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Gain control of your pain

Pain is now considered the “5th vital sign.”  Vital signs describe the most basic bodily functions: heart beat, blood pressure, breathing rate and temperature. They are vital to life. By adding pain to this set, it elevates it to the same level and urges proper treatment. After all, pain management is a basic human right that demands compassion and respect – and access to timely treatment.

The goal of pain management is to minimize suffering from pain while improving your level of function and quality of life. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate pain from diseases such as osteoarthritis, there are steps we can take in order to gain control.

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

Harness Distractions

Let’s face it, it’s difficult to do two things well at the same time. Try cooking dinner while helping the kids do their calculus homework, or counting backwards from one hundred while writing the alphabet — difficult or impossible. Engaging in activities such as listening to music, reading, gardening or Pinterest, to name a few, 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, anytime.   

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 deteriorate. In other words, “use it or lose it.” Staying active, within realistic limits, can help you remain flexible and strong and decrease re-injury as well as your sense of suffering. Exercising also helps by releasing endorphins—your body’s natural painkiller and mood enhancer. Discuss with your health care provider 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 your 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, your doctor 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). Speak with your healthcare provider to see if this is a viable option for you.

Substance Use

There is no doubt that 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 is deadly.      


Studies have shown that this form of alternative medicine can relieve pain by about 50 percent. While the mechanism is not completely understood, it is believed that the insertion of hair thin needles alleviates suffering from chronic pain possibly by affecting neurotransmitters, hormone levels, the immune system or the nerves themselves. When administered by a trained practitioner, the 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.

September is Pain Awareness Month and for many people with chronic pain, living a full and active life may seem impossible.   It is actually possible to increase the level of function – and quality life – while reducing a sense of suffering. The key, like anything in life, is to have the right skills, support and direction.

The American Chronic Pain Association wants everyone to know that while medicine has made remarkable advances to eradicate some diseases, cure others and extend life, chronic pain is still one we are struggling to understand and improve. The good news is advances have been (and are being) made in helping people to manage pain. 

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.   Dr. Nina has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms.  Always consult your doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions or questions. 

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing wise preventive health measures.

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