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  • Learning about Pain Management
  • Getting Good Pain Management
  • Common Treatments for Pain
  • Other Important Treatments
  • Food and Pain
We all fear that when we die we will experience great suffering and pain. Many of us are more afraid of dying in pain than of death itself. For this reason, pain should be treated as seriously as any illness or disease. A plan to manage pain should be as good as a plan to manage the disease.

Learning about Pain Management

In most cases, severe pain and discomfort can be managed with medical treatments, such as medications, surgery and nerve blocks, and non-medical means, such as relaxation therapies, biofeedback, massage and good nursing care.

Reasons that persons suffer from unnecessary pain and suffering include:

People with a serious illness may require very large doses of narcotics to control their pain. Almost never do they become addicted to the narcotics. Fears of pain treatments causing death are also wrong. Pain treatments are given simply to keep the dying persons comfortable.

Getting Good Pain Management

Describe your pain as best you can. Let your health care practitioner know how pain is affecting your ability to do things; when it is better or worse. USE THE PAIN DIARY
Pain Diary
In the spaces below, record the number (1-5) from the pain chart that best describes the pain you had at the end of the day
Day Date Pain Score Location of the Worst Pain Time of Day When Worst Pain What Were Your Activities

Ask your health care practitioner about the plan for pain management. Your health care practitioner should have a plan in mind or see that you have access to appropriate pain specialists.

Consider what you are willing to trade for pain management. Some people would rather endure more pain if it meant they would be more alert and less sleepy.

Common Treatments for Pain

Medications for Pain

There are many medicines available for treating pain. They work differently for different people so it is important to work closely with your health care practitioner in choosing the medication that is right for you. If you have tried pain medications in the past, you should let your health care practitioner know what they are and how they worked. It is important to let your health care practitioner know about any allergies that you have, particularly to any medicines.

Other Important Treatments for Pain


Ahhhhhh...a rub down, what bliss. There may be more to massage than bliss. Massage helps pain by reducing muscle spasm and relieving soreness. In addition, massage has been found to be an excellent stress reliever. Massage is often called "body work" and there are practically hundreds of ways to do this body work. Many practitioners use a variety of massage techniques rather than just one method. The techniques of massage are based on the use of pressure or friction to alter the muscle and soft tissue structure.

When looking for a massage therapist, ask about licensure. Most states require a license to practice. Choose a therapist who has a relaxing and quiet work environment. Ask others if they have used a particular therapist. Word of mouth is a good bet. Sessions last anywhere from one hour to one-and-a-half hours.


Relaxation can help reduce pain. When you're in pain muscles tend to become tight and tense. When you tighten muscles in the painful area, they usually hurt even more. Relaxation training can reduce pain by reducing muscle tension and anxiety. There are many different ways to relax the body but we are introducing you to two methods that can help you reduce muscle tension. These two methods are breathing retraining and progressive muscle relaxation.

Breathing Retraining: When you are in pain or under stress, breathing often becomes fast and shallow. Unfortunately, this type of breathing tires out the muscles of the chest and shoulders, and can cause the rest of your muscles to tighten. By slowing down your breathing rate and using muscles in your stomach area rather than your chest area to breathe, you can relax all of your body muscles. Breathing retraining is a basic step in most relaxation methods.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): By tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups you can relax your whole body with PMR. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing PMR. First, don't tense the muscles to the point of pain or spasm. Just tense them enough to feel some tension (about 30-50% strength) and then relax the muscle completely and quickly. Second, if your mind wanders to worries or other things during the session, focus your attention back to the feeling of your muscles and the voice on the tape. Third, continue to breath slowly throughout the practice using the breathing method you just learned. Finally, don't worry if you don't feel completely relaxed at first. The more you practice the more quickly you will learn to relax.


