5 Tips to Manage Chronic Pain
1. Knowledge is power
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that understanding how pain works is a key strategy in managing it. Simply knowing the basics of how our brain and nerves work and their role in pain, can decrease your chance of developing chronic symptoms. Learn more.
2. Keep moving (gradually and steadily)
Living an active, healthy lifestyle not only improves our general well-being and health, but can also reduce our chances of developing chronic pain. Our body was built to move, and we need to understand that not all aches or soreness is cause for concern. Learn more.
3. Spend time with a physical therapist
If you experience an injury, or develop the onset of pain, seeing a physical therapist early on can help address and manage your symptoms. Physical therapists use the latest evidence to design treatment plans for each person's individual needs, challenges, and goals to improve mobility, manage pain and other chronic conditions, recover from injury, and prevent future injury and chronic disease. Accessing care early by a physical therapist reduces your chances of developing chronic symptoms. Learn more.
4. Focus less on the image
While most of us want a diagnostic image (ie, x-ray, MRI) to tell us "why we hurt," images actually give us little information about what's causing pain. A study performed on individuals aged 60 years or older, who had no symptoms of low back pain, found that more than 90% had a degenerated or bulging disc, 36% had a herniated disc, and 21% had spinal stenosis. What shows up on an image may or may not be related to your symptoms. Once imaging has cleared you of a serious condition, your physical therapist will help optimize your quality of life with a combination of prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and education.
5. Addressing depression and anxiety helps
Your chances of developing chronic pain may be higher if you also are experiencing depression and anxiety. A recent study in the Journal of Pain showed that depression, as well as some of our thoughts about pain prior to total knee replacement, was related to long-term pain following the procedure. Talk to your medical provider about any mental health concerns during your treatment, following an injury or surgery.
Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To locate a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.
Find a PT near you!
The American Physical Therapy Association launched a national campaign to raise awareness about the risks of opioids and the safe alternative of physical therapy for long-term pain management. Learn more about safe pain management.
Authored by Joseph Brence, PT, DPT
Louw A, Farrell K, Landers M, et al. The effect of manual therapy and neuroplasticity education on chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. J Man Manip Ther. 2017;25(5):227–234. Article Summary in PubMed.
Louw A, Zimney K, Puentedura EJ, Diener I. The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: a systematic review of the literature. Physiother Theory Pract. 2016;32(5):332–355. Article Summary in PubMed.
Leung A, Gregory NS, Allen LA, Sluka KA. Regular physical activity prevents chronic pain by altering resident muscle macrophage phenotype and increasing interleukin-10 in mice. Pain. 2016;157(1):70–79. Free Article.
Fritz JM, Magel JS, McFadden M, et al. Early physical therapy vs usual care in patients with recent-onset low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2015;314(14):1459–1467. Free Article.
Burns LC, Ritvo SE, Ferguson MK, Clarke H, Seltzer Z, Katz J. Pain catastrophizing as a risk factor for chronic pain after total knee arthroplasty: a systematic review. J Pain Res. 2015;8:21–32. Free Article.
Louw A, Diener I, Landers MR, Puentedura EJ. Preoperative pain neuroscience education for lumbar radiculopathy: a multicenter randomized controlled trial with 1-year follow-up. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2014;39(18):1449–1457. Article Summary in PubMed.
Baker AD. Abnormal magnetic-resonance scans of the lumbar spine in asymptomatic subjects: a prospective investigation. In: Banaszkiewicz P, Kader D, eds. Classic Papers in Orthopaedics. London, United Kingdom: Springer-Verlag; 2014.