How to Handle Excruciating Pain

Three Parts:Managing Pain that Comes on SuddenlyControlling Chronic PainKnowing When to Seek Medical Attention

Handling severe pain can be distressing and difficult. Sometimes pain can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and sometimes the pain comes from an existing condition or illness. Either way, there are ways to help you handle severe and excruciating pain. Stay focused on controlling your pain and find the techniques that work best for you.

Part 1
Managing Pain that Comes on Suddenly

  1. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 1
    Stay calm. Experiencing pain is stressful, especially if the source of the pain is unknown. Feeling anxious, panicky, and fearful can actually make the pain worse. Shallow breathing can lead to hyperventilation, impair the ability of getting oxygen into the blood, and lead to more pain, like chest and muscle pain.[1]
    • Try not to focus on the pain. Focusing your thoughts and energy on the pain you are feeling can actually make it worse. Try to relax and focus on other things. For example, think about the next steps you need to take to address the problem causing the pain.[2]
  2. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 2
    Control your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths that come from your belly or diaphragm, as opposed to shallow breathing from your chest. This helps to improve the flow of oxygen in your blood, and helps to quiet the intensity of the pain.[3][4]
    • Controlled breathing techniques are known to be effective in managing severe pain. Breathing techniques have been used for many years to help control the pain of childbirth.[5]
  3. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 3
    Assume a comfortable position and try to relax. Pain may be lessened by sitting in an upright and straight position, or possibly by lying down. Find a position that helps to reduce the pain so you focus on locating the cause of the pain.[6]
  4. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 4
    Identify the source of the pain. Sudden onset pain, known as acute pain, is usually a warning sign. The pain is telling you to pay attention. Some common causes for acute pain include broken bones, sprains or strains, minor scrapes and cuts or deeper lacerations, muscle cramps, burns, or a broken tooth.[7]
    • Acute pain is considered to be classified as nociceptive pain. The pain from stepping on a nail or touching a hot stove falls in the category of nociceptive pain.[8]
  5. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 5
    Don’t ignore sudden, excruciating, pain. In some cases, the sudden onset of severe pain may be the only warning you get that something is terribly wrong. For example, sudden onset abdominal pain may indicate a ruptured appendix, peritonitis, or a ruptured ovarian cyst. Ignoring sudden onset pain can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening outcomes, if the need for prompt medical attention is ignored.[9]
  6. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 6
    Take action to control the problem. Once you have identified the cause of the pain, take steps to correct the problem if possible. Acute pain gets better, and can go away completely, once the reason for the pain has been resolved.
    • Taking action to control the cause of the pain may include seeking medical attention. For serious injury or lingering, unexplained pain, medical professionals can help identify the problem and provide treatment options.
    • Situations involving acute pain can last for a few minutes, or can linger for several months. Acute pain that goes unattended can turn into long term, or chronic pain.[10]

