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Your complete guide to pain management for chronic pain

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When you have chronic pain, you know that you will be in it for the long-run, so you need to find ways of managing your pain so that you can continue doing the things you enjoy and living your life. It isn’t just the pain itself that you need to consider as part of your pain management, but the environment around you as well. This blog post will help you understand more about pain management and the different techniques you can use to help you manage your pain.

Disclaimer: The content in this blog post is not intended to replace or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Make sure you always seek advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional or provider and ask questions about your own medical condition and chronic pain. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read in this blog post, or any of my other blog posts or on my website.

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What is pain management?

Pain management is all about finding ways to treat and manage your pain on a daily basis. According to the medicinenet.com website, the definition of chronic pain is “The process of providing medical care that alleviates or reduces pain.”

It can be simple or complicated depending on what the source of pain is and how it affects you. There is often more than one way of managing chronic pain, and this usually involves a combination of treatments, therapies, medicines and self-care.

It’s also about looking after you and you’re wellbeing, because if you are not in the best shape and frame of mind that you can be, then you aren’t going to be able to manage your pain very well at all.

You need to make sure you:

  • Get organised and plan things – things to do, when to take any medication, what things you need with you to help yourself.
  • Pace yourself as best you can – don’t do too much one day and suffer the next.
  • Do the things you enjoy – life is still for living even when you have pain.
  • Build some movement and exercise in to your day – more on this below.

Find the best pain management options for you

The key thing about pain management is making sure you do what is right for you. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for someone else. It all depends on what your pain is; where you are in your chronic pain journey; how open you are to trying new things; your environment around you; your mindset towards pain and pain management; and, I hate to say it, but the costs involved may have a big impact on what you can and can’t do too.

You will no doubt need to try certain things to find the best ways of managing your own pain. Be open to understanding more about the options available and trying new things, and accept that not everything will be a success for you. It’s hard and frustrating when you try things and they don’t help you, but it’s a process that you sometimes have to go through. And often it takes a combination of things to help manage your pain.

Having your own chronic pain toolbox of different strategies to help you manage your pain in various situations is important.


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The cost of pain management

The cost of each pain management option can be a big factor in whether something is an option for you. Some options, as you’ll understand from reading more, are free or cost very little. But some can be incredibly expensive, especially as they usually involve becoming a regular part of your pain management and the expense of these can soon add up.

Someone you know may really rate a certain treatment option or product, and they may encourage you to  spend money on it and try it. Obviously you will be very disappointed if it doesn’t help you, but opposite to this, you will be delighted if it does help, and you’ll need to decide if it’s something you can commit to long-term.

If you’re in the UK, there are options as part of the NHS, but these may only be available on a short-term basis, depending on what your pain and situation is. There may be options for medical insurance to cover some costs; again this may only be for a short-term period, or a certain amount of expense in a given year. Or you may decide that pain management is a priority and if you can afford it you will commit to paying the price no matter what. Again, this is where your needs, environment, and individual circumstances need to be considered.

Learn more about chronic pain and pain management

A big part of pain management is understanding more about chronic pain, how it affects us, and learning more on how you can cope. It won’t change your chronic pain, but simply learning more about it will help you cope better and can make it easier to accept. You also won’t be filling in the blanks or wasting your energy on the why questions so much.

Chronic pain can be very complex, but there are some simple ways of accessing this information. Doing what you can to help you understand your pain and how it affects you will contribute to helping you feel in control – which is a big factor in learning to cope with something that feels very out of your control.

The Pathways Pain Relief app will take you on a journey to help you understand why you feel pain, and help develop pain relief techniques that can help reduce your pain.

click here to find out more about the Pathways pain app

Chronic pain books

When I started to learn more about chronic pain, I started to feel a little more in control. It was the first step in learning to cope with and accept my chronic pain and this was a game-changer for me.

Two books that stand out for me if you want to learn more about chronic pain are:


Other posts you may like:

How to accept your chronic pain

How to have a chronic pain mindset part 1

How to have a chronic pain mindset part 2

Don’t let chronic pain stop you doing the things you enjoy

My ‘new life’ – suddenly learning to cope with a disability


Courses

NHS pain management courses

Some pain management courses are offered by local pain management clinics through the NHS. It is a bit of a postcode lottery and does depend on what is available where you live. The aim of these courses is to give people the skills and knowledge to help manage their pain on a day-to-day basis.

