Acute pain serves the essential purpose of alerting you to physical injuries such as a burn or sprain. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is much more complicated.
While people often consider pain as a purely physical sensation, pain also has biological, psychological, and emotional factors. To effectively manage chronic pain, many people require a comprehensive treatment plan to address the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of pain.
Medical treatments, including physical medicine and physical therapy, are often useful in managing chronic pain. Psychological treatments, such as talk therapy, are also an important component of pain management. Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that accompany severe pain can help you cope more effectively with pain—and can ultimately help to reduce the intensity of your pain.
Types of Pain
Chronic pain falls into two separate categories. Because every type of pain must be approached and treated differently, figuring out which kind of pain you’re experiencing can help your pain management specialist determine the most appropriate treatment plan. The two categories of chronic pain are:
- Neuropathic pain: Neuropathic pain is associated with nerve damage or malfunctioning, which can occur due to a physical injury or accident, or during surgery.
- Nociceptive pain: Nociceptive pain is caused by damage, disease, or injury to something other than the nerves. In chronic pain, nociceptors in the brain may still send pain signals after the original injury has healed. This type of pain can be somatic (affecting muscles, bones, skin, or ligaments, e.g., low back pain) or visceral (involving internal organs, i.e., chest pain).
Psychological Challenges Associated with Pain
Living with chronic pain is psychologically distressing and can interfere with your ability to function in everyday life. Some people experience symptoms of mental health conditions, such as:
- Somatic symptom disorder (SSD)
- Anxiety and depression
- Self-esteem issues
- Anger or frustration
- Sleeping issues
- Substance use problems
Pain Management Treatment Options
Chronic pain can result from a combination of physical, psychological, and social factors. As a result, most pain management treatment plans involve a multidisciplinary approach, meaning you might see a few different types of healthcare providers. Depending on the severity and type of pain, your treatment may incorporate a combination of the following treatment options.
- Therapy: Talk therapy can help people struggling with pain address the psychological symptoms of pain, develop healthy pain management strategies, and improve their quality of life.
- Check-ups: If you’re struggling with chronic pain or acute pain, it’s important to schedule regular check-ups with your primary care physician. These appointments can help you rule out any medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms. For example, if you’re experiencing headaches, your clinicians might perform an MRI to rule out the possibility of a tumor.
- Interventional procedures: Your pain physician might recommend interventional techniques, such as steroid injections, trigger point injections, spinal cord stimulators, radiofrequency nerve ablations, medial branch blocks/facet joint injections, and occipital nerve blocks to promote pain relief by treating the exact source of pain. As minimally invasive procedures, most interventional techniques can be performed in a pain management center under local anesthetic.
- Pain medication: Your pain specialist might recommend pain medicine, antidepressants, or other medication to help with pain control and related mental health problems. If pain medications are part of your pain management plan, make sure to use them as prescribed by your pain management specialist to avoid dangerous side effects.
- Exercise: Research has shown that regular physical activity can help in the management of chronic pain. Exercise, such as walking and swimming, stimulates the release of endorphins, which promote pain relief.
- Complementary therapies: In addition to talk therapy, evidence suggests that acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy can help reduce chronic pain.
- Social support: Reaching out to family members and close friends can help with pain management. Research has shown that people with greater social support are more resilient and experience less depression and anxiety.
- Online resources: The American Chronic Pain Association offers educational resources on pain management and pain conditions, along with information on local pain management facilities, pain management specialists, and patient care.
Therapy for Pain Management
In addition to helping you develop healthier ways to cope with pain, working with a mental health professional can help you create a routine to stay on track with your pain management treatment.
Psychological treatment plans typically involve teaching relaxation techniques, identifying problematic beliefs toward pain, developing new coping techniques, and addressing mental health problems that may accompany chronic pain. Some effective treatments in the management of chronic pain include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help you identify problematic thinking and behavioral patterns that worsen the experience of pain and replace them with healthier ones.
- Mindfulness practices: In addition to reducing stress and anxiety and promoting self-compassion, mindfulness practices can help you become more aware of the sensations of pain without viewing them as problematic.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT incorporates components of CBT and mindfulness to encourage an acceptance approach in response to pain.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: Psychodynamic therapy can help people with pain conditions explore past experiences to find the root cause of their pain. One study found psychodynamic treatment reduced depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and denial in new patients.
When working with a mental health specialist, you can expect to discuss your physical and emotional health. During your first visit, your specialist will ask about your pain, when and where it occurs, and the factors that may affect it. Sometimes, new patients are asked to complete a questionnaire during their first visit to record their thoughts and feelings toward their pain.
Whether you’re struggling with cancer pain, headaches, back pain, or another pain problem, reach out to a mental health specialist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements.
One of the licensed therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you make lifestyle changes to help you continue living life to the fullest and develop healthier coping skills to manage your pain effectively.