It’s not easy dealing with persistent pain. Facing uncertainty about how you’ll feel each day can be very frustrating. It makes planning your everyday activities, work, social life and family commitments challenging. Sometimes the pain and your emotions can get on top of you.
If persistent pain is making you feel overwhelmed, there are things you and your doctor can do to help you get back on track. Make sure you talk to your doctor if:
- you want to learn more about pain and take control
- you’re not coping with your pain
- you’re struggling at work because of pain
- you’ve decided to stop taking your regular medication for pain
- you’ve noticed significant changes to your symptoms.
How can I take control of my pain?
If you want to learn more about pain and how to manage it effectively, talk with your doctor about pain management programs. These programs can be found in many areas, and are also available online.
Pain management programs are designed to specifically address the range of factors affecting your recovery including:
- physical factors
- any psychological issues, including your mood, stress or poor sleep
- social factors, such as how you manage your home and social activities, as well as your safe return to work.
By attending a pain management program you’ll learn from health professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses and psychologists. These professionals provide information and advice on how you can best manage your pain, with the fewest side effects, to help you increase your activity levels and achieve your goals.
Talk with your doctor about whether a pain management program would be helpful for you.
What can I do if I’m not coping with my pain?
It’s important to talk with your doctor if you feel like you’re not coping, especially if:
- you’re taking more of your medications than your doctor prescribed
- you’re mixing your prescribed medications with other drugs, including alcohol
- you’re drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- you’re having problems sleeping due to pain
- you’ve been feeling very low for more than a few weeks
- you’ve been missing days of work because of pain
- you’re more worried, frustrated and irritable than usual.
Your doctor understands that living with persistent pain is difficult. They can work with you to find the right pathway that will help you. They can also refer you to other health professionals, including specialists in physical and mental health.
If you are in need of immediate help, call:
What can I do if I’m struggling at work because of pain?
If you’re not coping with your work responsibilities, or just getting to and from work has become difficult because of your pain, discuss this with your doctor. Evidence shows that work is good for you. So even though you may be in pain, doing what you can at work will be of benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.
It may be possible for adjustments to be made to your work to enable you to cope. Your doctor can also work with other healthcare professionals, such as specially trained physiotherapists, occupational therapists and specialist doctors called occupational physicians, to help you to remain at work.
Check out the list of websites and contacts at the end of this factsheet for information about support services to help you to stay at work.
Can I stop taking my regular pain medication?
Talk openly with your doctor if you’re thinking of stopping any medications for pain. Some medications need to be reduced gradually to avoid potential unpleasant side effects. Your doctor will advise you on this.
My symptoms have changed – what should I do?
Be aware of other health changes that may occur with your health condition. They can be present for a variety of reasons, many of which may be unrelated to your pain.
If you’ve been experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk with your doctor:
- sudden increase in the intensity of your current pain
- sudden loss of muscle power in your legs or arms
- sudden change in your ability to empty or control your bladder or bowel
- a lack of sensation anywhere in your body
- sudden onset of pins and needles or numbness in either hands or feet
- sudden onset of poor balance or a lack of coordination
- unexplained and ongoing loss of weight
- sweats at night time
- moderate or severe pain at night or at rest
- onset of new pain in your abdomen, chest or head, which does not go away.
These ‘red flags’ are clues for your doctor that something has changed.
Changes in pain and other signs and symptoms should be treated with caution and investigated further, particularly in people who have experienced:
- malignant cancer
- long-term steroid use (not asthma puffers)
- a recent severe infection
- physical trauma that could have resulted in a fracture.
Where to get help
Thanks to the following organisations whose pain experts helped create and review this content.
Austin Health Pain Management Service
Austin Pain Management is an inter-professional team of experienced clinicians, including pain-medicine specialists, rehabilitation specialists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists and nurses. They manage people who have complex pain issues with an emphasis on empowering people to self manage their situation. The service runs assessment and treatment clinics, as well as education programs on pain management.
Austin Health Pain Management Service
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Musculoskeletal Australia - formerly MOVE
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