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How to cope with chronic pain

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Mindful meditationPhysical activity  Natural remediesMental Health TherapyTriggersSensory deprivationAcupunctureMedical treatmentSummary
Chronic pain can affect your work and quality of life. You can use strategies such as meditation, physical activity, and talk therapy to relieve your pain.
Medically reviewed by Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP
Written by Suan Pineda
Updated on

Chronic pain affects about 21% of adults in the United States. Pain becomes chronic when it lasts more than 3 months and can result from an injury or medical condition.

Chronic pain can affect your quality of life and professional life. According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, 7.4% of adults with chronic pain experience work disruptions because of their pain. 

Doctors often prescribe medications in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other pain relievers to treat chronic pain. But other treatment options are also available. Let’s take a look at these alternatives to manage pain.

Mindful meditation

Adult female sitting crosslegged in a meditative position coping with chronic pain
Olena Smyrnova/Getty Images

Mindful meditation is a practice that trains you to focus your attention on the present. Mindfulness meditation is effective at reducing stress and can help you manage pain.

A 2019 study found that mindfulness meditation reduces the severity of pain and lowers the emotional distress that chronic pain causes.

Learn more about how to practice mindfulness.

Physical activity

Physical activity and exercises can help relieve chronic pain. Exercise can help lower inflammation and increase your flexibility and mobility. This, in turn, can reduce pain and strengthen your muscles and bones.

Keep in mind while exercising, do not put too much strain on yourself. Some options include:

  • swimming
  • walking
  • yoga 
  • pilates

Learn more about exercises to reduce chronic pain.

Natural remedies for chronic inflammation

You can also try natural remedies and at-home strategies to help relieve your pain.

Some of these include:

  • Turmeric: The active ingredient in turmeric, known as curcumin, has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2021 study found that turmeric had similar effects on pain as NSAIDs on people with osteoarthritis. 
  • Ginger: Ginger is known to help reduce inflammation and pain. According to a 2020 review of studies, ginger’s antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties proved effective in lowering pain.
  • Lavender essential oil: Applying lavender essential oil on the part of your body that hurts can help reduce pain. According to a 2015 study, lavender essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and its effect is comparable to the pain relief medication tramadol.

Learn more about essential oils that can help you with your pain.

Other natural remedies and at-home therapies you may consider are:

Mental health therapies and practices 

Mental health professionals commonly recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a treatment option for people with chronic pain. CBT is a type of talk therapy that looks into the way your thoughts and beliefs affect your feelings — both emotional and physical. 

In fact, research from 2022 found CBT to be highly effective in reducing chronic pain when combined with exercise. 

Talk with a healthcare professional or a mental health professional about CBT sessions and whether this therapy is right for you.

Another mental health practice that can help relieve chronic pain is grounding exercise, which helps you put your focus on the present.

Some of the techniques that may help reduce chronic pain can be:

  • Physical: deep breathing, going on a walk, focusing on your surroundings 
  • Mental: playing memory games, counting, and reciting a poem 

Learn more about grounding exercises here.

Identify and avoid triggers

Some foods and drinks can trigger pain. It may be helpful to identify the foods and drinks that worsen your pain and tend to increase inflammation, such as alcohol and fried foods.

Stress can also be a trigger for pain. During moments of stress, your body releases cortisol, increasing inflammation. 

Avoiding drinks and foods that cause inflammation, avoiding smoking (if you smoke), and reducing stress can help lower chronic pain. 

Sensory deprivation

Sensory deprivation therapy involves immersing yourself in a flotation tank filled with salt water. In this environment, you’re in isolation from outside stimulation, such as sound, light, and gravity. The aim is that your brain enters a state of deep relaxation. 

Sensory deprivation therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety, relax muscles, and reduce pain. 

Research on the efficacy of sensory deprivation therapy is inconclusive. An older 2014 study and a more recent 2021 study found that this type of therapy can help relieve pain in the short term. However, a 2021 study found no benefits of sensory deprivation therapy in the reduction of pain in the long term. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture consists of inserting fine needles at certain points in the body. This makes the body produce pain-relieving substances like endorphins.

Research shows that the benefits of acupuncture in people with chronic pain can last a year after the end of treatment.

Medical treatment

Depending on the cause and severity of your pain, a doctor may recommend one or more medications to help manage it.

It’s essential to discuss any pain medication with a doctor and to follow their instructions when using it, as some types of pain medication can lead to dependence.

Medical options for managing pain include:

Know more about gabapentin here.

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Summary

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than 3 months and can result from an injury or a medical condition. About a fifth of adults in the United States have chronic pain.

Apart from medications, there are other options to help you manage chronic pain, such as exercises, meditation, psychotherapy, and natural remedies.

Always check with a doctor before using or changing any pain medication, as there may be interactions with other drugs. In addition, some pain medications involve a risk of dependence. A doctor can help you work out a suitable strategy for managing your pain.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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