Two Essential Things to Do if You Suffer From Chronic Pain

Two Essential Things to Do if You Suffer From Chronic Pain

Shalini Shah MD

Shalini Shah, MD

Pain management is a complex puzzle that requires knowledge of your body and physiology as well as your personal philosophy. Pain after surgery is common and can last for up to several weeks, but if the pain persists and becomes progressive you may have chronic pain. While there is a not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are two important things for people to do when they are suffering from chronic pain:

  1. See a physician pain specialist who can make the right diagnosis, the first time.
  2. Never give up

While this advice might seem simple, it is essential. Perseverance plays an enormous role in pain management. Chances are your pain will subside, but it will likely take time. Being patient and learning to “work through your pain” is critical to achieving long-term relief.

The role of a physician pain specialist is also critical. Physicians have access to a “tool box” that allows them to devise an appropriate treatment plan based on your condition and situation. You should keep in mind that the field of pain management is so well developed that there is never “no option”.

Many chronic pain conditions can be alleviated through a multi-disciplinary and interventional approach. There are often small, measurable goals that you and your doctor can set that will ultimately lead to complete pain relief. Some options for treating chronic pain include:

  • Nerve medications (or pain killers) are often used for short-term treatment
  • Targeted therapies in which patients receive injections into a specific location, such as their hip, to help alleviate localized pain
  • More advanced therapies include spinal cord stimulation which can be used for treating low back pain or nerve pain (such as neuropathies)

Many patients and physicians want to limit the amount of pain medications and fortunately there are other ways to alleviate pain.

  • Physical therapy can be critical to rehabilitation. This can include learning how to properly use a muscle group so that you minimize pain or learning ways to be mobile and manage your pain at the same time. For some people, it may be a struggle to work through their pain, but in the end the result is worth it
  • Pain psychologists help people to help train their brain to accept that some level of pain is a normal sensation. They work with patients so that they understand it is okay if they do not have complete pain relief

The reality is that chronic pain, left untreated, can lead to anxiety and depression. In fact, the signals travel together and are processed in similar locations in the brain so it is critical to address chronic pain early on. The increased anxiety and depression makes pain even that much harder to treat, which leads to more immobility, and further worsening one’s anxiety and depression—a cycle that needs to be broken by taking a more mind-body approach to pain. This includes addressing the specific site that is causing pain as well as addressing the emotional and physiological issues that may accompany chronic pain. These are issues a specially-trained pain anesthesiologist can help you with.

And just remember, chronic pain may take a while to go away, but the best chance for long-term success depends on being proactive, responsive and not giving up.

Shalini Shah, MD is Assistant Clinical Professor and Director, Pediatric Pain Services at the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care, University of California, Irvine and Co-Chair of Pediatric Pain Development program at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.  

Authored by: Shalini Shah, M.D.

There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Jeannah at 6:52 am

    I concur with all the statements above! I’ve had chronic pain all my life from endometriosis until I had a complete hysterectomy in 1997. 8 months later, and after I was in a minor car accident, I developed fibromyalgia, so, yes, a life time of chronic pain. The fibromyalgia beats it all tho, childbirth, excruciating pain from endometriosis, a ruptured disc in my lower back which was able to recover from with intensive therapy and NO surgery. I never took any prescription pain medicaid until a few years into firobmyalgia, even with all those conditions and 3 surgeries for endometiosis. Opioid therapy helped me also at a low dose for 12 years, I never developed a tolerance, never suffered from any other side effects from it either. I abandoned it on my own in October 2014 with the new opioid regulations. I’ve found an herb that is helping but not near enough and does not give me enough pain relief to be active (gardening, walking) so, more weight gain! What you’re proposing above is not even considerable to those of us with NO insurance and who cannot afford the Unaffordable Care Act. Opioid therapy was a safe (without all the scary side effects of the newer and also unaffordable with no insurance drugs), inexpensive way for me to manage the debilitating, daily pain of fibromaylgia.

  2. Zyp Czyk at 1:41 pm

    This is the simplistic idea so many doctors are holding on to, and for some of us IT JUST DOESNT WORK.

    Don’t you think we’ve already tried everything you suggest? So many of us have spent thousands trying these highly touted “therapies” to no avail and some have even suffered a worsening of pain as a result.

    Why do so many doctors believe we all have the kind of pain that responds to these therapies? Why don’t you admit that some pain can be RELIEVED ONLY WITH OPIOIDS?

    Many doctors, like mine, have experience with patients using opioids for decades. They witness the resulting increase in functionality in their patients, who do not fall into drug abuse or addiction. Where are they and why aren’t they speaking up?

    Why do doctors with a scientific background not recognize the FACT that many patients do very well on opioids? Why don’t they acknowledge that often opioids are the only “therapy” that relieves many kinds of pain?

    Why are you so eager to ruin our lives by taking away the ONLY method that works for us?

    I just don’t understand why I’m being punished when my only crime is to have pain.

    The sadism of the unrestrained anti-opioid sentiment is astonishing. How can you face patients who’s pain can only be relieved by opioids as you tell them they’ll have to suffer the rest of their lives – for no reason except your opinion/wish that other methods are superior.

