Health Library

Categories > Pain > Pain management

Easing chronic pain
Getting help
Pain relief with medication
Other options
What you can do

NSAID warning
NSAID warning

Both over-the-counter and prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increase your risk of stomach ulcers, which can erode into blood vessels and cause internal bleeding. In rare cases, a stomach ulcer can create a blockage and require surgery. People at risk for stomach ulcers include:

  • people who use NSAIDs regularly
  • adults over age 60
  • people with a history of stomach ulcers

If you use NSAIDs, ask your doctor about also taking proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which limit the amount of acid the stomach produces and reduce your risk of stomach ulcers.

Don’t let pain keep you homebound
Don’t let pain keep you homebound

Taking a trip—to visit a relative or a favorite vacation spot—doesn’t have to be off limits to people who suffer from chronic pain. In fact, a change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered. Consider these pain-relieving tips:

  • Give yourself adequate time to plan your trip—you’ll reduce stress.
  • Have your prescriptions filled ahead of time.
  • Contact your doctor(s) or therapist(s) before you leave to schedule necessary treatments.
  • Pack items that will make traveling more comfortable, such as a heating pad, a hot-water bottle, a low-back cushion or foam pillows.

About one in five Americans copes with chronic pain, according to the American Chronic Pain Association. For many, chronic pain can be debilitating, causing limited mobility, sleeplessness, fatigue and a loss of independence and productivity. Because of this, chronic pain takes a toll emotionally as well as physically, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain—continuous pain that lasts more than three months—don’t assume it’s something you must learn to live with. While no magic remedy or procedure will end chronic pain for good, combining a variety of pain-easing therapies can help restore your well-being. Working closely with knowledgeable healthcare providers and pain management specialists can help you manage your pain day to day, so you’re in control—not the pain.

Getting help

Chronic pain can be brought on by ongoing health conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, low back problems and nerve damage, that affect your organs, bones, muscles, joints and skin. In some cases, however, no one cause of chronic pain can be pinpointed.

Because the causes of chronic pain are so varied and sufferers’ perception of pain differs from person to person, treatment options are individually tailored for each patient. What works for you may not work for someone else.

Pain relief with medication

Medication can keep chronic pain from disrupting daily life. Since all pain relievers—even over-the-counter (OTC) ones—have potentially serious side effects such as stomach irritation or liver damage, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before you begin taking any drug. OTC drugs include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).

Prescription medications for pain relief include narcotics, seizure medications, muscle relaxants, anti-convulsants, opioids, antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs called COX-2 inhibitors. (Two COX-2 inhibitors were found to increase the risk for heart problems, which raises speculation about the safety of COX-2 drugs still available.) Your healthcare provider can help you find the right medication, but you must be sure to inform him or her of every medication you’re taking, since drug interactions can cause problems. For example, OTC drugs taken with prescription medication can make you more likely to develop gastrointestinal bleeding.

When oral drugs aren’t enough, doctors control some types of pain by injecting the pain site with an anesthesia solution that numbs the nerve or with pain relievers and corticosteroids. In some cases, an intrathecal drug pump can be implanted to disperse medication. As a last resort, physicians can perform surgery on nerves.

Other options

Your doctor may take a multi-disciplinary approach to pain by combining medication with nondrug therapies. Not only can this approach help manage your pain, but it can help improve your overall well-being, too. To relieve pain and develop the skills you need to deal with pain, your doctor may recommend a combination of the following:

  • physical therapy to build muscle strength and improve flexibility
  • occupational therapy to identify activities that trigger pain and find ways to avoid or adapt to them
  • psychological therapy, or counseling, to change your reaction to pain, ease family problems or cope with depression
  • support groups to provide understanding
  • complementary and alternative pain relief methods, including acupuncture, aquatic therapy, chiropractic care, biofeedback and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, a method of stimulating your nerves using electrodes placed on your skin
  • stress-relief practices, including meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and guided imagery, which can take your mind off pain and reduce tensions that aggravate pain

What you can do

Leading a healthy lifestyle can help increase your energy, strengthen your body, lift your spirits and help you cope with chronic pain. Try these steps to overcome suffering:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition gives you energy and may decrease inflammation. Losing excess weight can also help.
  • Exercise. Unused muscles feel more pain than toned, flexible ones. Ask your doctor to recommend safe exercises.
  • Sleep tight. When you’re well rested, you’re better able to cope with pain. Unfortunately, pain can rob you of a good-night’s sleep. Effective medication, combined with exercise and other therapies, can help you get the zzzs you need.
  • Communicate. Joining a support group and talking to others can give you an emotional outlet and validate your feelings.