Part 2
Controlling Chronic Pain

  1. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 7
    Take charge of your pain. Managing pain requires a commitment to learn new techniques, and to practice what you learn.
  2. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 8
    Meditate. Meditation is a proven and powerful way to address problems with pain. Learning to meditate requires instruction and a positive attitude to stick with it. Studies show that pain intensity can be reduced from between 11% to 70%, and the unpleasantness associated with pain from 20% to 93%.[11]
  3. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 9
    Think about food. Studies have shown that focusing on a favorite food can help to lower the feelings of pain. Focusing on chocolate is a big favorite.[12]
  4. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 10
    Allow yourself to be distracted. Chronic pain wants your attention. Focusing on other things, like watching a movie, enjoying activities with friends and family, reading, or starting a new hobby causes your thoughts to focus elsewhere. Simply focusing on other body parts also takes away from the attention going towards the feelings of pain.[13]
  5. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 11
    Visualize your pain getting better. Try to picture what your pain looks like, maybe imagine an arthritic joint, a pinched nerve in your neck, or the broken bone in your foot. Then imagine, or visualize, the area healing, or shrinking, or being less inflamed.[14]
    • Part of visualization also includes allowing yourself to mentally escape. Float away in your mind to a relaxing and restful place or a favorite past experience.[15]
  6. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 12
    Stay positive. Chronic pain is difficult to deal with since it is always with you and can constantly eat away at your positive attitude. Allowing your thoughts to become negative, dwell on the pain, and increase your feelings of frustration can actually make the pain worse. Try to stay positive and avoid imagining the worst.[16]
    • Consider talking to a counselor or therapist if you find yourself descending into negativity or becoming depressed due to your chronic pain.
  7. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 13
    Get relief with over-the-counter products. Mild pain relievers are available without a prescription. Products such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and even some topical patches can provide some relief.[17]
    • Use OTC products with caution. Do not exceed the recommended daily dose, and read the label to know of possible side effects from their use. Plus, if you have prescription pain medications, your doctor may not want you to supplement with OTC products due to added risks for complications.[18] Check with your doctor before adding OTC meds to prescription pain control regimen.
  8. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 14
    Research your condition. Understanding more about your condition can help with choosing the techniques best suited to your needs.
    • Chronic pain can sometimes involve neuropathic changes, or nerve damage, that make it harder to treat. Knowing more about your condition can help to choose techniques that can provide some relief and avoid further damage.[19]

Part 3
Knowing When to Seek Medical Attention

  1. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 15
    See a doctor if your pain suddenly changes, or worsens. Treatments may be available to help manage changes in your condition. Treatment of pain should always first be directed toward identifying and treating the underlying cause before just symptom relief.
    • If you have not seen a doctor about your pain, and your pain has been persistent, medical attention is warranted.
  2. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 16
    Take prescription pain meds. Prescription pain medications are stronger than over-the-counter products, and are available in oral forms as well as topical products. These products often contain controlled substances that can be addictive, such as opiates. Some prescription opiate-free products are available, such as anti-inflammatory agents and tramadol.[20]
    • Older antidepressant agents, called tricyclics, some anticonvulsant drugs, and muscle relaxers are commonly prescribed to help manage chronic pain conditions. These agents work in different ways to control pain signals sent to and from the brain, and to relax muscle tissue surrounding the painful areas.[21]
    • Prescription only patches are also available. Some are applied directly over the painful area, these typically contain active ingredients like lidocaine, and some are applied anywhere that allows the medication to be absorbed into your bloodstream, like patches that contain fentanyl.[22]
  3. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 17
    Consider medical procedures. In addition to prescription pain medications, many procedures are available that are designed to treat conditions involving pain. Physical therapy, nerve blocks, localized anesthetics, acupuncture, electrical stimulation, or even surgery may improve your pain.[23]
    • Chronic pain symptoms are sometimes controlled by using nerve block injections that are performed as an outpatient. Let your doctor know if you are allergic to contrast dye, which is commonly used during the procedures.
    • Depending on the site of the injection, common side effects include temporary numbness and soreness in the area of the injection site. Some procedures can result in droopy eyelids, temporary stuffy nose, and temporary difficulty swallowing.[24]
  4. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 18
    Ask your doctor about a TENS unit. For some types of chronic pain, stimulating the nerves in the area can help to reduce painful symptoms. A TENS unit, or transcutaneous electro-nerve stimulator unit, uses small pads that are placed near the area of the pain. This device is controlled manually by the patient.[25]
  5. Image titled Handle Excruciating Pain Step 19
    Recognize the warning signs specific to your condition. Chronic pain affects people of all ages, involves practically every part of the body, and includes hundreds of diseases. Keep in touch with your doctor. Follow your doctor’s advice if your symptoms worsen.[26]


  • Swear. It may sound crazy, but some research has shown that using swear words creates an emotional response that takes the focus off your pain.
  • Consider an exercise program that is safe for your condition, such as yoga, or qigong.
  • Stop any technique or exercise if your pain is worsened.
  • Always talk to your doctor about introducing something new in your treatment.

Sources and Citations

Show more... (23)

Article Info

Categories: Pain Management and Recovery