How to Control Pain

Seven Methods:Using Pain MedicationsUsing Alternative Approaches for Pain ReliefTreating Pain with Small ChangesMaking Adjustments to Your LifestyleGetting PhysicalReaching Acceptance of Ongoing PainUnderstanding Pain

Pain is nature's way of telling you that something is wrong. Ongoing physical and/or emotional pain can have an enormous impact on your well-being and ability to cope with recovery and everyday living. Anxiety and tension can make physical pain worse. Controlling pain is an important part of coping with recovery, long-term healing, or managing chronic pain. Pain is highly individual and subjective, and only you know the full experience of what your pain is like.[1] While there is no one "magic bullet" solution to controlling pain effectively, you can consult with your doctor and try a range of approaches to tailor pain relief that works for your own pain.

Method 1
Using Pain Medications

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    Talk to your doctor before using medication for pain. Your doctor is trained to know which medication is likely to work best for the pain you're experiencing. Your doctor will also know what interactions must be avoided or otherwise handled. Many drugs can interfere with existing health issues. They can also cause severe interactions and complications if used with other medications. Always consult with your healthcare professional before taking any medication for pain.
    • Be aware that most drugs treat acute pain. Chronic pain is far more complex and, to date, there are no known drugs that "cure" chronic pain.[2]
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    Consider over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Over-the-counter products are divided into two basic groups: paracetamol/acetaminophen-based products and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). While many of these are safe for temporary aches and pains, you should only use them in accordance with the label directions. Consult with your doctor for long-term medication plans.[3]
    • Talk to the pharmacist and/or your doctor about using over-the-counter medications, especially if you are already taking medications or you have a pre-existing condition. Even OTC pain relievers can cause severe complications for people with health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or liver disease, or internal bleeding.[4]
    • In the US, paracetamol is known as acetaminophen.[5] Paracetamol/acetaminophen can be used to relieve fever, headaches, and other body aches and pains. It does not reduce inflammation. It has fewer side effects than other pain medications and is usually safe for children.[6]
    • NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. These can be used to relieve fever and pain. They also relieve inflammation and swelling from mild injuries. They are usually not recommended to be taken for more than 10 days. [7] When taken for a long time to manage chronic pain, many NSAIDs can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.[8]
    • In some countries, the mild opiate codeine is legal for purchase over-the-counter. In many countries, including the US, medicines containing codeine are generally available only by prescription.[9][10][11]
    • Be careful not to overdose. For example, an overdose of acetaminophen can cause damage to your liver and even death. Since so many medications, from headache pills to cough syrup, contain acetaminophen, it can be easy to take too much. Read the labels on OTC medications carefully.[12]
    • Do not take several types of pain medications together. They may have negative interactions and could cause damage.[13][14]
    • Topical pain relievers, such as lotions, creams, and sprays, are also available. These may help relieve pain from arthritis or muscle pain.[15]
    • You may want to look into nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine, which can ease joint pain in those suffering from arthritis.[16]
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    Ask your doctor about prescription painkillers. If OTC medications do not adequately manage your pain, you can speak with your doctor about prescription painkillers. It is important to consult with your doctor so that s/he can prescribe a medication that takes into account any pre-existing conditions, your level of health, the type of pain involved, and other factors. Do not attempt to use prescription painkillers unless they have been prescribed specifically for you by your doctor.[17]
    • Common prescriptions for pain may include muscle relaxants, prescription-strength NSAIDs, or opiate painkillers (e.g., codeine, Percocet, Vicodin).
    • Injections are a possibility for pain relief, such as a local anesthetic, a steroid injection (anti-inflammatory) or a phenol injection (a nerve block/destroyer). Your doctor can help you decide whether this treatment is appropriate for you.
    • Antidepressants are common and effective treatment for chronic pain, even when depression is not present.[18] Antidepressants may be used to treat pain from arthritis, diabetes, shingles, nerve pain, migraine, back pain, and more.[19]
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    Ask about trigger point injection. If you have persistent muscle pain, trigger point injection may be helpful. In this treatment, a healthcare provider uses a small needle to inject a substance into a trigger point (a knot of muscle that will not relax). Sometimes this substance is an anesthetic and/or steroid; other times it is a saline solution.[20]
    • This type of treatment can be used to treat fibromyalgia and other chronic muscle pains. It is usually used when other treatments have not worked.
    • This procedure must be done by a trained healthcare provider. Never attempt it yourself.
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    Take medicine that is prescribed to you. It is important to take any medication prescribed to you for pain relief. This sounds straightforward but in reality, many people either forget or forgo their medication for various reasons. Sometimes, people may believe that the medicine is no longer helping. Other times, people will stop taking a medication when they feel better, even if the prescribed course is not complete. Not taking a medication as prescribed can cause complications and even other health issues.[21]
    • For example, say that you hurt the left side of your back. Without medication to take the pain away, you will unconsciously favor that side. In turn, other muscles will compensate for this favoritism, and even when your back is healed, muscle memory will continue to overuse the right side. An imbalance in your core muscle strength can, in turn, leave you with back problems, leaving you back at square one, and perhaps even worse than before.