I completed a mindfulness for pain course through my local pain management clinic, and there is now an online course available too. I’ve not done this myself, so I can’t give anymore details on how useful it is or how you can get access to it.

Speak to your doctor to find out more about what is available in your area.

Online courses

There are lots of online courses available to learn more about chronic pain and pain management. They are often quite short and cheap and don’t involve too much commitment. Do your research see which ones are relevant to you.

One course that I have done is the 31 days of expressive writing for chronic illness and pain by Life in Slow Motion.



Pain management options

The rest of this blog post includes some pain management ideas and options that you may have already tried or haven’t even considered. They are in no particular order.

Where I have written a blog post on a similar topic, I include links to these posts so you can read more about them.

With some of them, I include further reading suggestions which are affiliate links. Affiliate links means that if you click through to a website and purchase something through my links, I get a small commission from that sale at no extra cost to you. But f course, there is no obligation to use or buy anything through my links.

Medication and drug treatment

Medication, tablets and drug treatment are a huge part of pain management. I’m not an expert, and I don’t tend to use many tablets to help my pain as not much works for me. I’ve tried everything from anti-inflammatory creams, to amitriptyline, to opium patches, to cortisone injections, but nothing helped my pain and I couldn’t cope with the side effects, so I came off them.

I haven’t gone in to detail about medication or any kind of drug treatment, in this post. Speak to your doctor to learn more about options for you and make sure you do your research to understand how medication can affect people.

Self care

Self-care is all about taking care of yourself to help you manage your chronic pain. For me, it is about prioritising your energy, your mind, and your wellbeing in order to be able to focus on your pain management.

If you’re feeling stressed, your pain management will be much harder. If you’re feeling tired and drained, your pain management will be much harder. If you’re run-down or have a cold, or any other medical conditions, your pain management will be much harder. Self-care is all about looking after you and your health.

Simple things to do include:

  • Eat the rights foods to give you the nutrition and energy you need.
  • Get some fresh air and sunshine.
  • Wear the right clothes so you’re comfy and can reduce pain where you can.
  • Learn to understand the things you can do for your different levels of pain.
  • Get organised and write things down so you don’t forget them.
  • Learn to say “no” to doing things if you have to – focus on ‘the joy of missing out (JOMO)’ and not the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO).
  • It’s ok to not be ok – you don’t have to put on a brave face all the time.

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Exercise and movement

Everyone knows that exercise and movement are great for our health and mental wellbeing. Any kind of movement, exercise, walking, and stretching are going to help with managing your chronic pain.

If your pain allows for it, then I would always encourage you to get some fresh air and go for a walk. Even a 5 minute walk can be so beneficial. Or if you struggle to get out and about, then some kind of stretching will keep your muscles moving and the blood flowing, which can only be a good thing. Depending on your condition, tight muscles can make your existing chronic pain worse, which only makes things harder to manage.

Make sure you seek medical advice before you start if you haven’t exercised for some time.

Read my posts how walking helps my chronic pain and why having a lower daily step goal can be better for you to build more walking in to your daily routine, and a brilliant guest post by Kirsten at Graphic Organic on how to start exercising again with chronic pain.

Walking is the best medicine quote by Hippocrates

Rest and relaxation

It’s crucial that you get some rest and you do things to help you relax. When you rest, you give your body and mind space to recuperate. These days we are often told that the best way to manage pain is to keep moving and doing things, which is true, but managing your fatigue is just as important as managing your pain. There needs to be a good balance between pain, keeping going and resting.

Sleep

There’s lots of evidence suggesting that sleep is vital for our overall health. Not getting the right amount of quality sleep can have so many knock-on effects to our stress levels, our gut health, and our energy levels throughout the day. Sleep repairs our body and helps protect us from different types of illness, increased inflammation and helps restore our energy. The latter is crucial for anyone with chronic pain.

One person who you can learn a lot from about the importance of sleep, is Dr Rangan Chatterjee. His first book The 4 Pillar Plan has a whole section on sleep, and it gives advice on how to assess your current sleep and what you can do to help get more sleep every night.


Find everything you need to help your pain management on Amazon


Breathing

Simple deep breathing can be an easy way to relax the body, ease muscle tension, and divert your thoughts away from the pain. It can take time to master, but it’s also useful in controlling anxiety and stress too, so is definitely something to consider and try and work on.

