Managing pain effectively: some tips


Pain is something most people will experience at some point. Whether it's an injury picked up on the football pitch, a back strain from moving heavy furniture, or the old cliché of hitting your thumb with a hammer, it is something we all have to live with at some point in our lives.

Broadly speaking there are two main types of pain - acute pain and chronic pain.

Acute pain generally starts and stops relatively quickly. It begins when we injure ourselves, and will disappear as our injury heals, although of course this takes longer with some injuries than others. Chronic pain however can last for weeks, months and even years.

Managing your pain

Chronic pain can be a miserable experience, but there are ways we can manage it to ensure it has the smallest possible impact on our lives. These include taking gentle exercise, breathing through pain to prevent muscle tension which can make the pain feel worse and arming ourselves with information to make us aware of how to combat pain.

It's also important that we remain positive and distract ourselves once the pain strikes with hobbies and activities if possible. Talking to other people who have experienced similar pain can help provide new ideas of managing it, as can joining a free Expert Patients programme where you can learn how to effectively self-manage long-term, painful health conditions.

Not letting pain get in the way of us socialising with our friends is also important, as this could make us become isolated and depressed, which can make the situation even worse. Finally, getting a good night's sleep and using relaxing techniques can also help.

Painkiller headaches

While painkillers are normally used to relieve headaches, taking too many can actually lead to developing them. If you use painkillers more than two or three times a week over three months in a row or longer, you may develop what's known as a medication-overuse headache.

This happens because your body becomes so used to the medication that you develop headache as a withdrawal symptom. These are known as "rebound headaches" as people will respond to them by taking more medication, and the cycle will continue.

Painkillers containing codeine are most likely to cause rebound headaches, although they can come about from using any painkilling medication. The treatment for this type of headache is to stop taking the medication. Your symptoms will get worse in the short term, but within weeks you should start to see real improvements. Your doctor can give you advice on how to cope with this distressing worsening of the headaches in the short term. Most experts agree that stopping the medication straight away, rather than weaning yourself down gradually, increases the speed of recovery and reduces the chance of you 'relapsing' into using too much medication again.

Seeking expert advice

Your doctor will be happy to talk to you about your options for dealing with your pain, and indeed will be keen to get to the root cause of your pain if it hasn't already been identified. Pharmacists are also experts in this area and they may have specific advice for you on what painkillers you should try.

The NHS has approximately 300 pain clinics around the country, usually in hospitals, and these offer numerous approaches to managing long term pain, including appropriate medication and also complimentary therapies such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture. Your doctor will be able to discuss this with you and refer you if appropriate. Staff at these clinics might include neurologists, anaesthetists who specialise in pain management, physiotherapists and sometimes a psychologist.

You may also want to talk to your GP about trying alternative ways to manage your pain, such as massage therapy, aromatherapy, relaxation techniques, meditation and t'ai chi.