Understanding Chronic Pain

Pain Disorders

Pain Disorders are one of the most prevalent complaints seen in general medical settings and they occur in 80% of physician visits.  The most common pain complaints are low back pain, migraine and tension headaches, arthritis pain and fibromyalgia.

Psychological factors can affect physical conditions.  Although the general medical condition accounts for physical symptoms, psychological factors affect the medical problem in ways such as exacerbation of symptoms, interference with treatment, negative change in course of disease and additional health risks.

Working with both your doctor and a mental health provider can help you to manage your pain in an effective way.  Don't hesitate to speak to your medical provider about engaging in mental health services in conjunction with your medical treatment.

How can mental health providers help?

We can collaborate with physicians to address contributing and restorative factors

  • physical activity
  • emotional distress
  • beliefs about pain
  • physiological stress and relaxation
  • environmental demands
  • general coping

Behavioral and Cognitive Behavioral approaches are essential to the treatment of chronic pain.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy alone has been shown to result in changes in pain experience, cognitive coping and reduced behavioral expression of pain.



Self-Management Model of Care

Pain improvement will come through changes made by the patient.  If you are experiencing chronic pain, it may be important to shift your thinking in that you may not be "cured" but rather you can work on enhancing your functioning, decreasing your distress and improving your quality of life.  Setting realistic goals may not include freedom from pain but rather pain management.

Here are some ways you can work on managing your pain... these are all things in your control:


  • keep muscles toned through physical activity
  • take prescribed medication
  • use relaxation techniques to relax muscles and control the stress response


  • use relaxation to control anxiety
  • stay involved with relationships and enjoyable activities to protect against depression and other negative moods


  • recognize unhealthy thinking patterns that interfere with adaptive coping
  • challenge faulty thinking and replace it with healthy thoughts


  • stay physically active
  • pace your activities; avoid a cycle of overactivity and underactivity
  • adhere to medical recommendations including medications and physical therapy


  • discuss what you find helpful and not helpful with family and others who are close to you
  • stay socially involved

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