Heat

Applying heat to painful joints or muscles encourages circulation and increases the blood flow. This results in delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the area, ultimately helping to heal any damaged tissue.

Heat is very good at stimulating the sensory receptors in the skin, which decreases the transmission of pain signals to the brain and helps relieve the discomfort.

Heat is also very good at helping muscles relax, which can help reduce stiffness, tension and pain.

Read more about hot v cold therapy, the benefits of using heat, and how hot the heat should be in my heat therapy for pain: everything you need to know post.

Heat packs

Heat packs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are filled with hot water; some are instant by pressing a button; some need heating up in the microwave; and some are self-heating.

My post heat packs for pain: helping you find the right one for you goes in to a lot more detail.

Baths

Baths are brilliant at helping you manage your pain. But they do more than that: they are good at making you feel relaxed and this helps your overall wellbeing, which can make your pain management easier.

Sometimes nothing beats a good soak in the bath, with some de-stress bath salts, a candle and a book.


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Products and equipment

Tiger balm

Tiger balm is just wonderful. It’s 100% natural and available in most supermarkets, chemists, and online. It’s good for temporarily relieving headaches, muscle aches and strains, minor burns, colds and congestion, as well as reducing the annoying itchiness of insect stings and bites.

I also find it really helpful for my anxiety, and just simply breathing it in from the jar seems to help calm me.

It comes in a red and white version, and there’s also a Tiger Balm neck and should rub which I absolutely love. Two of the main ingredients are camphor and menthol, which helps to reduce the discomfort, and provides a relaxing cooling feeling.

It can be massaged or rubbed in to the area you are wanting to treat, or used in a bath and breathed in via the steam.

Read more about Tiger Balm.

Roll-ons

There are quite a few different brands and types available on the market, but two of the ones that I’ve had experience of using are Deep Heat and Deep Freeze. As the names suggest, one provides heat therapy and one provides cold therapy. They also come in cream and patch versions too.

Find out which is best for you: hot v cold therapy.

What I like about roll-ons is that you don’t have to wash your hands afterwards as you’re not directly rubbing the product on to your skin. I carry one everywhere with me! You can of course massage it in to your skin if you prefer.

Deep Heat

This can be rolled on to the skin to help loosen tight muscles. I use it for my neck pain, and if I use it as soon as the pain kicks in, it does tend to stop it getting any worse. It provides a gentle warming sensation, but I find if I use too much it can irritate and cause my skin to itch, so don’t overuse it.

It’s drug-free and has a herbal fragrance, which is quite reassuring knowing that you don’t walk around smelling of menthol.

Deep Freeze

This provides cold therapy and relief to painful or tight muscles and joint pain. Again, it is drug-free, has that cooling sensation, and works quickly to help reduce the pain.

Cushions

There’s all kinds of cushions available on the market for different types of pain. Ring cushions, back cushions, neck cushions, foot cushions, coccyx cushions, the list goes on.

I’ve been using a coccyx-cut out cushion since 2012 and I have one in my car and in my house to use on the sofa or at the dining table. I’m still embarrassed to take it out with me, but whenever I’m with people who understand my chronic pain, then I will use it.

Pillows

There’s all types of pillows available these days. I’ve specifically mentioned two that I use and find really helpful. They’re not always cheap, so make sure you do your research and find one that will suit your needs.

Knee pillow

I use a knee pillow to help keep my body in the correct alignment when I’m in bed. The knee pillow is placed between the knees and it helps keep specific body parts in the correct position. When this happens, it prevents my muscles from becoming really tight, and helps reduce my pain.

I started to understand the whole body approach to pain management when my physio used to work on my thigh to help manage my neck pain. The muscles in my leg were tight, which pulled on my pelvis, which pulled on my spine, which pulled on my neck muscles. It’s amazing really.

There’s a huge range of knee pillows available. I picked the Livivo memory foam leg pillow as it had good reviews and was a reasonable price. It does the job, keeps its shape, and the cover washes really well too.

Neck pillow

Ergonomic neck pillows are also good at keeping the correct posture when in bed and preventing strain on the neck causing additional aches and pains. I’ve been using a memory foam neck pillow for a while and find I can’t sleep well without it now.