    Countless pain patients have tried everything else else because we DO NOT WANT to take opioids (especially with all the obstacles these days)

    If you can show us another method that works for our pain, we’d drop the opioids in a heartbeat. But give us an effective alternative BEFORE you take away what’s working for us.

    You’d never force patients on insulin to just stop their medication and tell them to change their diets and lose weight, even though that therapy would work without drugs. It’s only pain patients that are being treated so callously.

    I thought a doctor’s job was to relieve suffering, but perhaps that’s just an old fashioned idea that’s been eliminated.

    How can you be so cruel?

  3. Margo at 8:54 am

    I find it strange that those giving advice on chronic pain have never suffered from it. I mean truly suffered. Please listen to me. I never paid attention to chronic pain, even after 20 years of stage 4 endometriosis and numerous surgeries. I took ibuprofen. I went to college, law school and had a successful career. I had my own home. It took one day to change my life forever. A simple carpal tunnel surgery was botched, ironically, by a doctor. My median nerve was cut. Long story short: I suffered such extreme pain I couldn’t move. It took a myriad of doctors before I was correctly diagnosed with RSD. This is a complete malfunctioning of my entire nervous system. It is ranked 2nd on the McGill Pain scale. It’s more painful than labor and cancer. I lost everything and would be homeless if not for my elderly parents and a neurologist who diagnosed me and gave a sincere damn.
    I had a treatment protocol that was working. Now, due to the mass hysteria over addicts and opiates, I do not receive adequate care. I am misunderstood, under medicated and habitually humiliated because I take pain medication. I am so tired of those who have not experienced severe chronic pain or its fallout telling me about “integrated medicine” and the “mind/body connection”. Do you not think I have tried it all? Do you think I enjoy the loss of my independence? Do you think my disease is curable? I am now beliw the poverty level and I am under 50 years old. I have no ides what will become of me. Seriously, these doctors have no clue. It’s my body. I am willing to release my doctors from all liability. I am not concerned about the “opioid crisis”. These people chose that path the day the chose to abuse a medication to get high. They can be cured. I did not choose my disease and I can’t be cured, yet I am unable to receive proper treatment. Perhaps I could work again if I had my pain better controlled ? I know I speak for hundreds of thousands chronic pain patients. We are tired and scared. We follow all the rules. My body may become dependent on a drug, but that is NOT addiction. The body becomes dependent on anti-depressants too, yet they are handed out like candy. (One made me suicidal ). It is time for doctors, legislators and the public to be properly informed about the difference in serious chronic pain conditions requiring , in some cases, narcotics and drug addiction. The addicts will always find the drugs. The suffering patients continue to suffer and live a fear and stress-filled lfe while they wait for the hammer to fall. This article is just gearing us up for no medicine at all. If the doctors advice helps anyone I am happy for them. For me, it’s just the same thing over again. I’m sure patients in health crisis far exceed deaths related to opiates mixed with who knows what. It breaks my heart that we are ignored while the addicts receive help most of them don’t even want. These are two separate issues. I can assure you that depriving us of care will not result in less addicts. They will just find a different drug and we are left suffering alone. I pray for us all and maintain a very slim hope that this insanity will stop. In the meantime, I’ll just meditate my pain away.

  4. Margo at 12:30 am

    My brother has suffered from chronic back pain for many years. He goes to pain management & they give him drugs (oxycoden & 2 types of morpehiene solfate) but they are not working. They did a DNA test on him and he has what they call “rapid response” which means his body absorbs the medicine fast. So he only gets little relief for maybe at most 2hrs. He hates taking these meds but doesn’t know what else to do. Now he has just as much pain in his stomach as his back. He has had test after test and can’t figure out what is causing his stomach pain. He was active and now he goes no where, doesn’t drive and has a horrible time trying to eat (has lost 25+ lbs in couple months) & hardly any sleep for the past year. I’m afraid he may get suicidal. He just can’t take this pain anymore. I have taken him to many doctors/surgeons and they don’t recommend surgery. What else can we do to help him? He is only 68. I appreciate any advice
    Thank You, Margo

  5. LouisVA at 1:55 pm

    The article states “While there is a not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are two important things for people to do when they are suffering from chronic pain:

    1. See a physician pain specialist who can make the right diagnosis, the first time.
    2. Never give up”

    I agree that “there is a not a one-size-fits-all solution” to chronic pain, especially for those of us that have had chronic pain for a long time and the pain is centralized. I am currently 65 years old and have suffered pain since childhood. I tried just about everything known to science and nothing helped until I went to a noted pain specialist, Dr. Forest Tennant, about five years ago and he put me on opioid therapy. Of course, opioid therapy is a last resort but I can honestly say that the last five and a half years has been the best in my life as far as quality of life goes. I am able to do things now that I have not been able to do in many years. Contrary to popular opinion, I have not had to escalate my dose and am on the same regimen now as when I started this therapy. I would not change a thing in my treatment. One thing I am glad I did not do was get multiple injections as I now know many people that have developed arachnoiditis from scar tissue caused by the injections and these people are now on opioid therapy now because of the pain caused by that scar tissue. Yes, if caught in time before the pain has a chance to centralize, modest treatments will be of help but for those of us with long-time pain, opioid therapy can be a life saver.