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7 Simple Truths to Help You Manage Chronic Pain

Chronic or long-term pain is surprisingly common. Research has shown that more North Americans are affected by chronic pain than by diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

Some common and painful illnesses, such as arthritis, increase with age. That is why chronic pain also increases with age.

7 Simple Truths to Help You

Below are some simple ideas about chronic pain that can help you understand and work with your injured body. They might help on bad days when you feel particularly beaten down and overwhelmed.

#1: Chronic Pain Is Real, Not Imagined. It Is Never All in Your Head

Chronic pain is a worldwide health problem. It is taken very seriously by the courts, government agencies, insurance companies and medical societies.

Some people in your life may have a hard time understanding why your doctors cannot cure the long-term physical pain you experience. This can be very confusing, even for you. But it is not helpful to doubt what your body is telling you.

#2: You Can’t Get Better Until You Stop Getting Worse

For almost any health problem, there are many things that can make your symptoms or condition worse. Common aggravating factors are poor sleep, over or under activity, prolonged stress or loss and the wrong combination of medications.

The first step is to recognize this pattern. Even by itself, this step can make a big difference. Then try to reduce or contain as many aggravating factors as possible. This will allow your body to settle down and feel better.

#3: Avoid Going to War with Your Pain

When you go to war with pain, pain always wins. Always. The harder you fight, the more anger you feel, the stronger your pain becomes. It is like trying to fight fire with gasoline. You just end up getting burned.

When you fight back, your emotions escalate and become more intense. This triggers stress in your body and brain. Your brain produces more adrenaline and a variety of hormone changes. These all serve to increase your pain levels and aggravate the injured parts of your body.

Working with your injured body is a much better path.

#4: Chronic Pain Flare-Ups

For many people, their long-term pain involves a constant background pain and temporary recurrent escalations of pain, called flare-ups.

Pain can flare-up just like a fire can. Imagine how the intensity of a fire increases when you blow on it. Now imagine pouring gas on the fire. This is what happens during a flare-up, especially a bad one.

Flare-ups can last for a few minutes or a few weeks on end. The best way to decrease a flare-up is by reducing the aggravations that are feeding the fire.

#5: The Chronic Pain Two-Step

Many flare-ups follow a similar two-step pattern – pain causes poor sleep, which then causes more pain. This same pattern can happen, not just with poor sleep, but also with stress, fatigue, and too much pain medication as examples.

To help reduce this kind of escalation, it helps to pay attention to each of the components in the two-step. For example, helping to reduce the pain you feel and the poor sleep it causes, at the same time, can produce better results.

#6: Pain Control Is Not Black or White

Imagine trying to drive your car if you only had two options – full brake or full gas? You wouldn’t get very far. You certainly would have little or no real control over the car.

Pain control works in a similar way. It is not something that is black or white, full on or full off. It is in the gray areas, the details, where real control happens.

Sometimes taking one-half or one-quarter of a pain pill works better than taking a whole pill. Sometimes a 20-minute break works better than pushing until you can’t go any further and then needing a full sleep. It takes a little calmness and composure to think this way, but the results may be worth it.

#7: Chronic Pain Is More Than Just Pain

This simple phrase says a lot.

Chronic pain is long-term physical pain that gathers additional components over time. And for many people, several parts of their body are in pain at the same time.

Other components can include physical limitations, insomnia, fatigue, strained relationships, stresses and losses. Over time, chronic pain can seep into every corner of your life.

Successful comprehensive pain programs know this and try to help people in pain with as many of these components as possible.

These simple truths are explained in more detail in my book and free eBook.

Do any of these patterns apply to you? Do you struggle to make sense of your persistent pain? Are your friends and family also confused at times? I hope some of these simple ideas may help a little.

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Michael MacDonald

I think I missed replying to a recent comment about going to war with pain. First, let me say that not going to war with your pain is never easy although, for many people, it gets a little easier over time. Here is an example of what I mean by going to war with your pain. Some people, often early on after a painful injury, will feel so angry at their injured body and the pain they feel that they will force themselves to keep doing what their doctors have told them not to do. Activity and exercise are very helpful. Overactivity just slows down healing and creates more pain and more stress.


I have had back pain for 15 years. now I am 74 y/o female and the flare ups are chronic. the best thing that helps me is the thing people don’t like exercise. I go on the treadmill 2 x a day. once in after noon and once before bed. It is the only way I get relief. I was told if I don’t exercise, I will stiffen and be bedridden. Now I never miss exercise. I take pain pills on time, naproxen, vit d and calcium. I get very depressed with the severe pain. Now that I slept last night from walking I feel rested. It is called spondylosis ankylosis. It is similar to arthritis. It hurts only on right side of my body. My neck to lumbar. I have kyphosis, curvature of spin. thank u for this article, it terrible to say but no one want to be alone. I think I am the only one with this trying problem.

Michael MacDonald

Thank you for your comment Joanne. I have seen a few people over the years with this type of medical problem. I know it is very painful and limiting. I am glad that you have written about the benefits of walking regularly. Even moderate exercise can be one of the best ways to help with pain and with limitations.

The Author

Dr. Michael MacDonald is a clinical psychologist and avid hockey player. He is a big fan of and similar charities which promote education and gender equality for girls in low-income countries. Send for a Free ebook, How to Feel Younger in Your Retirement Years, from his website,

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