Method 2
Using Alternative Approaches for Pain Relief

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    Do your research. Not all complementary or “integrative” treatments are effective. There are many treatments that make huge claims that aren’t substantiated by scientific research. Before undergoing any complementary, alternative, or “natural” treatment for pain, do your research and consult with your doctor.[22]
    • The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is a division of the National Institutes of Health, has a free downloadable eBook about what to consider when thinking about complementary approaches to pain management.[23]
    • Consult with the licensing or certifying board of the practice you’re considering. For example, make sure that your practitioner is licensed and/or certified and that they have adequate training in their field.
    • “Natural” does not necessarily mean safe. Always consult with your healthcare provider before undergoing any complementary treatment. In many cases, your doctor can help you can combine traditional medicine with complementary approaches for a better effect.
    • Be suspicious of any treatment that claims to be a “miracle cure” or to treat many conditions at once. These claims are almost always fraudulent.[24]
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    Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture is not a “magic bullet,” but several studies have shown that professional acupuncture can be effective in relieving pain, especially lower back pain.[25] Acupuncture uses very thin needles to stimulate sensitive points on your body. It has long been a part of traditional Chinese medicine, and is now considered a viable pain relief technique by many medical doctors and researchers.[26][27][28]
    • It’s important to ask your doctor about alternative treatments, including acupuncture. All of your healthcare providers should work together in managing your pain.[29]
    • Not everyone responds to acupuncture. Its effects are usually visible within a few weeks. If your pain does not improve after a few weeks of acupuncture treatment, it may not work for you.[30]
    • Acupuncture has been shown by several studies to relieve back pain. However, it is often more effective when combined with other treatments, such as pain medication.[31]
    • The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is the certifying board for acupuncturists in the United States. They have a database of providers that may be helpful in searching for a reputable professional.[32]
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    Consider related stimulation methods. TENS, or "transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation," and dorsal column stimulation may help relieve pain.[33][34][35] These methods use a little machine that delivers small electrical impulses, stimulating the nerves that carry touch sensations.
    • Each approach has success with different kinds of pain but not all types. For example, the dorsal column stimulation seems to work best with nerve damage in legs but does little for back pain. Neither machine is a cure, but they may be effective for some people, some of the time, to alleviate pain.
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    Try massage therapy. Several studies have shown that regular massage by a trained massage therapist can reduce pain and disability.[36] Massage can provide fairly quick pain relief, especially for back and shoulder pain.[37]
    • Talk with your doctor about getting a referral for “medical massage.” If you have a specific pain, such as chronic neck pain, your doctor may be able to give you a referral for targeted massage. Some health insurance companies will cover this type of massage but not other types. However, all massage by trained massage therapists has been shown to help relieve pain.
    • Massage may also help reduce your reliance on pain medication.[38]
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    Look into physical or occupational therapy. These methods can be very helpful for pain, especially related to muscle, bone, or joint pain. They can also be helpful for neck or back pain.
    • An occupational therapist can work with you to learn to redirect pain so that it interferes less with your daily life.[39] Taking your experience into account, the occupational therapist may use visualization, yoga, meditation, and gentle exercises to increase your stamina, strength, and ability to cope with pain.[40]
    • Physical therapy can help you manage pain by teaching strengthening and flexibility exercises, manual therapy, posture awareness, and body mechanics instruction, as well as assisting in discovering the root of your pain.[41]
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    Consider chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractors are trained specialists who can manipulate your spinal area to improve your body’s functioning and alignment.[42] It is a common treatment for lower back pain, neck pain, and frequent headaches.[43]
    • This process is sometimes known as “spine manipulation.” It has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate pain.[44]
    • Always have this procedure done by a licensed, trained provider. It is not a good option if you have nerve pain or damage. Consult with your doctor before visiting a chiropractor to make sure it is safe for you.[45]