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TENS machine

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerves stimulation. A TENS machine uses mild electrical current to help relieve pain. People use it for back pain, neck pain, knee pain, arthritis, period pain, endometriosis pain, and different types of injuries.

A TENS machine is a small battery-operated device that has sticky pads on the end of several leads. The pads are placed directly on the skin and when the machine is turned on, you start to feel a tingling sensation as it emits the electrical current. Also known as electrical impulses, they can help reduce pain signals to the brain which helps to relax the muscles and even reduces pain. Endorphins are also stimulated by the electrical impulses and these create a natural painkiller which helps reduce pain.

TENS machines are available on loan through the NHS, so speak to your doctor to enquire more about getting one if you’re interested.

Distraction

A huge part of pain management is distraction. It is important to keep busy to try and not let chronic pain take over. And keeping your mind busy means that you are not focussing on your pain and overthinking and worrying about things and potentially making your pain worse through the pain-stress cycle.

On some days the pain can be so bad, that nothing can distract you. The important thing to do here is to accept it and just do what you need to do. This can be having a sleep, having a good cry, or simply doing nothing.

Sometimes you need to listen to your body and rest, but doing something while resting helps make sure that you don’t fall asleep more than you should – as this can impact on your sleep at night time. It can also make you feel like you are making the most of this rest time too, rather than feeling defeated by your pain. Things like learning something through reading or watching TV, or enjoying some of your favourite music to release some of those endorphins.

Alice on her tablet by a large window with a view over London

Keep your mind busy

In general, it’s a case of finding something you enjoy doing that will keep your mind busy. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do it.

  • Watch TV, a film, or a good drama series – Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are ideal as there’s so much on there.
  • Listen to some of your favourite music – this can be incredibly powerful.
  • Read – sometimes nothing beats a good book.
  • Get creative – do some crafting, adult colouring or start writing your own blog.

Other posts I’ve written about reading as a pain management distraction technique:

How my Kindle helps me manage my chronic pain

10 non-fiction books I recommend

Why my Kindle is good for my chronic pain


Connect with those who understand

Having someone with you to keep you occupied is an excellent way to use distraction as a pain relief, especially when they are people who understand you and your pain.

You can stay at home and invite friends round for a coffee or a meal (if you have the energy and motivation to cook) or a takeaway. Or sometimes penciling some time out with friends in the diary is a good way to get out the house and away from your normal environment.

Other options include connecting with others online who are going through the same thing as you. Just knowing that someone ‘gets it’ really does help you feel not so alone in what you’re going through. They can also provide support, advice, and a listening ear when things are tough.

Physiotherapy

Physio is used to both treat and prevent injury, pain, and illness. It is used for problems affecting bones, muscles, joints, the nervous system, heart and circulation, the lungs, and even the brain. It aims to help improve physical movement and activity, and to help reduce pain.

Physio treatment is often offered through the NHS in the UK, and there is also the option to see someone privately.

A good physio will offer different types of treatment, such as massage, acupuncture, dry needling, and Kinesiology tape, and cupping.

Pink Kinesiology tape on Alice's back
I often use Kinesiology Tape to help with my pain management

Complimentary and alternative therapies

Complimentary therapies are those which can be used alongside treatments offered by your doctor, and can often help make you feel better and cope with your chronic pain.

Alternative therapies are approaches which generally replace the treatments offered by your doctor and instead of conventional medical treatment.

Sometimes there is an overlap between complimentary and alternative therapies depending on the individual and what the therapy is being used for. For one person, a therapy may be complimentary to their pain management; for another it may be an alternative.

I’ve listed the ones below that I’ve had experience of. There are others such as herbal medicine, reiki, and homeopathy, so you may want to look in to these if you want to know more.

Meditation and mindfulness

Both meditation and mindfulness are all about being in the present, but there are some differences between the two:

What is meditation?

According to the Headspace website:

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.

I’m not affiliate with Headspace, but I do recommend using their app for guided meditation.

I wrote about giving meditation a try and my early experiences and thoughts on using the Headspace app as guided meditation.

There are different types of meditation and so find what works for you.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about learning to pay more attention to the world around you, the present moment, the physical senses, and your thoughts and feelings to better understand how you are feeling physically and mentally.

