• Living with persistent pain isn’t easy.
  • Your doctor can help you balance your pain, your treatment and hurdles you encounter in life.
  • It is important to be aware of any ‘red flags’ and seek help.
  • There are five main things to guide you about when to see your doctor for your pain.

Sitting is the new smoking

It’s not easy dealing with persistent pain. Facing uncertainty about how you will feel each day can be very frustrating. It makes planning your everyday activities, work, social life and family commitments challenging. So it’s not surprising that sometimes the pain and your emotions can get on top of you.

There are five things you and your doctor can do to help you get back on track. In the following circumstances, make sure you talk to your doctor.

1. If you want to learn more about pain and take control

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 will 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.

2. If you’re not coping with your 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 have been feeling very low for more than a few weeks
  • you have 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:

  • Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14 for free, anonymous and confidential crisis support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • beyondblue Support Service Tel. 1300 22 4636, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

3. If you’re 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, you should 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. 

4. If you’ve decided to stop taking your regular medication for pain 

It’s important that you talk with your doctor openly if you are thinking of stopping medication (this includes patches as well as tablets) such as opioids (OxyNorm, OxyContin, Targin, Palexia, Norspan) or other medications for pain, mood and muscle spasm. Do this before you stop the medication. 

You may need to gradually reduce the medication, rather than simply stop taking it, to avoid potential unpleasant effects of withdrawal. This is not a sign of addiction, but a common side effect of these medications. Your doctor will advise you on this.  

5. If you’ve noticed significant changes to your symptoms

It’s important to be aware of other health changes that may occur. They can be present for a variety of reasons, many of which will be unrelated to your pain. And pain intensity alone is not a sign that something suspicious or worrying is happening. 

However, if you have been experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk with your doctor:

  • 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 feeling in your groin area 
  • 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. For people who have experienced malignant cancer or long-term steroid use (not asthma puffers), have recently had a severe infection or who have experienced some physical trauma that could have resulted in a fracture, changes in pain and other signs and symptoms should be treated with caution and investigated further.

Where to get help

More information

Guide to pain

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Managing pain

Who to see about your pain

Using the health system


Thanks to the following organisations whose pain experts helped create and review this content. 

Austin Health - Pain Management Service

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

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Musculoskeletal Australia - formerly MOVE

Last updated: August 2016

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