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    Consider Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Managing chronic pain with medication can cause your body to become tolerant of those medications. Tolerance requires you to take an ever-increasing dose to experience any relief from the medication. For individuals who suffer from chronic pain, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a useful complementary treatment. Performed with a trained therapist or psychologist, CBT focuses on how you respond to experiences.[46]
    • CBT teaches you to identify negative and unhelpful ways of responding to pain and replace them with helpful responses. For example, many studies have shown that ruminating on pain — thinking the same thoughts over and over, like a broken record, e.g., “I’m in so much pain I can’t stand it” — can make you experience pain more severely. CBT will help you challenge those negative thoughts.[47]
    • Unlike medication, you will not develop a tolerance for therapy, and there are minimal side effects.[48]
    • CBT has been demonstrated effective in managing many types of chronic pain, including chronic lower back pain, headaches, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. CBT has also been used to treat pain from cancer.[49][50]
    • CBT can be a good choice in treating chronic and recurring pain in children and adolescents. Biofeedback training, relaxation training, and parent training can all help children manage chronic pain without the more dangerous side effects of pain medication.[51]
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    Look into biofeedback training. Biofeedback training connects your body to a range of electrical sensors. With the help of a trained professional, you learn how to direct your body’s responses to stimuli; for example, you might learn to relax certain muscles or lower your heart rate.[52] Learning how to control your body’s stress responses helps reduce your experience of pain without the undesirable side effects of medication.[53][54][55]
    • Biofeedback can be performed by several types of trained practitioners. Physical therapists may use biofeedback to help people regain motion after an injury or trauma. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists may use biofeedback to teach their clients how to control stress responses and reduce anxiety and psychosomatic or psychogenic pain (pain that is related to psychological factors). Dentists, nurses, general practitioner physicians, and other medical professionals may also use biofeedback with patients.[56][57]
    • Biofeedback has been shown to be helpful in treating pain from irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, tension headaches, Raynaud’s disease, and back pain.[58]
    • Ask your doctor whether biofeedback could be helpful for you. Most biofeedback therapists will want you to have had a thorough physical examination before trying biofeedback training to ensure that you do not have any health issues that require medical intervention.[59]
    • You can find a directory of clinical biofeedback practitioners via the Association for Applied psychophysiology and Biofeedback.[60]
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    Consider medical marijuana where it is legal. Some jurisdictions have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, or even in general. Marijuana can help alleviate some types of pain, especially general chronic pain. It is important to consult with your doctor before using marijuana so that you understand its benefits and risks and make sure you know the legal status in your state. Some people should not use marijuana, as it can interfere with pre-existing health conditions.[61][62]
    • Medical marijuana has been shown to be effective for treating some nerve pain, such as that caused by HIV or MS.[63]
    • Marijuana is natural, but it also has risks. It may irritate asthma or allergies. It may also cause dizziness, increased risk of bleeding, or low blood pressure. Marijuana may be addictive.[64]
    • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use marijuana. Teens who suffer from chronic pain should not use marijuana, as it may cause psychosis, impaired reactions, and poor concentration.[65]
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    Consider hypnosis. You'll need a trained therapist for this approach and you need to be amenable to being hypnotized. Hypnosis for pain relief works by implanting suggestions that can take your mind off the pain. However, it tends to be short-lived, so it may not be the best long-term solution. It also tends to be expensive, so it's not for everyone. Ask your doctor for a referral if you're interested.[66] [67]
    • Hypnosis can be a helpful treatment for chronic pain. It may work by altering how your mind responds to pain.[68]
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    Try meditation. Meditation can help to soothe and minimize pain.[69] There are several types of meditation, but one that is commonly recommended for pain is mindful meditation. This type can actually change how your brain responds to stimuli.[70]
    • You can also try transcendental meditation, where you focus on repeating a single mantra.[71]
    • Ask your doctor whether there are any practitioners who are certified in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).[72]