Why is pacing physical activities so important? When you first begin to have pain, you may try to "take it easy" on the painful area until it heals. After a few weeks, however, your doctor may suggest that you find ways to increase muscle strength and flexibility through exercise. Many people find themselves either remaining less active because it hurts to move or they get frustrated with too little activity and push themselves to use the injured area even though it hurts. Both over-activity and under-activity, or no activity, can slow the recovery process. The results of over-activity can be a sudden increase in pain that may last a couple of days before the pain returns to a normal level. This may be due to increased swelling, muscle spasms, or nerve irritation. On the other hand, if you are inactive your muscles get "out of shape" or "deconditioned." By pacing your daily activities, you can gradually improve your ability to move around without causing pain flare-ups or set backs. Therefore, you will get more done by pacing activities because you won't spend as much time in extreme pain that can often stop you from doing daily activities. Over time, you can recover better if you gradually increase your physical activity levels.

Balancing exercise and pain: When you are in pain it is often difficult to imagine how you will start exercising again. You may think that if an activity hurts, such as walking, it means that you are causing more harm to your body. Most physicians agree, however, that keeping muscles strong and flexible increases the body's healing process and can decrease pain over time. This is because when muscles are not used enough they become shortened and weak, or "deconditioned." Deconditioned muscles are not as flexible or able to support your weight and can become sore very easily. Other common problems related to too little exercise are trouble falling asleep, weight gain, and an increased chance of straining muscles.

Exercise may be as simple as a walking, swimming, or a stretching program. Some physicians may also suggest specific physical therapy exercises. Before you start an exercise program, always talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise you should do and if you have any physical limitations.

How to pace your activities:

  1. First, while doing your daily activities (walking, housework, or computer work) notice when your pain starts to increase somewhat more than 2 points on a 10 point scale. That amount of time or work will be your starting limit.
  2. Once you know where your limit is for each activity, try to stick to that limit and do not overdo yourself. For example, if you have a 10-minute limit for washing dishes or mowing the lawn, after 10 minutes either take a break or change to another activity that uses different muscles. Try to work to your set limit and not to the point when the pain forces you to stop.
  3. Gradually increase the amount of time that you are doing physical activities and decrease the length of your breaks.

Helpful hints for pacing your activities:

  1. Break activities or work into smaller parts rather than plunging into the whole day at once.
  2. Use an alarm clock or kitchen timer to remind yourself to take a break.
  3. Write down a daily schedule to plan out how to pace your activities over the week.
  4. Notice any physical feelings that may signal the start of a pain flare (e.g., muscle strain, tension, spasm) and use that signal to take a break.
  5. Alternate more physical tasks (mowing lawn) with less physical tasks (looking at mail). Rest does not necessarily mean doing nothing.



Complimentary medicine and alternative medicine, or holistic therapies, cover a wide variety of practices. If you decide to investigate a complimentary or alternative practice for the treatment of your pain symptoms, here are some helpful steps.

Be very cautious if:

Food and Pain

It may sound silly, but some foods and drinks may change the amount of pain you have. In order to recognize a basic pattern, keep a food diary that will allow you to note the food you eat as well as your pain levels. Be sure to note any relationship between the food you eat and your pain levels around the time of meals.

For example:

Caffeine: Caffeine can be helpful for a few types of pain problems. When taken with aspirin or acetaminophen it seems to make them better at reducing pain. However, when caffeine is taken in great quantities and/or on a daily basis, it can actually be the cause of headaches and increase other kinds of pain. If you need to reduce caffeine, you may feel a "craving" for it because it is addictive. Reduce it gradually over 2-3 weeks.

Caffeine Content of Common Beverage

Beverage Measure Caffeine (mg)

Brewed, ground 8 ounces 80-200
Instant 1 teaspoon 50-60
Decaffeinated 1 teaspoon 2-5

Brewed 3 minutes 36
Brewed 5 minutes 46
(regular bag) 20-100

Soft drinks
12 ounces 43-65
Several sodas have additional caffeine in varying amounts.

Hot cocoa
8 ounces 5-10

Alcohol: Because alcohol expands the blood vessels, it will increase existing headaches and can trigger migraines. If you drink alcoholic beverages before sleep, it will disrupt your sleep pattern by shortening deep sleep and dream stages. Alcohol is not a good pain reliever and can have bad effects on other parts of your body. Use of alcohol with prescription medications is a dangerous mix.

We have tried to make the How's Your Health error-free. However, those involved in its preparation can not warrant that all of the information is accurate and complete. When you use How's Your Health as a guide for your health and medical care, be sure to discuss any questions about it with your doctor, nurse, or other health care worker.