The vital ingredient for chronic pain relief: self-management
For the 100 million American adults living with chronic pain, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just as the causes of pain vary from person to person, the therapies that will bring relief are many and diverse. Yet one approach has proven universally helpful for people living with chronic health challenges: self-management.
The concept of self-managing your pain doesn’t mean simply taking matters into your own hands, or abandoning your relationship with your doctor. Rather, self-management includes defining your personal goals for treating pain, acting as your own advocate with your doctors, and overseeing the integrated efforts of your team of health care providers.
“We know that chronic pain can be disabling for one in three people who experience it,” says Jan Chambers of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association. “Effective self-management of chronic pain encompasses all aspects of one’s life, from working with your doctor to identify treatments, to making lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising and eating well.”
In its report on chronic pain – “Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research” – the Institute of Medicine emphasizes the importance of self-management.
“Pain management takes place through self-management, primary care, specialty care and pain centers,” the report states. “However, the majority of care and management should take place through self-management ...” The report calls for health care providers to educate people with chronic pain and their families on the value of self-management and effective strategies for achieving it.
The first step toward self-management is recognizing your “symptom cycle,” Chambers says. Pay attention to what prompts your symptoms – perhaps a certain type of activity or time of day – and how they affect you. Discuss this cycle with your providers and explore lifestyle choices that may help manage symptoms.
Tracking your pain and sharing that information with your doctor can help him or her recognize what’s working for you – and, what’s not.
In addition to helping with pain relief, self-management can also help patients improve their interpersonal relationships, Chambers says. Dealing with daily pain is stressful not only for the people experiencing it, but also for friends and family. Those stresses can strain relationships. Taking control through self-management of pain can give patients a feeling of empowerment, and help relieve stress that can harm relationships.
Finally, self-management encompasses lifestyle changes that can help with chronic pain, such as getting regular exercise, pursuing stress-relieving activities such as yoga or tai chi, and setting aside unhealthy habits such as smoking.
“Patients should set doable goals for lifestyle choices that can help them, and work with their health care providers to find out what works for them to relieve their pain,” Chambers adds.
“When you’re dealing with chronic pain, it’s like sitting in a row boat. You have one oar and your health care providers have the other,” Chambers says “You both have to row together at the same time, or your boat is just going to go in circles and you won’t get anywhere.”
To learn more about managing chronic pain, visit www.practicalbioethics.org, the website of the Center for Practical Bioethics and the Pain Action Alliance to Implement a National Strategy (PAINS) or www.fmcpaware.org, the website of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association.