Method 3
Treating Pain with Small Changes

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    Use something that makes you feel better. Because emotional and physical pain are strongly linked, making yourself comfortable and using soothing techniques may help relieve your pain.[73] Many studies have shown that a placebo is often as effective as medical treatment. This may be because of your expectations: if you expect a treatment to work, it may be more likely to. This is why things like chicken soup can actually help you feel better.[74]
    • Think of the things that caused you to feel better when you were sick as a child. There may be certain foods and drinks that you link with comfort, love and the easing of pain.
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    Check the temperature of your environment. For some types of pain, feeling too hot or too cold can exacerbate the feelings of pain. Keeping warm by adding a blanket, a sweater, a hot water bottle or taking a hot bath might help in some cases. Or, if you're feeling too hot, having a cool shower, going for a swim, sitting by a fan, putting a wet cloth on your forehead, etc., might be ways to alleviate the pain.
    • A heating pad can be useful for the neck, back, and other strain-type pains.
    • An ice pack is useful for sprains, scratches, bruises, and cuts.
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    Stay somewhere that is quiet, calm and peaceful. Find a room or area that is away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and simply sit or lie down for a while on your own. Relaxing is a way to reduce your stress, which can aggravate pain.[75][76]
    • The American Chronic Pain Association has a short five-minute relaxation exercise that can help you control pain. You can find it here:
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    Dress comfortably. If clothing is constricting or pressing on a painful area of your body, you won't feel relaxed and the pressure being applied can intensify the pain. Find clothes that do not constrict the area of pain, even if this means wearing a larger size for a time. If you don't have comfortable clothing, you can get some from second-hand stores, thrift stores, etc.; you don't need to spend a lot for comfort.
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    Use breathing techniques to control pain. There are various ways in which breathing can both control the pain and help keep you relaxed. Controlled breathing (the kind practiced by yogis and athletes) can assist with pain relief. This helps you to relax and focus, often making the pain easier to handle.[77] Some examples of this include:
    • Inhale from the stomach, slowly filling yourself with air up to the collarbones. Then exhale from the stomach, repeating the same process in reverse. Make sure your exhalations are longer than your inhalations. Try to inhale to the count of four and exhale to six or, if you can, eight. As you continue breathing, try to make your inhalations and exhalations longer.
    • Try inhaling for four seconds, then exhale for six. Then hold with empty lungs and repeat this procedure. This should help you to calm yourself and also distract you a little from the pain.
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    Use distraction as a way to reduce the pain. Distraction is all about doing something else, to take your mind off the pain. It is often recommended by medical professionals to help control pain.[78] Different things work for different people, so you may need to try a range of things until you find something that helps you tolerate ongoing pain.[79]
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    Relieve immediate pain through distraction. Acute pain that feels unbearable requires fast distraction methods. Distraction won't remove the pain, but it might provide you with the strength needed to handle it until its severity subsides. Creating minor pain and irritation can help to divert your mind's attention to major pain. Some quick distraction techniques include:[80]
    • Stroking, rubbing or vibrating the skin above or around the painful area.
    • Massaging the painful area.
    • Clutching an ice cube in your hand or holding to a part of your body to provide an alternative shock of pain to distract from the real pain.
    • Clapping your hands together tightly to change the focus to your hands; clap harder to create minor, temporary pain in the hand area to distract from the real pain.
    • Gripping onto something such as a pole, a stuffed toy, a chair back, etc.
    • Swearing or cursing can help reduce pain.[81]
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    Play a game. Research has shown that active distractions (ones that require you to do something) are more effective than passive distractions (e.g., TV) in controlling pain. If your pain is acting up, try playing a game, doing a puzzle, or doing some other activity that gets you involved.[82]
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    Use imagery to help remove or fight off pain. This is useful for distracting and clearing the mind. Imagery works especially well when combined with pain medications.[83]
    • Try imagining the pain to be smaller. For example, if it's a headache, then decide if the left or right side hurts worse. Does the front of that side or the back of that side hurt worse? The upper of that side or the lower? And so forth. This can help to minimize the pain by making it seem smaller.
    • Try picturing a beautiful, relaxing place in your mind. Then, imagine that the pain is an object that you can remove from that place. For example, your pain might be a rock that you throw far out into the ocean.[84]
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    Listen to music. Music can relieve stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety often make our experience of physical pain worse. Listening to calm, relaxing music can help you control emotional and physical pain.[85]
    • Classical music and other music that has approximately 70 beats per minute is best for relaxing you and relieving pain. You should avoid listening to music that is too fast or driving, as it could actually make you feel more pain.[86]
    • Relax in your favorite chair or resting spot. Ensure that you are as comfortable as you can be (taking the type of pain you're suffering into account), and then listen to the music for a good half hour or so.
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    Get social. Find people who care about you and spend time in their company. Sometimes pain is amplified by feeling lonely and left out. Studies have shown that emotional and physical pain use the same brain pathways.[87] If you have good friends or supportive family members around whom you feel good and energized, this can be a great way to distract yourself from the pain, and to restore your sense of being connected and cared for.

