Dealing with chronic pain

In medicine, we use the term “vital signs” to describe the most basic bodily functions: heart beat, blood pressure, breathing rate, and temperature. They are vital to life. Pain has recently been named the “5th vital sign” in order to elevate it to the same level and urge proper treatment. After all, pain relief is a basic human right that demands compassion and respect.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know about Treatment Options for Chronic Pain:

Harness Distractions

Let’s face it, it’s difficult to do two things well at once. Try counting backwards from 100 while writing the alphabet—difficult or impossible. Engaging in knitting, listening to music, gardening, crossword puzzles, reading, and other activities can help divert our brain from processing pain.

Deep Breathing

There is a Chinese Adage that states: “If you know the art of breathing you have the strength, wisdom, and courage of ten tigers.” There are a number of breathing techniques that can help divert our pain. By focusing on the breath, quieting our mind, and repeating a word or phrase, the body can be made to relax. The best part about it is that we can do it anywhere. I am tiger, hear me breath.

Keep it Moving

Although pain may tempt us to curl up in bed, doing so can make it worse by causing our muscles, tendons, and ligaments to atrophy and deteriorate. Staying active, within realistic limits, can help us remain flexible and strong and decrease re-injury as well as our sense of suffering. Exercising also helps by releasing endorphins—our body’s natural painkiller and mood enhancer. Discuss with your doctor what physical activities are safe and can work for you.

Talk Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method used to help cope with a health problem by changing how we think; much like the saying “mind over matter.” CBT teaches us to identify discouraging thoughts and learn to replace them with helpful ones. This can decrease the stress, anxiety, and depression that may result from chronic pain.


This technique teaches us how to control our stress responses (tensed muscles and increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate). Sensors are attached to our bodies and connected to a computer. This allows us to literally “see” our bodily functions on a screen. By becoming aware of what is going on inside our bodies, we can then implement relaxation techniques and get immediate feedback to help us figure out how to control our stress responses.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

In physical therapy, we are taught exercises and given treatments that help increase mobility and build strength. In occupational therapy, we are taught how to perform activities of daily living (bathing, cooking, dressing ourselves). In other words, we acquire techniques that help us work around our pain.


Prescription painkillers may be appropriate when taken as directed and monitored by our physician. It should also be known that pain relief is not limited to narcotics. There are a number of other medications that work well to ease pain, including seizure and depression drugs. When appropriate, our doctors may custom tailor a combination of medications to achieve the best results.


In some situations, going under the knife can, literally, help with chronic pain (joint pain may be relieved with hip and knee replacements; back pain with epidural injections, surgery, or spinal cord stimulators). Let’s speak with our doctors to see if this is a viable option for us.

Substance Use

Chronic pain can cause tremendous suffering. Unfortunately, this can lead some to go down the path of drinking and drug abuse to allay their pain. In addition to causing numerous problems, alcohol and narcotics should never ever be taken together; the combination can kill.


Inserting hair thin needles can alleviate suffering from chronic pain possibly by affecting neurotransmitters, hormone levels, the immune system, or the nerves themselves. Studies have shown that it can relieve pain by about 50 percent. When administered by a trained practitioner, the chance of complications and potential adverse effects are very low.

Join a Support Group

It helps to talk to someone who “gets it.” Speaking with others who are experiencing chronic pain can provide a forum for sharing personal experiences, providing and receiving sympathetic support, learning about resources, and establishing social networks.

One (hundred million) too many Americans suffer from chronic pain. And one too many do so in silence. Some have even described it as an invisible illness because the person suffering often looks fine on the outside. However the pain can scream loudly on the inside and can cause tremendous suffering and disability. Let’s stop suffering in silence by speaking up and seeking help.

This information is for educational purposes and should not be considered specific medical advice. Always consult with a qualified medical professional regarding your individual circumstances.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing wise preventive health measures. Contact her on Facebook or Twitter @drninaradcliff.

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