Medical experts recommend starting with a combination of treatments when managing chronic pain. These may include:
- learning about chronic pain
- physical activity that gradually increases
- physical techniques
- psychological treatments.
Learning about chronic pain
Research studies have shown that understanding the pain that you’re feeling can improve your symptoms.
This approach involves learning that your experience of pain can be affected by many different parts of your life, not just causes of chronic pain. Emotions, cultural and social expectations, and personal beliefs can alter how you feel pain.
This is called a biopsychosocial approach to pain.
Self-management involves developing the skills to manage the pain more independently. This means taking an active role in your treatments and making lifestyle changes yourself with your health professional’s guidance.
Self-management emphasises the importance of talking and working with your health professionals. This two-way relationship involves you in your care, rather than passively receiving or not having a say in your treatment.
Physical activity that gradually increases
When someone is experiencing pain, being active may seem too difficult. But it is achievable if you start at a low level without causing a ‘flare up’ and then gradually increase it. Medical research has found that activity helps to reduce pain.
Read the Pain Management Network for information about physical activity for chronic pain
Physical techniques can be completely passive (eg, heat packs, massage, mobilisation, manipulation) or partially passive (eg Feldenkrais therapy, a method for improving movement, sensation, posture and breathing).
Many people find heat packs and massage helpful to begin with. But it’s best that you don’t rely on these long term. Start to increase more active techniques as soon as possible.
Psychological treatments for chronic pain include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), hypnosis, relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapies, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies.
They’re all different treatments. But some of them share features such as active listening, reassurance and encouragement.
Others have specific features such as the CBT approach to pain. It helps you identify thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may be contributing to pain and encourages you to make behaviour changes to address them.