Make a plan to deal with chronic pain

Combining therapies can help you live well with chronic pain.

A person sitting in a window at dusk.
Photo: Unsplash/Matteo Vistocco.

How would you describe pain? When you see a doctor because you are experiencing pain, they are going to ask you to give them specific descriptions of the pain. Some words and phrases that people use are shooting, sharp, dull, pins and needles, constant, intermittent and more. There are different definitions of pain. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pain as an unpleasant physical sensation that causes discomfort and emotional distress related to an injury or disease. The Medical Dictionary, however, recognizes that pain is more than a sensation and can be influenced by how people perceive pain intensity. Regardless of how you define or experience pain, the most important thing may be to find reliable recommended strategies to help you cope.

Most individuals will experience pain over the course of their life. It can affect your mood, relationships, work performance and interfere with the ability to perform activities of daily living. Scientists recognize a link between the experience of chronic pain, depression and anxiety. For example, experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety can be associated with increased pain severity. 

Mindfulness can be a protective factor when dealing with the mental and emotional characteristics of pain. Mindfulness means paying attention to the here and now and learning to accept each moment with a non-judgmental attitude. In other words, it is what it is.  Even after just four sessions, mindfulness training has been shown to improve quality of life and psychological functioning. In addition, mindful self-compassion encourages a mindset of self-care and includes improvement in anxiety and pain acceptance. 

Researchers are now encouraging a multi-disciplinary approach to chronic pain management such as combining mindfulness training with education. Combining approaches can extend improvements in quality of life and reduce pain intensity. Two such approaches are provided by Michigan State University Extension, both in-person and online. Many participants have completed either one or the other. We encourage participants to consider taking both as an approach to improving their quality of life while living with chronic pain.

Mindfulness approach

Stress Less with Mindfulness is a research-based program offered by MSU Extension in collaboration with West Virginia University Extension. This five-session series introduces participants to the experience and practice of mindfulness. Skills introduced include mindful breathing, movement, eating, walking, thinking and laughter. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness is effective in reducing stress-related symptoms such as worry, depression and physical tension, and may be helpful in managing chronic conditions such as cardiac disease and diabetes. By offering adults alternative ways of dealing with everyday stressors, including thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and events, Stress Less with Mindfulness teaches and encourages the use of mindfulness self-care skills to help one feel better and enjoy life more

Educational approach

Another approach MSU Extension offers is the evidence-based Chronic Pain Personal Action Toward Health (PATH) series, a self-management resource program. Chronic Pain PATH is a six-week self-management workshop designed to help people to take an active role in managing chronic pain. Adults of any age interested in managing chronic pain are welcome to attend, including those living with chronic pain, family members and caregivers. Participants learn strategies and skills to manage chronic pain such as: 

  • Dealing with difficult emotions, poor sleep, fatigue and stress. 
  • Planning and pacing activities.
  • Developing exercise and healthy eating plans. 
  • Managing medications and preventing medication misuse. 
  • Communicating with family, friends, and healthcare providers. 
  • Decision making and evaluating treatment options.
  • Goal setting. 

Since pain is not only physical and it can also affect your mental, emotional, and social health and well-being, combining multiple approaches to deal with pain may provide optimal benefits. If you are or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain and would like to find ways to cope and improve quality of life, start by signing up classes for today by completing an online self-referral form.

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