Living with chronic pain not only saps your energy, but can also disrupt work and family life, and leave you confused and frustrated, and your family and co-workers wondering what's wrong with you.Even though it seems hopeless at times, there is no reason to give up on finding a method that works to help manage your chronic pain. Being proactive and participating in your own care can not only help manage your pain, but can give you a greater sense of control over your life in general. Feeling out of control can make the pain seem worse, make it seem overwhelming.
The first step in managing chronic pain is understanding what it is. "Chronic" refers to something that is continuous, long standing, or has frequent recurrences, not something acute, such as a sprained ankle or pulled muscle.

Chronic pain is usually defined as pain that has been present for at least six months. It is associated with many chronic diseases: fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and diseases of the spine or bones, and cancer. Migraines, even though the headaches can be intermittent in nature, can be classified as chronic pain as well.

At some point in the course of any chronic disease, the pain becomes more than just a symptom; it becomes a condition of its own, requiring its own treatment regime. And usually at that point, it can become overwhelming. It's almost like being diagnosed with a second chronic disease.

If you've been seen by a general practitioner, consider asking for a referral to a specialist for your specific disease. Specialists have more experience with the specific diseases, and can offer their expertise in managing the pain that comes with it. They can and will continue to treat your disease, but can also offer treatment for your pain.

Consider asking for a referral to a pain specialist or pain management clinic. These specialists are designed to work on managing your pain, while your primary physician continues to treat your disease. They can offer alternative medication regimes, alternative delivery systems for drugs, such as patches, that may be more effective than pills, or if applicable, injections. Don't be afraid to talk honestly with your physician if you feel your pain is not being managed as well as you feel it could be. Asking for a referral to a pain clinic should not offend your doctor. If it does, you should seek a different doctor.

An important aspect of managing chronic pain is being on the correct pain management medication program. Consult with your medical treatment team periodically to review your medications and see if there are any new medications that are available. Keep your medical team up to date on which medications are working, and more importantly, which are not. And be consistent with taking your medication. Many times we start feeling better because the medication is working, and then stop taking the medication because we feel better. Most long term medications need to be tapered off and cannot be discontinued abruptly.

If you're seeing several physicians, both for your disease and for pain management, make sure they are all aware of all the medications you've been prescribed. Being proactive in your care also means being the central source of communication. You can't assume that each physician will know what your other physicians have prescribed for you.

If you feel you're seeking drugs from several physicians, without divulging the medications you are already taking, you're not managing your pain as much as becoming physically dependent or addicted to your pain medication. Be honest with yourself, and with your physicians. It may make the pain go away, but replacing the pain of your disease with the pain of addiction is not the way to go.

Check alternative treatments for pain management. Look into massage therapy, hypnotism, acupuncture or chiropractic care for pain management. These treatments have become more mainstream and many are now covered by insurance.

Consider your mental health in conjunction with the management of your pain. Sometimes in the course of managing the disease, areas such as quality of sleep and mental health can get left behind. Chronic conditions, and particularly chronic pain, can take their toll physically, but also can lead to depression. Talk to your health care provider and be honest with how you feel. Take into account your sleep patterns: lack of sleep, or lack of quality sleep, because of waking up in pain, can also contribute to depression. Sleep is restorative and not getting enough can make it harder for your body to cope with pain. The overwhelming sensation of losing control can also deplete your emotional resources, leaving you depressed or anxious.

Take care of other aspects of your life the best you can. Stop smoking and watch alcohol consumption, particularly if you're taking medications that alcohol may interfere with. Eat a healthy diet and get as much exercise as your condition will allow. A strong body can better withstand pain. It can be challenging to exercise with chronic pain, but look for windows of opportunity: when the pain is less, or when the medication is taking effect. Exercise can be as simple as going for a walk, stretching, yoga or using light weights at home, if your condition permits.

Chronic pain doesn't have to control your life. Take a proactive approach with your health care, work with your health care providers and seek the support of your family and friends.