The Complete Guide to Managing Chronic Pain

A Chronic Pain Management Guide

Chronic Pain Management

According to the National Institutes of Health, over 100 million adults in the US experience chronic pain. Among them, 40 million experience severe pain and 25 million have daily pain.

Treating chronic pain is complex and requires a multi-pronged approach.

In order to work with your doctor to find the best chronic pain management for your condition, it helps to be able to describe your pain in detail. Just saying ‘it hurts’ is often not enough.

After I developed fibromyalgia, I struggled to communicate my symptoms in a way that I felt my doctors really understood. Keeping a pain diary for a few weeks can help provide more detailed information about your symptoms.

Try using the LOCATES scale to explain your pain to your doctor:

  • L – Location of the pain and whether it travels to other body parts.
  • O – Other associated symptoms such as nausea, numbness, or weakness.
  • C – Character of the pain, whether it’s throbbing, sharp, dull, or burning.
  • A – Aggravating and alleviating factors. What makes the pain better or worse?
  • T – Timing of the pain, how long it lasts, is it constant or intermittent?
  • E – Environment where the pain occurs, for example, while working or at home.
  • S – Severity of the pain. Use a 0-to-10 pain scale from no pain to worst ever.

Common Medications for Chronic Pain Management

Pain medications can play a crucial role in chronic pain management. Some people with chronic pain report feeling criticized for taking pain medications.

I believe there should be no stigma about needing to take pain-relieving medications as part of an overall pain management program. Science supports the point of view that, when taken as prescribed, medications can significantly reduce pain levels.

I take medications for pain and they definitely improve my ability to function day-to-day.

However, in most cases, there is no ‘magic bullet’ medication that completely relieves pain. Prescription drugs are most effective when they are used in combination with lifestyle changes and other treatments.

Medications can also cause side effects, so deciding what to take and how much is often a trial and error process. When starting a new medication, start low and go slow when it comes to dose increases in order to reduce the impact of side effects.

Of course, it’s always important to take your medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

You can find below different types of pain medications to discuss with your doctor.

Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)

Include over-the-counter or prescription medication may help reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, and fever.

They are most effective for inflammatory pain caused by conditions like arthritis, autoimmune diseases, endometriosis and some types of low-back pain. They are associated with side effects like stomach or intestinal bleeding and heart attack and stroke – especially if you have heart disease.


Some doctors may even prescribe antidepressants to those suffering from chronic pain and depression. Although antidepressants were originally created to treat depression, these medications are frequently prescribed for chronic pain even when depression is not a factor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, antidepressants seem to work best for neuropathic pain (diabetes, shingles, spinal cord injury), fibromyalgia, migraines, and headaches. They are believed to work by increasing levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, in the brain and spinal cord that regulate pain sensations from the body.

There are actually two categories of antidepressants: cyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline and SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) like Cymbalta.

Anti-seizure Medication

Including gabapentin and pregabalin, are another class of repurposed medications used to treat chronic pain. The research found that these prescriptions are most effective for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia because they appear to have nerve-calming qualities.

Next page: Discover more chronic pain management medications and alternative therapy options. 

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Katarina ZulakKatarina Zulak

Katarina Zulak is an ePatient blogger and health writer. Six years ago she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. On her blog, she writes about learning to be skillfully well, even when living with a chronic condition. Katarina lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their cat Lily.

Oct 29, 2018
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