Method 4
Making Adjustments to Your Lifestyle

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    Consider your workplace, home study or sitting areas in your home. The way you sit and the length of time you sit for can be a major source of pain. If you have neck, head, shoulder, torso, upper and/or lower back, leg or arm pain and you sit a great deal, consider whether that pain is either caused by or exacerbated by the sitting and lack of regular movement.[88][89]
    • Ensure that the ergonomics of your desk and chair have been professionally assessed and adjusted for your height and work style. Also make sure that your computer is at the right level for your height.
    • Take regular breaks when working on computers, machinery, reading and other tasks that have you seated and locked into a single position for long periods of time. The human body wasn't made for inactivity, and getting up and moving about regularly can give your body the break it needs.
    • If you perform any sort of repetitive activity, find ways to vary how you sit, stand or move. If you don't, pain will be fairly inevitable result and, in some cases, may prove to be permanent.
    • Some people find it helps to use a standing or a treadmill desk to ensure that they stay active while working with a computer or digital device.
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    Consider losing weight to reduce pain. If you are overweight, the extra pounds increase the load you put on your joints and can lead to osteoarthritis pain as well as inflammation.[90] Making changes to your diet and engaging in even light exercise (like walking in a pool or lifting two pound weights[91]) helps reduce the strain on your body and can significantly reduce your pain.[92][93]
    • Though it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when your body is in pain, it can lead to serious pain reduction in the long-term. Start with small, easy exercises and slowly build up your strength. Talk to you doctor about getting started and which kinds of exercise would be appropriate for you.
    • Evaluate your diet and make sure you're eating a balanced, healthy range of nutrient-rich foods. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about getting on the right track.
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    Manage your stressors. What stresses you? It is important to ask yourself that question and identify sources of stress in your life. Once you are clear on the triggers, you can start to find ways to either reduce or avoid these, which in turn, will help to remove sources of pain aggravation. Stressors that can amplify pain include unhealthy eating, smoking, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, inappropriate environment, procrastination and being around "toxic" people.[94]
    • Eat foods that give you the best nutritional returns. While chocolate, pastries, fries and the like are tempting when you feel bad, they provide little to no nutritional value and lessen the ability of your body to heal itself. Stick to foods that are nutritionally dense; you might even like to spend some time researching on foods that are thought to heal the body.
    • Get adequate rest. Being tired on top of feeling pain will always exacerbate the pain. Your body needs regular, adequate sleep rest to run its standard restoration processes. Admittedly, it can be a vicious cycle; pain prevents sleep, sleep lessens, pain increases. If this is happening to you, get advice from your doctor.
    • Get sufficient exercise. Exercise, including a good long and steady walk around your neighborhood, is an ideal way for relieving stress and ridding yourself of the pent-up anxiety that can hamper sleep.
    • Check your work or home environment. An environment can come with its own stressors, depending on your sensitivity. For example, a lot of noise, a lack of privacy and crowded space can be sources of stress if you are constantly facing them and find them hard to deal with. Consider how you can reduce your exposure to such forms of stress, such as wearing headphones, shifting to a quieter space or getting outside often.
    • Try to avoid procrastinating. By getting your tasks, chores, work, etc. done on time, you remove a source of stress.
    • Find ways to work around or remove other sources of stress in your life that amplify the pain. Hate peak hour traffic? Rearrange your travel time to be outside of peak hours. Does networking cause you break out into a sweat and induce a migraine? Pinpoint one person worth talking to, talk to that person, then allow yourself to go for a walk outside until the next part of the event. Do family gatherings drive you to the point of despair? Smile a lot and simply say, "No thank you," or, "Pleased to know that," instead of engaging in arguments and one-upmanship; save yourself the emotional exacerbation that can heighten pain.

