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Treating Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is one of the most common medical problems. It is any pain that persists after your body has healed, usually after 3 to 6 months. Some types of chronic pain include headaches, low back, neck, and other muscle, joint, or nerve pains. These problems may be caused by an injury or an ongoing medical problem like arthritis or diabetes. In many other cases, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.

How you respond when you hurt is important for any type of chronic pain. Many efforts to reduce pain in the short-term actually create more pain, suffering, and disability in the long-term. This includes things such as taking more medicine, resting, or avoiding activities.

There are multiple treatment options available to treat your chronic pain. No single treatment is right for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible treatment options and decide which ones are best for you.

Opioids and chronic pain

Opioids are natural or manmade chemicals that can reduce pain. They are prescribed by your healthcare provider. Opioids work by changing the way your brain senses pain. Some common opioids are:

  • Hydrocodone

  • Morphine

  • Oxycodone

Healthcare providers used to think that opioids could safely reduce chronic pain when used for long periods of time. New information has taught us that long-term opioid use may not be helpful or safe for treating chronic pain.

New knowledge leads to new practices

We have learned three key things through studying opioids and chronic pain. This new information has changed medical practice.

  • No matter the dose, opioids will only temporarily “take the edge” off pain. You will not be pain-free over the long-term.

  • There are very significant risks that come with using these medicines. Higher doses carry greater risks with very little evidence of any greater benefit.

  • There is absolutely no safe dose of opioids. An overdose is possible even when you are using your opioids as prescribed.

Facts about opioids

Opioids have many effects in addition to reducing pain. They slow your mind and body and can actually make you stop breathing. Long-term opioid use can cause multiple other problems including:

  • Increased pain

  • Accidental overdose or death

  • Opioid use disorder or addiction

  • Problems with sleep, mood, hormones, and immune system

Treating pain without opioids

Many treatments can be helpful with chronic pain including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

  • Non-opioid pain medicines

  • Physical therapy and exercise

  • Nerve blocks or surgery

  • Acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic

The best long-term treatment for chronic pain requires you to be involved in your own care. Self-management includes taking care of yourself in ways other than taking medicines, having surgery, or using other medical treatments. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you learn to respond differently to your chronic pain and reduce its effects on your daily life.  

You should work with your healthcare provider to develop an individual treatment plan based upon realistic expectations and goals. For most people, long-term improvements will depend more on what you can do to help yourself rather than what medical providers can do for you. Appropriate goals are more focused on making your overall quality of life better rather than providing urgent and complete pain relief.

VA YouTube Yoga Videos for Veterans

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These videos are located on the VA’s very own YouTube channel. Take your first yoga class today.

For more information

You can find more information on chronic pain here:

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2018
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