Coping with Chronic Pain

CORE Health Care
Coping with Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is unrelieved pain that lasts for longer than three months. This often occurs when the pain mechanism in the body no longer works correctly or when certain diseases that are associated with pain become chronic for unknown reasons. Usually, the source or cause of the chronic pain is not known. Examples of chronic pain include continuous back and/or neck pain, diabetic neuropathy, ongoing headaches, interstitial cystitis, and fibromyalgia. A variation of chronic pain is intermittent pain, which is when pain-free times alternate with weeks or months of daily pain. Types of intermittent pain include migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome (Caudill, 1995).

Even if there is no clear understanding of the cause of the pain, when we experience pain, we often feel pressure to act on its presence and to resolve the problem. Pain is adaptive when it is a warning of danger or harm and there is something that can be done about it. However, when the pain is constant and with no clear reason, it can be a source of physical and emotional stress. Such stress can further increase the pain by causing fatigue, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping (Caudill, 1995).

When experiencing ongoing severe pain, life's daily stressors become magnified and appear to be insurmountable obstacles. It can lead to depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, feelings of inadequacy, and feelings of being "beaten down" and abandoned.

So, what can be done to cope with such chronic pain?

1. Utilizing relaxation techniques can help to reduce the stress caused by the chronic pain, making it easier to cope with stressors of daily life, in spite of the pain. In addition, relaxing the body can help to reduce the experience of pain (i.e., through the release of "endorphins", natural pain-killers released by the brain during deep relaxation and through the decrease of the secondary symptoms caused by stress, such as the fatigue, muscle tension, and insomnia mentioned above). There are many types of relaxation techniques, such as focusing on one's breath, focusing one's mind on a repetitive phrase, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization.

Example: Close your eyes. Breathe in and out slowly three times. Imagine that you can see your breath entering your body as a pink mist. See and feel that pink mist circulating healing energy throughout your body. See and feel it surround your pain, soothing it. See it leave your body as a blue mist, as you exhale, taking your pain with it.

2. Increasing your level of pleasurable activities is very important. People with chronic pain tend to think that they cannot or do not deserve to engage in pleasurable activities. Yet, this is very important, both for distraction from the pain and for decrease of the depression that may result from the pain.

3. Changing your thoughts about the pain and changing your thoughts about yourself for having the pain may be necessary. Many people tend to put themselves down for having chronic pain, as they may think of themselves as inadequate to meet this challenge or that they are defective. One of the most powerful tools for changing the way that you think is to notice your "self-talk" and to rephrase it or challenge it. For example, if you say to yourself, in response to having chronic pain, "I'm defective," then you are likely to experience feelings of depression or low self-esteem. Notice the difference when you change this to: "Being in pain curtails my activities, but it does not reflect on my character" (Caudill, 1995).

4. Pace yourself. Engaging in an activity routine that alternates between more or less physically demanding activities can help you to increase your activity level and decrease your pain. Consider asking others for assistance, when possible. Be sure to include in your schedule some high-quality recuperative time. The body has a chance to recuperate most effectively when it is not in a constant state of exhaustion (Caudill, 1995).

5. Poor sleep quality or insomnia can make the experience of pain much worse. Good quality sleep is necessary for rejuvenating and repairing the body. In addition, poor sleep can increase the risk for depression. Here are some recommendations to improve your sleep (Caudill, 1995):

  • Have a regular bedtime and wake-up time
  • If naps are necessary, sleep only for 30-45 minutes
  • Take a hot shower or bath about 2 hours before sleep
  • A small carbohydrate snack before bed can induce sleep
  • If sleep is delayed or you have trouble falling back to sleep for more than 30 minutes, get up and do something until you feel sleepy again
  • Utilize a relaxation technique before you go to bed or if you wake up during the night.

These are just a few basic techniques for coping with chronic pain. Here are some suggestions for further reading about coping with pain.


Benson, H. (1975). The Relaxation Response. William Morrow: New York, NY.

Caudill, M. A. (1995). Managing Pain Before It Manages You. The Guilford Press: New York, NY.

Ellis, A. & Grieger, R. (1977). Handbook of Rational-Emotive Therapy. Springer: New York, NY.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Delacorte Press: New York, NY.

Seligman, M. (1991). Learned Optimism. Knopf: New York, NY.

Posted on BrainLine September 29, 2009.

From CORE Health Care. Used with permission.

Comments (12)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Thanks for the information. Healthier ways of coping included exercise, meditation and yoga, or just breathing deeply. I read alot about Chronic Pain in You can also check there website. They have lots of information about Chronic Pain.

