Basic pain management strategies

There’s no denying that living with chronic pain can be tough.

Pain is complex and can be unpredictable.

It’s also part of our biological survival response, our body’s reaction to danger (e.g. a hot stove top), hurt (e.g. soreness) or damage (e.g. an injury).

Pain that persists may mean that it is performing less of a useful role.

Understanding chronic pain

Our bodies go through a natural phase of tissue healing following damage and so when pain continues this can become confusing, frustrating, and exhausting.

This kind of pain can affect our nervous system and what we understand is going on with our bodies and how that impacts our daily lives. Chronic pain can be dominating and can have a big impact on your life, making you feel less in control.

Research over the last 20 years has shown that reducing the impact that pain has upon people’s lives can greatly improve people’s quality of life.

Strategies for pain management

APM’s pain management specialists New Zealand have a wealth of knowledge and experience in supporting people living with persistent pain.

Our experts have shared some of their top tips on basic pain management strategies:

1. Understanding the cause of pain

Pain is an output of our nervous system in response to a perceived threat from within our bodies, or our external environment.

However, what causes pain may not be an actual threat.

Pain acts as an alarm system within the body, it's a protective mechanism and not always a direct interpretation of how much damage is present.

Our brains produce the pain response in our bodies, and this can be influenced by different factors for everyone.

2. Taking a key role in your recovery

When you have lived experience with pain, you become highly attuned to what is happening in your body.

As a patient or client, we have a leading role to play in our recovery.

Recovery is a collaborative effort - along with specialists and treating professionals who can help guide you through the process.

Seeking treatment can feel daunting, but it's important to remember your support network are there and you don't have to do it all alone.

3. Pacing daily activities

A well-known message from people living with pain is that when pain appears a bit more bearable, they try to be highly productive. The result can be a days-long flare up, meaning your hard work could be undone.

By spreading out their tasks, as opposed to trying to get them done in one hit they find they are better able to manage their pain levels.

By breaking up your hour’s activity planned for one day into smaller and manageable amounts every day, you achieve the same duration of activity with much less of an impact on your week.

By adopting the ‘three Ps’ rule - prioritising, planning and pacing – you may find over time you’ll be able to do more and even with less medication.

4. Movement, exercise or activity

Keeping moving enables our bodily systems to keep running and nourish our tissues with nutrients and oxygen.

You may have been given exercises by your healthcare professional, which can help to support our tissues and increase strength, endurance and confidence.

Finding activities that you enjoy and are important to you like swimming or gardening are just as beneficial to our health.

5. Mindfulness or deep breathing

During times of stress, tension can increase in our bodies.

This tension may be due to physical stress, however tension can also result from mental and emotional stressors, such as unhelpful thoughts, worry, anger and forgetfulness.

Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and/or mindfulness can help to counteract stress or tension. Your relaxation techniques can help you to feel more in control.

Both techniques can help to distract you from unhelpful thoughts or help you to sit with unhelpful thoughts acknowledging them for what they are – just thoughts.

6. Goal setting

Setting goals can work well with pacing yourself, to build your confidence and faith in your body.

When we set goals, we become more focused, purposeful and motivated in our actions, gradually making unattainable targets seem achievable.

To choose a goal, start with identifying your values. Identifying values can help us clearly choose what is important to us.

Our values can relate to things such as: maintaining our friendships and relationships, personal growth, hobbies, intimacy, spirituality.

Commitment to these strategies have been shown to assist in the daily management of our pain levels. Additionally, they can actively enhance our overall wellbeing.

If you’re keen to develop and implement strategies to assist with your pain management, contact your local APM health professional.