked and what hasn't. You can also keep track of your symptoms, noting when your pain occurs, where it hurts, and for how long.

Be as detailed as you can when noting the type of pain you feel. Is it aching and throbbing? Or is it stabbing and burning?

Strategies for easing chronic pain

Medications are an important part of your pain management plan, but they aren't your sole coping tool. Here are some other therapies to try, according to the Arthritis Foundation and Dr. Bailey:

  • It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you're in pain, but exercise can be a powerful pain reliever. It eases inflammation, improves energy, and promotes the flow of pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins.
  • Support groups. Ask your provider to refer you to a support group, where you can get tips from other people with similar conditions.
  • Work on the mind-body connection. Cognitive behavioral therapy is talk therapy that aims to change negative thought patterns. It may help ease chronic pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • Consider a pain management specialist. Although a rheumatologist or your primary care doctor often can help you manage pain, you may need more specialized pain care.

St. Claire HealthCare’s pain management team provides specialty expertise in the treatment of complex pain problems. We offer solutions to help you find long-term relief from debilitating pain. Ask your provider if a referral to St. Claire Pain Management would benefit you.