There are two main types of pain:
If you have short-term (acute) pain, your GP will try to make a diagnosis and treat the pain.
If you have long-term pain it might be as a result of a diagnosed medical condition, a painful condition that is not yet fully understood or no underlying condition at all. This doesn't mean you don't have pain, but it does mean that a different approach to managing that pain might be helpful.
If you have mild to moderate pain, for example as a result ofarthritis, your GP can talk to you about painkillers and other ways of managing the pain such as:
If your pain is more severe and affecting your quality of life, damaging your mobility and stopping you leaving the house, you could probably benefit from a referral to your local pain clinic
There are around 300 pain clinics in the UK. Most are in hospitals and have teams of staff from different medical areas, including occupational therapists, psychologists, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. They all work together to help people with pain.
Pain clinics vary but usually offer a variety of treatments aimed at relieving long term pain, such as painkilling drugs; injections;hypnotherapy and acupuncture.
Pain management programmes are a series of sessions, for groups of 6-8 people, aimed at teaching you how to live with your pain. Instead of treating your pain, you learn to cope with it and, research shows, can expect to enjoy a better quality of life, sleep and mobility afterwards.
Doctors who specialise in treating chronic pain now recognise that it is not merely a sensation, like vision or touch, but rather chronic pain is strongly influenced by the ways in which the brain processes the pain signals.
Chronic pain can provoke emotional reactions, such as fear or even terror, depending on what we believe about the pain signals. In other cases (such as in sports or another engaging, rewarding activity), chronic pain may be perceived by the individual as merely a nuisance, a feeling to be overcome in order to be able to continue in the activity.
It is now generally agreed that pain is always subjective and is defined by the person who experiences it. The corollary is that the brain can also learn how to manage the sensation of pain.
Using the mind to control chronic pain, or coping strategies, for managing persistent pain, may be used alone or in tandem with other pain management therapies.
As someone who suffers from persistent pain, I can vouch for the following techniques listed below to help you feel less dependent on pain killers and feel more empowered to be able to control your pain.
Get some gentle exercise
Simple, everyday activities like walking, swimming, gardening and dancing can ease some of the pain directly by blocking pain signals to the brain. This can also get chemical endorphins moving. Activity also helps to stretch stiff and tense muscles, ligaments and joints, which can lessen pain.
It’s natural to be hesitant if exercise is painful and you’re worried about doing more damage. Yet when you become more active gradually, it is unlikely that you will cause any damage or harm. The pain you feel when you start gentle exercise is because the muscles and joints are getting fitter.
In the long term, the benefits of exercise far outweigh any increase in pain. Also, if you avoid exercise completely, the lack of activity could lead to other problems like stiff joints, weight gain, heart disease, osteoporosis, poor balance and falls.
Concentrating on your breathing when you’re in pain can help. When the pain is intense it’s very easy to start taking shallow, rapid breaths which can make you feel dizzy, anxious or panicked. Instead, breathe slowly and deeply. This will help you to feel more in control of the situation and will keep you relaxed and prevent any muscle tension or anxiety from worsening your pain.
Pain can make you tired, anxious, depressed and grumpy. This often makes the pain even worse, making you fall into a downward spiral. A beneficial idea is to try and maintain a kinder attitude towards yourself. However, living with pain is never easy and you can be your own worst enemy by being stubborn, not strictly pacing your activities every day as well as not accepting your limitations. Some people find it useful to seek help from a counsellor, psychologist, hypnotherapist or energy-worker to discover how to deal with their emotions in relation to their pain.
Get some sleep
Many people with chronic pain dread going to bed because that is when the pain is worst, but it is important to try to stick to a normal sleep routine so you have the best chance of sleeping through the night. Yet sleep deprivation worsens pain in the long-run, so you should go to bed at the same time each evening, get up at a regular time in the morning and avoid taking naps in the day. In other words, keep a sustainable rhythm – if at all possible.
You should not let pain mean that you lose contact with people. Keeping in touch with friends and family is good for your health and can help you feel much better. Try shorter visits, maybe more often, and if you cannot manage to go out to visit people, then phone a friend, invite a family member round for a coffee or have a chat with your neighbour. You should aim to talk about anything other than your pain, even if other people want to talk about it.
Practising relaxation, visualisation and indeed meditation techniques regularly, can vastly help to reduce persistent pain. There are many types of relaxation techniques, varying from breathing exercises to types of meditation.