11 Tips for Living With Chronic Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Male doctor with male patient with hand on shoulder
    Go beyond your treatment plan.
    Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan for chronic pain—one that might involve medications, counseling, or alternative therapies such as acupuncture. But there’s much you can do between appointments to make pain easier to handle, and your life fuller and happier.
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    1. Change your posture.
    The way you sit, stand or sleep can often worsen pain—or improve it. For instance, your neck may ache if you don’t keep your back straight, since the muscles must work harder to keep your head in the right position. Try to practice better posture whenever you can.
  • Woman holding ice pack on shoulder
    2. Cool down.
    Cold therapy can numb a sore area, decreasing pain. Use a store-bought plastic gel pack, a bag of ice, or cool compresses for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 6 times per day. Keep a towel or other thin cloth between the ice and your skin to prevent direct contact. You can also try ice massage—rubbing a cold pack along a painful area—or ice baths.
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    3. Or, heat things up.
    In other cases, heat relieves tension and pain, especially in sore muscles. You can use heating pads; gel packs dipped in hot water; or a warm, moist towel. As with cold, place a barrier between the heat source and your skin, and check frequently to make sure you don’t burn yourself. Hot baths and showers can also ease aches.
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    4. Practice relaxation.
    Techniques that ease stress and take your mind off your pain can go a long way toward controlling it. In fact, relaxation can relieve pain in a fashion similar to that of pain-relieving medicines. Meditation, tai chi, and yoga offer structured ways to calm your mind. Even simple distractions—such as watching TV or listening to music—may help. 
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    5. Try imagery.
    Like a daydream, imagery can transport you to a place free from pain. This advanced relaxation technique relieves anxiety, improves sleep, and can also help you cope if pain keeps you indoors. This is how it works: Close your eyes and think of a place or activity that made you happy in the past. Imagine not just how it looks, but also what you can touch, smell, hear and taste. If possible, keep a favorite photograph of the place nearby.
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    6. Seek out support.
    Talking about your pain with someone who understands what you’re going through can lift part of the burden. You might find comfort in online support groups for people with chronic pain. Or, check out nearby community centers, inquire at the hospital, or ask your doctor to refer you to in-person support groups. If you still feel overwhelmed, consider speaking with a psychologist or other mental health professional, preferably one with experience counseling people with chronic pain.
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    7. Explore treatment options.
    There's a lot going on in the field of pain relief, so make sure you stay up to date on new treatment advances that are more targeted with fewer side effects. For example, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an effective treatment that's non-invasive, safe, and available over the counter. TENS sends electrical impulses into your body to modulate and suppress pain signals in your brain. A TENS unit is a great option if you're looking for an alternative or complement to pain medication.
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    8. Use positive self-talk.
    The messages you send to yourself hold more power than you might think. Avoid thoughts like “I’m overwhelmed” or “I can’t cope with the pain.” Instead, focus on the progress you’ve made: Think, “I feel better than I did a week ago.” Acknowledge that you are uncomfortable, but remind yourself that you are taking steps to deal with your pain and live the life you want.
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    9. Live a healthy lifestyle.
    The same types of steps that help reduce your risk of heart disease and other health conditions also help you cope with pain: avoid tobacco; make sure you get plenty of sleep; keep your weight in check; and be as active as you can. Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to design an exercise program that doesn’t aggravate your pain.
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    10. Keep a pain diary.
    Taking note of when pain strikes—along with notes about how it feels—can go a long way in helping you design a pain management strategy. Also write down potential pain triggers, such as stress, anxiety, certain foods, and for women, hormone changes during your period. Share it with your doctor at your next visit.
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    11. Stay consistent.
    Your pain may come and go. But following your doctor’s orders for managing it, despite the ebb and flow, can help you keep it from worsening when you least expect it. Don’t skip doses of medication when you feel better. That way, you’ll stay on top of your pain and ward off future episodes.
11 Tips for Living With Chronic Pain
  1. Resource Guide to Chronic Pain Management. American Chronic Pain Association. https://www.theacpa.org/pain-management-tools/resource-guide-to-chronic-pain-treatments/resource-gui...
  2. Chronic neck pain. American Osteopathic Association. http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/pain/Docum...
  3. Chronic pain: Chronic Pain Medicines. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chronic-pain/treatment/chronic-pain-medi...
  4. Chronic pain: Overview. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chronic-pain.printerview.all.html
  5. Coping with chronic pain. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-pain.aspx
  6. Depression and chronic pain. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-and-chronic-pain/index.shtml
  7. Just dealing with chronic osteoarthritis pain. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritistoday.org/tools-and-resources/expert-q-and-a/osteoarthritis-questions/just-deali...
  8. Pain. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/print/health/publication/pain.
  9. Pain. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/printables-and-shareables/health-topic/pain 
  10. Pain control. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/paincontrol.pdf.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.