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Four Tips for Successfully Managing Chronic Pain

Airman standing

Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys

For many service members and veterans, managing chronic pain is part of everyday life. Chronic pain can be from a combat injury, a tough job or even hard training. No matter the cause, it can impact your mind and body. For this reason, it is important to treat.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts three to six months, or longer―even years. It is often seen as affecting your physical health. However, coping with the psychological and emotional effects can be challenging, too. The following four tips can help you manage your pain and its effects on your overall quality of life.

Create a Treatment Plan

Your first step to managing pain is creating a comprehensive treatment plan with your primary care provider. Talk about how pain is affecting you at work and home. Even if you can’t completely get rid of your pain, a good plan helps you change your attitude and emotions surrounding it. A comprehensive plan may include:

  • Physical therapy. Weight gain, loss of strength and reduced stamina can occur with chronic pain. Physical therapy can help.
  • Psychological therapy. Chronic pain is often linked to psychological health concerns like anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one approach that can help to lessen pain.
  • Medication. Your provider may prescribe medications and monitor how you take them. Take these only as prescribed.
  • Social support.Your family, friends and fellow service members can help you stay on track and keep your morale up. Talk to your provider about making social support part of your plan.
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Acupuncture, stress management, meditation and yoga, may help.

Learn Coping Skills

There are skills you can learn that can help you cope while you treat your pain. Coping skills help you feel better about the pain you still have. They include:

  • Managing stress. Take a break and participate in activities you enjoy.
  • Practicing healthy behaviors. Eat well, exercise, limit alcohol and get plenty of sleep.
  • Setting goals. Focus on what you want to achieve and track your progress. Goals can be working at your computer for several hours without pain, or doing an activity you gave up.

Work Closely with Your Health Care Provider

Checking in often with your health care provider is the best way to manage your pain. Track your progress and write down concerns so you can discuss them at your appointments.

It is also important to closely follow your doctor’s directions, especially with medication. Chronic pain is often treated with opioids which can be habit forming.

Reach Out for Support

Whether you reach out to your health care providers, family and friends, fellow warriors or leadership, remember that you always have a place to turn.

Live support for service members, veterans and their families:

  • Military OneSource: 800-342-9647 Confidential, non-medical counseling for service members, recently separated veterans and their families
  • Vet Center Call Center, Department of Veterans Affairs: 877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) Confidential 24/7 call center for veterans and their families to talk about military experiences or issues readjusting to civilian life
  • Vets for Warriors: 855-838-8255 Confidential 24/7 line that links you to trained peer responders who are veterans or military family members

Educational resources for service members, veterans and their families:

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

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