A guide to managing pain

What is pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensation and is very personal. In the same painful situation, different people may feel and describe the pain differently. This is because our past experiences, our feelings of stress, anxiety, fear and being out of control, can affect the levels of pain and how well we can bear with it.

Pain can be classified into either acute or chronic.

Acute pain is temporary. It serves as a useful alarm to protect and prevent the body from further harm and allow healing. Have you ever sprained your ankle and found it too painful to walk on it for a while? Or do you remember having leg cramps during running or swimming? These are the temporary signals sent by your body to alert you that you are injured or your body is overworked and it is time to rest and let it heal.

Most of the time, once our injury starts to heal, the pain signal will also start to decrease. However in some people, the pain signal ‘forgets’ to stop. It is constantly activated, even after the injury is fully healed. This leads to persistent pain, also known as chronic pain.

In addition, for some people who suffer from chronic pain, their pain can behave like an overly sensitive fire alarm, which simply rings with any change in temperature. That is why sometimes they felt that their pain can come on randomly and even the lightest touch can trigger their pain. Their pain is real but sometimes due to the lack of understanding, others may think that they are over exaggerating. This could add on to their frustration.

Because chronic pain can cause so much trouble and distress to people’s lives, a lot of people, including yourself might have tried various treatments and seek many second opinions to cure the pain. Unknowingly, you let the pain control you and you depend on others for a solution. However, by now, you might have also realised that you have been walking in circles and always ending up with disappointments.

It is important to know that chronic pain is not just a symptom but a disease itself, just like diabetes and high blood pressure. Like any chronic diseases, it is unlikely to cure the disease completely but you can change how much it affects your life by managing it.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, what can you do?

Acceptance is a key. It does not mean that you are giving up to let the pain take control of you. It just means that you are willing to move on from your old ways of coping. It is also about stopping yourself from getting upset and frustrated about what you cannot do and giving yourself a chance to try new approaches of doing things and managing your pain.

Once you accept your pain and take charge of your own pain management, you will find yourself more in control and less dependent on healthcare providers.

It should be recognised that during the process of pain management, you may have some bad days and pain seems to act up again, but fret not! This is part of the journey and you will learn from these experiences. There are also some useful tools that you can consider to manage it too.

Firstly, whenever you are experiencing pain, you need to calm down and analyse the situation:

  1. Is this pain something new? Is it a new injury that you have sustained?
  2. Was there a situation where you might have hurt yourself and the pain started? Like a fall?

If yes, it is always advisable that you seek medical attention to rule out possible causes of your pain.

If not, use these tools from your pain toolbox to help yourself:

  1. Pace: Are you doing more than what your body can handle? It is always tempting to do too much on good days and end up with days of increase pain and rest in bed. If so, remember to spread out your workload, take breaks or do some exercises in between.
  2. Posture: Are you putting yourself in a poor posture for too long again? Your everyday posture is a subtle yet important factor that can cause pain. Be more aware and moving can help!
  3. Exercises: Exercises promote movements in the joints, reduce tightness in the muscles and improve your muscle strength and endurance. Pain relieving hormones that are released during exercises can also help you to control the pain better.
  4. Relax: Are you feeling anxious or stressed? Listening to some music, spending some quiet time to clear your mind and do deep breathing exercises are some activities that can help you to calm down and reduce your pain.
  5. Diary: It can be helpful to note down in a diary what work well and what did not work well for you so that you will minimize repeating the same mistake. You can also use it to keep track of your progress so far.
  6. Plans: Always have a plan B and plan ahead. This will give yourself other options to do things when you have a flare up. Your very own diary can give you some useful tips.
  7. Medicine: They can serve you well during such instances too. Taking the right amount of pain medication (i.e. quantity, frequency and timing) can help you handle the pain better and move better.
  8. Sufficient sleep: Getting enough rest will allow the body to recover and feel refresh. Always remember to practice good sleeping habits!

Finally, be patient with yourself. It may be a long journey before you see any improvement but it will be also be the most satisfying and rewarding moment when you are finally in control of your life again.

The next time you experience pain, remember:

Take Charge, Analyse and Open Your Pain Toolbox

You may also want to seek professional help to assist you in your pain management plan.

I have pain, but pain doesn't have me”