8 Ways to Cope With Side Effects of Chronic Pain

Physical therapist examining man's back

Chronic pain is a debilitating condition for the millions of people who live with its side effects every day. Being in even temporary pain is not easy, but pain that doesn't go away is especially challenging. While medication significantly helps pain treatment, it is often not enough to control all of the symptoms. When chronic pain is poorly controlled, living with it can feel unbearable.

Side Effects of Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain limits what you can do. Chronic pain can interfere with your ability to work, play with your children, walk, or even take care of yourself. Pain can even cause what is known as disuse syndrome, which is the medical way of saying “use it or lose it.” To avoid pain, many people limit the amount of things they do in a day. Eventually, this causes weakness, which leads to even less activity, and a cycle is formed.

One's psychological state plays a huge role in the effect chronic pain has on your life. If you or someone you know has chronic pain, you may notice irritability, anger, depression, and difficulty concentrating. The psychological side effects of living with chronic pain can be as debilitating as the pain itself. This is what makes chronic pain such a complex condition.

Develop Coping Skills

While you may see a grim picture when you think of living with chronic pain, keep in mind that these are worst-case scenarios. In reality, many people continue to live healthy, productive lives in spite of their pain. This is because they have found ways to cope with the pain, either through medications, alternative treatments, or a combination of the two.


Don’t lose it; use it. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about a safe exercise program that is right for you. When you live with chronic pain, exercise helps you maintain your mobility. It also keeps your muscles active and your joints flexible, which alleviates the symptoms of chronic pain. Regular exercise also prevents disuse syndrome, a condition in which muscles become weak from inactivity. Weak muscles are more vulnerable to pain and can even cause other injuries.

Find the Right Medication

While it can be frustrating to try different prescriptions, sampling a variety may ultimately lead you to a medication that works. Because there are so many types of medications that control chronic pain, it can take many months to find the one that works best for you. You may be worried about taking medication for the rest of your life, as well as living with its side effects. You may also be concerned about painkiller addiction.

While most pain medications are safe and effective when taken correctly, you should mention any concerns to your doctor. He can help you weigh the pros and cons of popular pain relieving medications, as well as fully explain the risks associated with taking them. If you are having problems with your medications, ask your doctor about making a change. Suddenly stopping or changing your pain medication can have unexpected side effects that may be worse, or even dangerous.

Explore Alternative and Complementary Treatments

Used alone or combined with medications, alternative and complementary treatments (CAMs) can be a powerful tool in learning to live with chronic pain. Examples of commonly used CAM's for chronic pain include massage, magnetic therapy, energy medicine, acupuncture, and herbal medicine.

Learn to Relax

Stress causes muscle tension, which can increase the amount of pain you feel. Allowing muscles to relax reduces strain and decreases pain sensations. Learning to relax your body can help you control your pain without the use of additional medications.

Relaxation is a pain management tool that can be used on its own, or in combination with other treatments. Yoga and guided imagery are useful in decreasing stress and muscle tension, major contributors to the intensity of chronic pain. Yoga uses a series of poses combined with deep breathing to relax your mind and your body. Guided imagery uses meditation to calm your mental state.

Get Help

Don’t try to do everything by yourself. It doesn’t hurt to get a little help now and then, especially on your hardest days. Let your neighbor pick something up at the store for you or your mom watch the kids, so you can take a nap. Use this time to rest or complete minor chores that won’t aggravate your pain.

Seek Support

One in 10 Americans has suffered from chronic pain at some point in their lives. Chances are that someone close to you understands exactly what living with chronic pain is like. Finding a support group or even a supportive friend can help you learn to live with chronic pain. Not only do your peers have advice and tips on what techniques and products worked for them, but they can also be a sympathetic ear when you need to talk.

Do Your Own Research

There are several websites that exist solely to provide information about chronic pain and many others related to specific illnesses and injuries. These sites are a great resource for general information as well as news about medications and treatments. Many sites offer book reviews as well. Keeping yourself informed and educated about your condition can help you maintain a good quality of life while living with chronic pain.

Here are a few good places to start:

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Article Sources

  • American Occupational Therapy Association. Tips for Managing Chronic Pain.

  • America Pain Foundation. Treatment Options: A Guide for People Living with Pain.

  • Health, United States, 2007. Centers for Disease Control.

  • National Pain Foundation. Tips for Dealing with Your Pain.