Method 5
Getting Physical

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    Rest the injured or damaged part. If you have hurt yourself during sport, physical activity or other actions, it is important to rest the area that is injured so that it has a chance to heal. For example, if you hurt a leg, keeping off that leg until it is stronger may be important for healing. However, don't become completely inactive, as movement is usually a key part of recovery. Discuss finding the perfect balance with your doctor.[95]
    • Remember that pain is a warning. If it hurts too much to use the harmed area during recovery, do not push it. The pain indicates that healing is still in process. If you need to push past the pain signals for that part of your body to rebuild strength, only do this under the supervision of a qualified health professional, such as a physical therapist.
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    Know when to get physical. For those with muscle strains or sprains, the best remedy is generally the RICE model (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).[96] If you've taken a fall on hard ground or your back is stiff, however, exercise can often be more beneficial than resting. Mild, low-impact exercise can relieve some types of chronic pain.[97][98]
    • Exercise that relieves anxiety will often relieve pain as well since anxiety can increase your perception of pain.
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    Do stretches. In some cases, gentle stretching can help to alleviate the pain, such as back pain. It is a good idea to see a physiotherapist or similar professional who can advise you which exercises will benefit the area and relieve the pain.
    • Be aware that doing the wrong exercises, exercising in the wrong way or stretching too much can make the pain worse. It could also lead to re-injury. If you aren't sure that the stretches are good ones to do, don't do them until you have proper advice.
    • Yoga and pilates are often a gentle way to stretch and relieve pain. Always use qualified instructors and be sure that your doctor or physical therapist has agreed to the exercise first.[99][100]
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    Consider tai chi or yoga. Several studies have shown that tai chi and yoga can help relieve pain.[101][102] Some of this may be due to increased strength and flexibility developed by these exercises. The emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in these practices may also help you manage pain.[103]
    • Tai Chi is a gentle Chinese martial art that incorporates meditation and fluid movements. Many gyms and community centers offer tai chi classes.[104]
    • If you are pregnant, have joint problems, fractures, or hernias, consult your doctor before starting tai chi or yoga.[105]

Method 6
Reaching Acceptance of Ongoing Pain

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    Be focused in your efforts to overcome your chronic or ongoing pain. It is a process, a journey. It is likely that some moments, times or days, the pain will overwhelm you, while other days you will feel more in control. Understanding that the struggle is likely to be ongoing can help you to be more accepting of the pain overall, allowing you to start learning to live with it.[106]
    • Patience can be hard at times, yet pain often teaches people patience, especially for those who are used to doing everything and doing it quickly. Pain slows people down; there is a need to take things more slowly during healing and recovery. Unfortunately, this is often at odds with the fast-paced world in which we live, which can amplify pain if you pretend that you can cope when you can't. Realize that busyness will never go away. Allow yourself the time to recuperate and renew your strength. Going back to activities before you heal usually results in greater damage, not a medal.
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    Keep a journal or diary. Writing down your feelings and emotions can be both cathartic and revealing. You don't have to share any of what you write with anyone, so you can write down whatever you need to express. Reading back over the journal can reveal patterns of times when the pain is worse than other times, allowing you to pinpoint actions or omissions that will help you to reduce the pain.[107]
    • Use your writing to explore your thinking. How many negative thoughts are you experiencing? Is your thinking often negative or do you experience peaks and troughs of such thoughts? While it is important to let your negative thoughts surface so that they can be experienced, it is equally important to let go of them once you've acknowledged their presence. Writing them down can help you to work through them, then release them, and this can help to alleviate pain too, as you stop feeling so confused or bogged in negativity.
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    Be gentle on yourself. It is frequent to hear people dismiss pain in an attempt to "act tough," "not be a wimp" or "tough it out." Pain is a very personal experience and there is no way that one person can assume that another's person pain isn't real, severe or debilitating. While each person suffering pain can seek and make use of methods that might relieve the pain, the reality is that some pain cannot be easily treated and some pain, no matter what is done, does not go away. Do not judge yourself or allow others to judge you.[108]
    • Read all you can about your type of pain. Learn what others have to say about it and have done about it. Borrow the techniques and solutions that you think will work for you and see what happens (of course, keep it safe and sensible).
    • Some people may dismiss pain as being “all in your head.” As researchers learn more about the relationship between your mind and your body, there is increasing evidence that shows that pain being “all in your head” doesn’t mean it isn’t also real.[109]
    • Realize that depression and anxiety are bed-mates of those suffering chronic pain. They need treating too, so be sure to seek help. Asking for help from a therapist is a sign of strength and courage, not of weakness. You may find that if you can deal with these conditions, the pain experience will lessen somewhat as your perception changes. Finding hope in your life is vital to pain recovery.

