You know your pain better than anyone. And as hard as it’s been to handle it, your experience holds the key to making a plan to treat it.
Each person and their pain are unique. The best way to manage your case could be very different from what works for someone else. Your treatment will depend upon things such as:
- The cause
- How intense it is
- How long it’s lasted
- What makes it worse or better
Be sure to share that information with any health professional you work with. It will help them find the right solutions for you.
It can be a process to find your best plan. You can try a combination of things and then report back to your doctor about how your pain is doing. Together, you can tweak your program based on what’s working and what needs more help.
All Pain Is Not the Same
In order to make your pain management plan, your doctor will first find out whether you have sudden (“acute”) or long-term (“chronic”) pain.
Acute pain starts suddenly and usually feels sharp. Broken bones, burns, or cuts are classic examples. So is pain after giving birth or surgery.
Acute pain may be mild and last just a moment. Or it may be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, acute pain does not last longer than 6 months, and it stops when its underlying cause has been treated or has healed.
If the problem that causes short-term pain isn’t treated, it may lead to long-term, or “chronic” pain.
Chronic pain lasts longer than 6 months, often despite the fact that an injury has healed. It could even last for years. Some examples include:
- Low back pain
- Cancer pain
- Arthritis pain
- Pain caused by nerve damage
It can cause tense muscles, problems with moving, a lack of energy, and changes in appetite. It can also affect your emotions. Some people feel depressed, angry, or anxious about the pain and injury coming back.
Chronic pain doesn’t always have an obvious physical cause.
What Can I Do to Feel Better?
1. Keep moving. You might think it’s best to rest on the sidelines. But being active is a good idea. You’ll get stronger and move better.
The key is knowing what’s OK for you to do to get stronger and challenge your body without doing too much, too soon.
Your doctor can let you know what changes to make. For instance, if you used to run and your joints can’t take that now because you have a chronic condition like osteoarthritis, you might be able to switch to something like biking or swimming.
2. Physical and occupational therapy. Take your recovery to the next level with these treatments. In physical therapy, you’ll focus on the exact muscles you need to strengthen, stretch, and recover from injury. Your doctor may also recommend occupational therapy, which focuses on how to do specific tasks, like walking up and down stairs, opening a jar, or getting in and out of a car, with less pain.
3. Counseling. If pain gets you down, reach out. A counselor can help you get back to feeling like yourself again. You can say anything, set goals, and get support. Even a few sessions are a good idea. Look for a counselor who does cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you learn ways that your thinking can support you as you work toward solutions.
4. Massage therapy. It’s not a cure, but it can help you feel better temporarily and ease tension in your muscles. Ask your doctor or physical therapist to recommend a massage therapist. At your first appointment, tell them about the pain you have. And be sure to let them know if the massage feels too intense.
5. Relaxation. Meditation and deep breathing are two techniques to try. You could also picture a peaceful scene, do some gentle stretching, or listen to music you love. Another technique is to scan your body slowly in your mind and consciously try to relax each part of your body, one by one, from head to toe. Any healthy activity that helps you unwind is good for you and can help you feel better prepared to manage your pain.
6. Consider complementary treatments such as acupuncture, biofeedback, and spinal manipulation. In acupuncture, a trained practitioner briefly inserts very thin needles in certain places on your skin to tap into your “chi,” which is an inner energy noted in traditional Chinese medicine. It doesn’t hurt.
Biofeedback trains you to control how your body responds to pain. In a session of it, you’ll wear electrodes hooked up to a machine that tracks your heart rate, breathing, and skin temperature, so you can see the results.
When you get spinal manipulation, a health professional uses their hands or a device to adjust your spine so that you can move better and have less pain. Some MDs do this. So do chiropractors, osteopathic doctors (they have “DO” after their name instead of “MD”), and some physical therapists.
Are There Devices That Help?
Although there are no products that take pain away completely, there are some that you and your doctor could consider.
TENS and ultrasound. TENS, uses a device to send an electric current to the skin over the area where you have pain. Ultrasound sends sound waves to the places you have pain. Both may offer relief by blocking the pain messages sent to your brain.
Spinal cord stimulation. An implanted device delivers low-voltage electricity to the spine to block pain. If your doctor thinks it’s an option, you could use it for a trial period before you get surgery to have it permanently implanted. In most cases, you can go home the same day as the procedure.
What About Medicine?
Your doctor will consider what’s causing your pain, how long you’ve had it, how intense it is, and what medications will help.
These may include over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Or you may need stronger medications that require a prescription, such as steroids, morphine, codeine, or anesthesia.
Some are pills or tablets. Others are shots. There are also sprays or lotions that go on your skin.
Other drugs, like muscle relaxers and some antidepressants, are also used for pain. Some people may need anesthetic drugs to block pain.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to take your medication, how much relief to expect, and what the side effects are.
Will I Need Surgery?
It depends on why you're in pain. If you’ve had a sudden injury or accident, you might need surgery right away.
But if you have chronic pain, you may or may not need an operation or another procedure, such as a nerve block (done with anesthetics or other types of prescription drugs to stop pain signals) or a spinal injection (such as a shot of cortisone or an anesthetic drug).
Talk with your doctor about what results you can expect and any side effects, so you can weigh the risks and the benefits. Also ask how many times the doctor has done the procedure they recommend and what their patients have said about how much relief they’ve gotten.