The benefits of being more present

The health benefits are just phenomenal. It’s almost as if not giving it a go would be more detrimental to my health.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced stress
  • Better sleep
  • A clearer mind
  • More energy
  • Reduced pain
  • Plus many more.
Headspace quote “There’s always a chance of clouds, but the idea of the blue sky will help things feel a little better”

Acupunture

A lot of pain clinics and even physios are using acupuncture to help with pain management. Fine needles are inserted in to specific areas of the body to help both relieve and prevent joint pain, neck pain, and dental pain.

It works by the needles stimulating the nerves just under the skin and in the muscles resulting in natural substances, including endorphins, being produced, which are the body’s natural pain relief.

Dry needling

Dry needling is very similar to acupuncture in that the aim is to provide pain relief, but the focus is on reducing tight muscles. Fine needles are used to release the tension from knots and trigger (pressure) points in the muscles, and this then reduces the pain.

Some people have had a lot of success with dry needling, but it isn’t for everyone. I myself have had a very bad experience and means I won’t try it again.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses natural oils from plants to help improve physical and emotional health and wellbeing. It works via the smell senses and absorption in the skin through different methods such as diffusion, steam, inhalers, body oils and massage.

I’ve tried aromatherapy and do find that it helps. I have the Tisserand essential oil diffuser on my desk and use several of their oils depending on how I am feeling.

the diffuser lit up in red and the essential oil boxes
The Tisserand diffuser and a couple of the essential oils they do

Chiropractic treatment

Chiropractic treatment involves manipulation of areas of the body that are not moving properly, with the focus being on the spine and joints.

A good chiropractor will advise on how you can be take control of your own health. This can involve giving you specific and regular exercises and stretches to do at home, and making sure you understand more about ergonomics and posture.

It’s not considered a form of conventional medical treatment, and therefore isn’t widely available on the NHS in the UK. Most people see a local chiropractor privately, or some (myself included several years ago) will travel much further to see someone recommended or who has a good reputation for dealing with your specific type of chronic pain.

I live in the north west of England and travelled to London after doing some research online. The main thing to consider here is the overall costs and whether long-term and regular treatment can be sustained. I just couldn’t cope with the pain and expense in travelling all the way for a 15 minute appointment – it just wasn’t feasible for me. But, the practice I went to did have an x-ray machine and I was able to find out more information than what I had from my doctor, so this is worth considering as part of paying to see someone privately.

Osteopathy

Osteo treatment is similar to chiro treatment, but an osteopath looks at the whole body and takes a broader approach.

Osteopathy is the physical manipulation of the muscles, bones, ligaments and connective tissue. The wellbeing of a person depends on how well how these are all functioning together.

If your condition affects the bones, joints and muscles, then it might be worth looking in to and doing some more research on osteopathy.

Like with chiro treatment, in the UK it isn’t widely available on the NHS, but speak to your doctor to find out more or look at what private options are available in your area.


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Yoga

It is believed that yoga helps with chronic pain. It is a slow-moving exercise that involves a lot of stretching and this helps loosen tight muscles. It can strengthen the body, improve core strength, and this in itself can help reduce chronic pain.

A big part of yoga is breathing, which helps to reduce anxiety and stress, and helps us focus on the present moment and be more mindful.

Massage

A massage is a powerful way to help relieve pain and it makes you feel good too. It can help loosen tight muscles, increases blood flow, increases the body’s range of motion, and is good for our minds and improving our moods.

Your thoughts

Which pain management options and techniques do you do to help manage your chronic pain?

Have I missed something that you recommend?

What’s your favourite or best thing to do for your chronic pain?

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4 thoughts on “Your complete guide to pain management for chronic pain

  1. Despite Pain says:

    This is an excellent post. You really have covered everything. Living with chronic pain means you need to have a variety of tools at your fingertips, so this is a fantastic resource for people.

  2. Invisibly Me says:

    Wow, this is incredibly thorough – what a fantastic resource! I’m glad you mentioned the NHS pain management; I did this and opted for the 1 on 1 sessions with a therapist, and although I wasn’t too convinced at the time, I think it did help with airing things out, having some validation, and coming to terms with needing to make changes and prioritise rest and self-care. This has also reminded me, when I saw deep freeze, that I had a sample in the post last week for something, Bio Freeze maybe, that I need to try. Really well done with this post!
    Caz xx

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