Method 7
Understanding Pain

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    Understand what brings about pain in your body. Targeting pain relief as best you can requires a basic understanding of what pain is and how it is felt within your body and mind. In a nutshell, pain signals that there is danger, distress or damage, triggering a need to protect the area harmed. Pain is also a way of letting a damaged area heal. Sending out pain signals during the repair process allows your body to alert you that you need to take extra care of that part of your body.[110][111]
    • Physical pain is signaled through nociceptors (pain receptors) throughout your body. The signals can be activated by cutting, tearing, inflammation, irritation, heat, or other painful stimuli. These pain receptors send signals via the myelinated (sheathed) nerves to the an area of the spinal cord called the dorsal horn. The dorsal horn “decides” whether to dampen or amplify these signals before sending them to the brain.[112][113]
    • Nociceptors (pain receptors) are found in most of the body's tissues and there are more of them in sensitive zones.[114]
    • Pain is felt in the brain; this is why "referred pain" is possible, when one part of the body experiences the pain even though another part of the body is injured.[113][115] The brain’s role also helps explain why we may experience pain even after our injuries have healed. The brain may continue to send “protective pain” signals without a clear cause.[116]
    • Pain signals from the head and face area go directly to the brain stem. Pain signals from these areas may go to the thalamus, a “relay station” that sends a variety of sense signals to different areas of your brain.[117]
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    Differentiate between acute and chronic pain. Pain comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute pain is immediate pain from an injury, disease or damage. For example, if you break your ankle, the pain from that injury is acute pain: it has a clear and immediate cause and should dissipate as the injury heals. Chronic pain is ongoing and often embedded in a long-lasting injury or damage.[113] Pain is considered to have become chronic when it has continued more than three to six months after the damage, or persists beyond the standard healing time expected for the injury in question.[35] Chronic pain is often considered by medical professionals as a disease in itself, much like diabetes or asthma.[118][119]
    • Chronic pain often involves psychological aspects as well as physiological aspects. Emotional responses such as anxiety, anger and fear can exacerbate chronic pain. Treating it can be complex and difficult.[120]
    • Three common types of chronic pain are: low back pain, headache or migraine, and neck pain.[121]
    • Fibromyalgia is a common diagnosis for sufferers of some chronic pain and/or fatigue. Scientists do not yet know what causes fibromyalgia. Possible culprits include physical or emotional trauma, differing brain responses to pain, sleep disturbances or infection. Fibromyalgia most commonly affects women between the ages of 20 and 50.[122]
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    Understand how you can manipulate your body’s pain responses. There are several theories about how your body processes pain responses.[123] One widely influential theory of pain is the Gate Control theory. [124] First proposed in the 1960s, this theory suggests that pain is like an open gate that can be “closed” by non-painful input. Essentially, your brain becomes confused because it is getting two messages at once: “pain=danger” and “touch or vibration=not a threat.” This confusion may keep your brain from processing as much of the pain response.[125][126]
    • For example, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, your first response may be to suck on it or shake it. The gate control theory explains this response because the non-painful response may suppress the pain sensation that is coming from your central nervous system.
    • The periaqueductal grey (PAG) area of your brain is also involved in regulating pain. This area operates through a process known as Stimulation-produced analgesia or SPA.[127] Stimulation of the PAG inhibits neurons in your spine, causing them to modulate (i.e., reduce) your pain at the spinal cord before it travels back to your brain.
    • Conflicting messages can stimulate or “turn on” cells in the PAG. When opiates called endorphins are released, these stimulated cells, which have receptors for those endorphins, receive them and reduce your pain. This process may help explain why acupuncture can be effective in pain management.
    • Some drugs (for example, morphine) bind to the same receptors as endorphins (the body's natural pain-killers).[128]
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    Note that both physical and emotional pain are real. “Hurt feelings” are more than an expression; they’re scientific fact. Research has shown that emotional pain stimulates the same areas of your brain as physical pain.[129] Do not feel ashamed of feeling emotional or physical pain. Because pain is such a personal, subjective experience, managing or coping with that pain is too. Don’t let anyone dictate how you “ought” to cope with your pain.
