Chronic pain management

Acute pain is short-lived pain that goes away when the injury or disease causing it is treated or has healed. Pain is said to have become chronic when it has occurred on most days of the week for more than 3 months.

What causes chronic pain?

About one in 5 adults in Australia experiences chronic pain. The cause of chronic pain is often an injury, such as sporting injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and accidents in the home and at work.

Chronic pain can also be caused by an ongoing disease such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.

In some cases no physical cause for the pain can be found, or pain persists long after an injury has healed. In many cases, chronic pain is a disorder in itself rather than being the symptom of a disease process.

Assessing pain

Firstly, it is very important that you see your doctor for an assessment of your pain to make sure there is not a serious underlying cause. This will include taking a history from you, performing a physical examination, and may also involve some tests. You should ask your doctor anything about your condition that you do not understand or that you are concerned about.

Managing your pain

The management of chronic pain will be different for each individual. Your doctor will probably draw up a personal management plan for you. This may include medication and involve other therapists, such as a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or clinical psychologist, in your care.

Although each person's management is individualised, there are a number of things that most people can generally do to help manage their pain. These include the following.

  • Learn to prioritise the things you need to do so that you do the most important things first.
  • Pace yourself so that you don't try to do too much in one go and become over-tired.
  • Try to do some exercise appropriate for your condition (your doctor or physiotherapist can advise you about this).
  • Learn techniques to relax and distract you from thinking about your pain.
  • If you have a problem with sleeping, talk to your doctor about what you can do to get a better night's sleep.

People with chronic pain may experience anxiety and depression, which can make the pain seem worse. It is very important to talk to your doctor if you are feeling anxious or depressed.

Although chronic pain may not always be able to be completely relieved, with good management most chronic pain can be helped.

Last Reviewed: 18 December 2012
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References

1. Chronic pain (revised October 2012). In: eTG complete. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2013 Mar. http://online.tg.org.au/complete/ (accessed Jun 2013).
2. National Prescribing Service. Chronic pain – what can I do? (updated Oct 2012). http://www.nps.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/177221/Chronic-pain-fact-sheet.pdf (accessed Jun 2013).
3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Chronic pain information page (updated 22 May 2013). http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/chronic_pain.htm (accessed Jun 2013).
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