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Chronic Pain


Chronic pain is pain that does not get better for 3 months or longer. Chronic pain may hurt all the time, or come and go.


Call your local emergency number or have someone else call (911 in the US) if:

  • You are breathing slower than normal, or you have trouble breathing.
  • You cannot be awakened.
  • You have a seizure.

Call your doctor if:

  • Your heart feels like it is jumping or fluttering.
  • You cannot think clearly.
  • You have side effects from prescription pain medicine, such as itching, nausea, or vomiting.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • Your pain gets worse, even after you take medicine.
  • You don't think the medicine is working.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine called narcotics or opioids may be given for certain types of chronic pain. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Anesthetics can be rubbed on your skin or injected into a nerve or muscle to numb an area.
  • Other medicines may reduce pain, anxiety, muscle tension, or swelling.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your chronic pain:

  • Apply heat on the area in pain for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Apply ice on the part of your body that hurts for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice decreases pain and swelling, and helps prevent tissue damage.
  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. Regular physical activity can help decrease pain and improve your quality of life. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for your type of pain.
  • Get enough sleep. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
  • Talk with a counselor or therapist. A type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help your chronic pain by changing the way you think about it. CBT can also improve your mood, sleep, and ability to move.

What you must know if you take narcotic pain medicine:

  • You may need to take a bowel movement softener. The most common side effect of prescription pain medicine is constipation. Bowel movement softeners are available over the counter.
  • Do not mix prescription pain medicines. This can cause an overdose of medicine, which can become life-threatening. Read labels. Make sure you know the ingredients in all of your medicines.
  • Do not drink alcohol when you take prescription pain medicine. It is not safe to mix narcotics or opioids with alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • Prescription pain medicine may impair your ability to drive or work safely. They may also cause dizziness and increase your risk for falling.
  • Store prescription pain medicine in a safe location at home. Keep your medicine away from children and other people. Never share your medicine with anyone.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may be referred to a pain specialist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.