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Chronic Pain

Behavioral Medicine for Chronic Pain

Active pain management in an era of opioid restrictions

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More than 100 million Americans are living with ongoing pain and looking for solutions. With various national and state restrictions on prescription opioids, doctors, prescribers and patients alike have wondered: what's best for chronic pain?

Healthcare providers and patients have been looking—sometimes desperately—for accessible, low-cost, accessible non-opioid solutions for chronic pain. Here are some tips to help get you started.

(1) All pain is real. And there are things you can do to help yourself. If you have chronic pain, you have a real medical condition. And still—on a daily basis the choices you make can help your pain improve or worsen. Becoming empowered with the right information can help you steer yourself closer to relief, even within the context of major medical conditions.

(2) Learn about the role of psychology in pain management. Pain neurobiology reveals that the intensity of pain is influenced by thoughts, emotions, daily choices, exercise, activity level, sleep, and stress—to name just a few factors. Virtually all of these factors fall under the broad umbrella of psychology; treatments that target these factors are often referred to as ‘behavioral medicine’.

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Using evidence-based behavioral medicine skills can help ensure your daily choices are focused on keeping your pain low. You begin taking an active role in your health by focusing daily on what you can do to manage symptoms and feel better. Even small self-soothing actions can calm mind and body and quell the distress that naturally accompanies pain.

(3) Avoid the trap of thinking that behavioral medicine will not work for you because you have a serious medical diagnosis. Behavioral medicine will not eliminate your medical condition or your pain. However, behavioral medicine can greatly reduce the its impact on your comfort and quality of life. By regularly applying skills that serve to calm your nervous system, you will lessen your pain and related distress thereby freeing up energy to focus on doing more of the things you love.

(4) Know that behavioral medicine works alongside pain medications, including opioids. Some patients require opioid medication to manage their pain. People taking opioids or other pain medications can benefit from behavioral medicine for pain as much as those who are not.

(5) Take advantage of existing, targeted resources. Healthcare providers have lacked critical access to packaged information that they can hand out to their patients at point-of-care—information that will steer them towards understanding how to engage in their own care and cultivate their power to control pain. Similarly, many people with chronic pain are unsure about best resources. Here are recommended resources for healthcare providers, people living with chronic pain, and family members:

  • The American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) (lists events, local support groups, pain management toolkits, resources, educational videos, mobile apps)
  • The Pain Toolkit (pain self-management website with tip sheets, handouts, mobile apps)
  • The Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit: 10 Simple Steps to Ease Your Pain © 2016 by Beth Darnall, PhD (written in simple language that is easy to read, this practical book helps patients understand how to help themselves feel better—by applying skills that reduce pain processing in the nervous system. Comes with a binaural pain relief audio CD).
  • The Pain Survival Guide a book by Winter and Turk.
  • The Chronic Pain Self-Management Guide by Sandra LeFort