    • For example, one study showed that feeling excluded from a social activity activated the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex in participants. This area is also activated during physical pain.[130]
    • Another study showed that a breakup can actively hurt. When participants were shown a photograph of an ex as they thought about the breakup, the same areas in their brain and body — the secondary somatosensory cortex and dorsal posterior insula — activated that are responsible for physical pain.[131]
    • How you feel and think about pain can have a huge impact on how you continue to feel the pain. Your thoughts about it can increase or decrease the pain-blocking messages from your brain. The more anxious, negative, or depressed you're feeling, the greater the pain is likely to feel. Getting psychological help, such as therapy, can help you manage physical pain as well as emotional pain.[132]
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    Identify the source of the pain. In order to manage pain effectively, you have to know what is causing it. While there is a lot of information available to you, that information can also make you worry excessively or misdiagnose your pain.[133] Consulting with your doctor will help you get a proper diagnosis and understand how to treat your pain. There are several categories of pain that can help you narrow down what may be causing your pain:[134]
    • Neuropathic. This kind of pain is caused by damage to the nervous system. This type of pain often causes symptoms such as:
      • burning or tingling
      • numbness with the pain
      • stabbing pain
    • Radicular. This pain is caused by compression or irritation of nerves in your neck and spine. You may experience shooting pains that radiate down your arm or leg.
    • Somatic. This pain is what we often associate with “pain.” It happens when pain receptors in your body, either on its surface or in musculoskeletal tissues, are stimulated.
    • Myofascial. Myofascial pain is a subtype of somatic pain that refers specifically to muscles. This pain can involve a single muscle or a muscle group.
    • Visceral. This pain is related to your guts (viscera): heart, lungs, bladder, and other internal organs. This type of pain can feel very vague or nonspecific; you may not know where the pain is originating, you just know that you hurt.
    • Not all causes of pain can be identified. It is important to keep talking to your doctor, specialist and/or psychologist about what to do when you continue to feel pain but no identifiable cause can be found, or appropriate solution given. Be as tenacious as the pain is, to try to unearth what is really behind the pain.
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    Learn how to describe pain. In most cases, doctors will rely on your description of your pain to help them understand how to treat you. In addition to examinations and tests, your doctor will likely interview you about your pain. This is called taking a “pain history.” The more specific you can be, the better your doctor will be able to help you manage your pain.[135]
    • For example, doctors may ask whether your pain is sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, burning or aching. [136]
    • Other things about your pain to consider include:[137]
      • Whether the pain is concentrated in one area or is spread all over.
      • When you feel the pain is most severe.
      • What activities or movements make the pain worse or better.
      • How the pain affects your activities and daily life.
    • There are many terms that can help you describe how your pain feels. Thinking about words to describe your pain may help you communicate how you’re feeling to your healthcare provider. Possible descriptive words include:[138]
      • sharp, stabbing, splitting, shooting
      • gnawing, aching, heavy, exhausting
      • throbbing, hot, burning
      • cramping, punishing, tender, sore


  • It can help to write down notes before seeing the doctor, especially if you feel overwhelmed and are liable to forget things.
  • If surgery is an option for pain relief, be sure to discuss this thoroughly with your doctor before deciding what to do. For surgery to be successful, it must be absolutely certain what is causing the pain. In some cases, surgery can increase the pain, or complications can arise.
  • Ask your doctor about a referral to a pain management clinic or provider if you and your doctor are unable to control your pain.


  • Medications can have side effects, and the likelihood of this can increase the longer that you take them. Constipation, laxative effects, nausea and weakness can be caused by some painkillers. Keep a close watch on your reactions and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.
  • Use medication as directed. A medication will usually be safe if you follow the directions carefully; you can't be sure of safety if you change dosages or methods of taking the medication, so don't deviate from the directions.
  • Seek help immediately if you have feelings of hopelessness or helplessness due to your pain, or if you are feeling any thoughts about hurting yourself or considering suicide.
  • For the majority of pain, anxiety plays a significant role, and techniques that reduce anxiety and give you back control of your feelings, emotions, and reactions, can work wonders to your finding peace in a time of distress.

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Categories: Pain Management and Recovery