Millions of people in our society live with chronic pain (such as from
cancer, headaches, back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other pain
disorders). Pain that occurs and has a short and predictable end (acute
pain) is different from conditions that leave people in constant or
intermittent pain over long periods of time.
To deal with chronic pain, you must first have a good diagnosis, a
medical team that you trust, educate yourself as much as possible about
your condition, and understand your treatment plan. There are many ways
to help pain medically, such as pain medications, physical therapy, and
sometimes surgical procedures.
However, it is well-known that pain is worsened by emotional stress and
bodily tension. When dealing with long-lasting pain, it is helpful to
look to lifestyle changes to augment the treatment provided by your
medical team. People with pain conditions frequently deal with
depression and anxiety, and become discouraged about their future.
Ensuring that you have a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and
exercise at whatever level you are able to manage are essential to
It often helps to have talk therapy, especially cognitive therapy, to
help you explore how you understand and react to your pain, and find
different ways to manage it. Additionally there are other skills one
can learn, such as meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques
that are also proven to help in pain management.
Pain may also present a challenge in interpersonal relationships. People
want to help, but don’t always know what to do. Sometimes pain
sufferers hesitate to ask for help, fearing they’ll ask too much of
others. Some who live with chronic pain feel that others around them
forget that it’s genuine and on-going, and become impatient when they
are doing the best they can. Resentment and tension can lead to stress,
which can exacerbate pain and make its management difficult.
It’s important to feel that you’re comfortable with the treatment plan
and medical team, and you’re following recommendations to your best
ability. Sometimes patients don’t agree with the treatment advised, or
lack the motivation to stick with it, or don’t know how to talk to the
doctors with their questions and own ideas. This is a significant
concern if the best possible pain management is going to occur.
Talk therapy, especially cognitive therapy, is effective in helping
with pain management, especially when it’s coupled with one or more of
the relaxation, meditation, imagery, or stress reduction techniques.
Learning to live a full life that doesn’t always focus on pain is
optimal for good coping. There are times when family therapy can also be
helpful so that everybody works together to achieve positive
relationships with healthy support.
Kathi Whitten, LCSW Copyright 2010