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Pain Management: Guidelines, Techniques & Goals

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Pain management covers a vast range of approaches that can be taken, often in combination, to provide better ways to more effectively cope with pain. On one end of the spectrum there are physiological interventions like surgery, medication and physiotherapy, and on the other end there are alternative therapies, goal setting techniques and psychological counselling. Pain is... a tricky thing and not every solution has the same outcomes for everyone, with the psychological impact of pain often overlooked.

Pain is rarely just physical. It can have a significant mental and emotional impact too, but did you know that that you can impact your physical pain with your mindset, mental resolve and emotional strength? Mind over matter is the saying and here are a few tips to get back to connecting with the people and activities that matter most!

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What is pain management?

Pain management is about finding techniques to help you manage pain, whatever the intensity, while minimising the chance of flare-ups, and setting goals that allow you to take a bit more control over how you feel and what you can do about it. Pain management is about getting back to living your best life, in a way that is achievable and in a way that you want.

One of the great things about pain management is that it is personal to... you. There are no sweeping rules that apply to everyone – it is about focusing on you as an individual, and takes into consideration things such as:

  1. Your specific needs
  2. Your circumstances
  3. What you want to achieve
  4. What you are comfortable with

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Goal setting guidelines for pain management

Finding pain management guidelines and setting pain management goals helps you understand what you are working towards, whilst tracking and measuring.

You can either work these out for yourself – maybe write them down so that they feel like a tangible aim – or talk them through with a friend or a family member.

What to keep in mind when creating your pain management goals:...

  1. Set personal goals in relation to your personal pain
  2. Make your goals specific and measurable
  3. Think about pace setting
  4. Be realistic

Setting personal goals

It can help to have a tangible marker to work towards that is specifically related to how pain is impacting your life, and how you want that to change.

For instance, if you experience acute pain – pain that lasts less than three months and resolves after standard healing time – your goals may include:

  1. Reduction of pain to a tolerable or acceptable level
  2. Facilitate recovery and healing
  3. Preventing the onset of chronic pain


If you have chronic pain – pain that lasts three or more months and is not something that will heal – your goals may look different. Tangible goals for chronic pain may include:

  1. Aim to decrease pain in your everyday life and restore function
  2. Better understand potential triggers to help manage flare-ups more effectively
  3. Restore function
  4. Address the emotional and social impacts of pain
  5. Identify and adopt effective coping methods

Make your pain management goals specific and measureable

In the previous example we talked about setting the goal of decreased pain (which would be measurable in a pain diary, as detailed in how to talk about pain). But equally you might decide the aim is the ability to perform certain tasks.

You could focus on a couple of things the pain keeps you from doing, and see if there is a way to make them achievable. If walking is difficult, you could set yourself an aim to get to the end of your road and sit on a bench, or deliver a handwritten letter to a friend two blocks over. Choose something that will help you to feel happy and fulfilled.

Then set yourself a target date for it - whether that is the end of the year, or a specific event you are looking forward to, such as your daughter’s wedding.

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An elderly man and an infant outside, he bends down without back pain

Pace setting

A task that might have taken you half a day in the past might take two days now. But accepting that change of pace can allow you to achieve goals, where otherwise you might easily become frustrated or discouraged, giving up at the first hurdle. If you are hit with a setback, don’t give up, persistence and determination are half the game. That said, don’t overdo it, if today you can’t make it, don’t worry, tomorrow is another day and you can try again.

If preparing and planting up the flower beds in your front garden was a highlight of spring, don’t let achy joints or unrealistic time expectations stop you. Accept that perhaps you can only kneel for 20 minutes at a time, or that your hands can only deal with putting in one plant before you need a break. But it doesn’t matter! Life isn’t one big race – take your time and enjoy the task over a number of weeks.

Being realistic

The key to setting goals that you can genuinely achieve, is being realistic. If you set a target that you are unlikely to reach, it can be disheartening if (or when) you fail. For example, if you suffer with chronic pain and are setting yourself a pain related goal, it probably wouldn’t make much sense to say ‘right, I want to get my pain levels down to zero this month’.

As much as we all would like to believe in achieving the impossible, and while optimism plays a huge role, chances are if you’ve been experiencing intense pain for a while, you might want to ask yourself, realistically, how achievable is that goal? You might want to consider rating your pain on a scale of 1-10 and aim to get to half of that in the next few months. If it feels like a 6 today, getting down to a three would still be a remarkable improvement and seems a lot more feasible!

Talk to your doctor about pain management solutions that can help make your goals a reality.

Pain management techniques

There are plenty of activities that you can incorporate into your life, that can help you on your pain management journey and that can complement a regimen of medicated products.

Some of the most common pain management techniques are:...

  1. Meditation and mindfulness
    Soothing the mind and learning to let go of stress and tension, can have a beneficial impact on your whole body, as well as improving your quality of life.
  2. Exercise and stretching
    Depending on the cause of your pain, exercise is often very beneficial in increasing joint mobility, strengthening muscles, and increasing flexibility. There is also the added bonus of getting those lovely mood-boosting endorphins on the go!
  3. Physiotherapy
    A physiotherapist can guide you in targeted movements and exercises that not only help relieve pain but can also get you on track for a recovery that will last. The added benefit is that the physiotherapist will be able to provide you with a personalised set of exercises you can do at home to help improve mobility and function.
  4. Incorporate relaxation into your day
    Being in pain can be stressful! Stress is a complicated topic, and not easy to manage; it can even require professional intervention. But a starting point is trying to take time from your day to relax. You may even want to schedule it. Leave yourself notes around the house reminding you to stop, sit for a bit, relax and collect your thoughts. Mental wellbeing can have an associated positive impact on pain while anxiety can exacerbate pain. Taking a break with a cup of chamomile tea for a 15 minute break in the afternoon or a long bath at the end of the day can be the first step to taking a step back.
  5. Get some sleep
    Getting a good night’s sleep can go a long way in counteracting the stress of being in pain. Sleep is also important for your body to maintain proper function and healing. Actually sleep disturbance is quite common, as 67-88% of chronic pain sufferers report sleep disturbances. A few simple tips to help you sleep properly:
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning, create a routine (we are creatures of habit!)
  • Keep those phones, tablets, and screens out of sight in the hour leading up to bedtime (the light, especially the blue light emitted by devices, keeps us awake – you can also get glasses that claim to shield your eyes from this glare).
  • Give aromatherapy a go; lavender is particularly calming and relaxing.
  1. Join a support group
    Talking to others who are also dealing with pain can give a sense of community and make you feel like you are not in this alone. It’s also a good way to share tips and techniques that you have all discovered on how to manage pain. Ask your doctor to recommend some local groups for you.
  2. Acupuncture
    This ancient Chinese Traditional Medicine is gaining popularity globally, and sees the insertion of needles in just the right spots, encouraging the body to produce pain-relieving endorphins.
  3. Find a distraction
    Focusing on your pain can become a bit of a downward spiral, so instead get your mind onto something else. While having a video call with your son in Australia, or even tackling a tricky crossword won’t make the pain disappear, it will certainly provide you with a positive and enjoyable distraction.
  4. Return to your normal activities
    Being in pain can often make you pull back from friends, family, and activities that you once loved. This can be one of the most difficult side effects of pain. Be mindful about still taking part in the things that make you, you, whether its work or hobbies. You may have to do so with a bit more conscious effort and in a modified way, especially when pain can make it more difficult to participate. However, it is still important to fill your days with activities and people that bring you joy.

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Treatment by pain type

Learn all about the causes, symptoms, and pain treatments for the type of pain you’re experiencing so you can get back to doing those little things that bring you joy