I have been dealing with chronic pain for 17 years, I have tried to do various types of treatments... I have seen about 60 something doctors all about the same problem, they say I'm unique, but no answers to the problem... I have tried numerous prescriptions and over the counter, pain relieve.... My leg is numb as I am typing this with pain shooting from my hip to my knee. When I was 15 years old, my left leg swelled up to the size of a watermelon and my knee cap ended up in the back of my leg all while I was walking up a slightly inclined hill... I could not move, it felt like I hit a brick wall... Well, the doctor named Dr. Doe at children's hospital in Cincinnati Ohio operated on my leg on October 2nd, 2000, it was supposed to be an hour long surgery I went under around noon and woke up at 4... The first thing she told me after I threw up was ( your not gonna be able to walk again EVER, I screwed up) well apparently my mom who was there ( god rest her sole) signed a paper saying she will not sue... Well, anyways that's when all the other doctors came into play, the physical therapy, anger Management classes, physic evaluations. The other two doctors I saw at children's hospital, Dr. Mellmen and Dr. Goldsniger. Dr. Mellmen a year after the surgery picks my leg up and dropped it my knee popped out, that was the last time I saw him... Dr. Goldsniger was a good doctor he listens and tried to help but with doctor Mellmen doing that to my leg I couldn't see Dr. Goldsniger because by the time I healed from that I was 18 and was not allowed to he was seen by them anymore... Let's just say those years I worked my butt off making money til my leg got worse by the time I was 20... I still worked but nothing I really wanted to do which was construction... I applied for disability in 2008, four years later I was approved. Well by the time I was approved I seen from 2000 to 2011 I saw 20 doctors. After that I was seen by us pain management which I got my nerves buried in my back, I saw some other doctors where I had my leg electrocute to test the nerves (let's say that was not a good test) another doctor was shooting cord alone shoots in my left hip. I have been through a lot in the last 17 years. But nothing is helping this pain its consist no matter wad i do or doing (oh water therapy treatments also.....) i want to remove the leg but my problem is the pain is at the knee and above the knee, i might as well have my nerve in my leg cut completely so i can stop having this pain... But the doctors I have reached out to do not do that I need help. My right leg is starting to hurt more cause I have to put my weight on it all the time... My bad for rambling... Thanks

I am surprised that I don't see more comments about the benefits of medical marijuana or CBD in regards to pain issues. It is sad that it is not legal in every state because prescription pharmaceutical medications can cause so many horrible side effects and overdoses.

Hang in there... you're doing fine

Good information on coping. However, migraine can be chronic, not just intermittent. It's possible to have a migraine attack (which includes a lot more symptoms than headache) every moment of every day.

I was in a bad car accident 21 years ago and I'm now 37. I hug onto Jesus everyday because living with daily burning brain pain and little relief with lots of stress makes life seen impossible. He gives me peace and comfort and I'm thankful for that. I just wish that the medical system was more geared towards helping us with chronic pain. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there. God bless you all on here.

My pain isn't any better and the government has made it harder for us "ME" to get the   Prescriptions We need Every Day! I can't drive and I live alone witch makes it very hard to get my Percocet. The government Doesn't Suffer from chronic Pain and they Don't seem to care !   

Sad there's so little help for us suffering,now w the crazy drug abuse n war ib patients, its near impossible, its very hard to stay positive n cope, god bless all left in the rain w real pain, everyday is a losing battle n i need to care for dying sick parent, seems care isnt to predominant in this country n its very sad...

Strengthen your faith "muscles" and put your trust in the Lord.  I have had various forms of chronic pain for over thirty years and have survived two separate traumatic brain injuries from auto accidents.  I offer a message of hope and healing in my book, "A Mosaic of the Heart:  Inspirational Artistry".  It contains some of my paintings, poems, and selected bible verses.   The poem entitled 'My Identity' addresses the real "you" after TBI.  Visit my website at:

For more years than I can remember I suffered with what was finally diagnosed as Fibromyalgia. Along with all of the other symptoms, irritable bowel, insomnia, brain fog, etc., the chronic pain was unbearable. Unable to teach, I pursued all manner of treatment, both holistic and medical. Still the pain intensified. I could no longer care for my home, my beloved dogs, or myself. With no where left to turn I was planning to spend whatever time I had left suffering in a nursing home. Unexpectedly an uncle phoned to tell me about the amazing body, mind, spirit wellness work of Joy of Healing founders, Andrew and Tamara Overlee, that helped him and so many others with all manner of dis ease. Thanks to their unique work I have been both pain and prescription free for more than a decade. I have my life back! Never give up in your search for healing.
For one year and one month now, I was involved in a work related injury. I was unconscious upon the impact of car crushed, regained my consciousness after hours of same day.Though the MRI was negative, but the NVG test suggests that I have vestibular malfunction.I was diagnosed with severe TBI. Been to diff. rehab. but still experiencing chronic headaches, dizziness,balance, loss of short term memory, difficulty concentration. Eleven months after injury i was hospitalized for ten days for major depression which according to my Psychiatrist is secondary to my TBI problem. Until now, more than a year from the injury I have not been backed to work. Experiencing the physical and mental effects of TBI, and the emotional effect have been difficult challenge to my every day life.
I was involved in a very serious motor vehicle accident a few years ago resulting in a 1 month long coma and then need to relearn walk/talk (at 20 years old) in hospital for one year, a place where the only person who actually cares about your wellbeing is yourself and your family. It changed absolutely everything about my entire world. My point is that i know all about chronic pain - initially it was different parts of my body inclusive but now its only a few daily headaches and short term memory loss. I know for a fact that its true that the only person you can really rely upon is yourself (if you truly want to) and at the end of the day these suggestions really do help, along with (constant quiet) endurance, but i assume that people who have chronic pain aleady know this, so good luck to all who suffer and keep on keeping on, like i do :)