Life Hacks for Dealing with Chronic Pain

A few tricks and tools from Dr. Laura Meyer-Junco to help keep your pain at bay whether at home or on the go.

Whether you have limited access to certain types of therapies or you simply desire more control over managing your chronic pain, self-management tools can go a long way toward easing symptoms so that you can participate in the activities you enjoy.

Below are a few shortcuts you can use to make daily life easier, put together by Laura Meyer-Junco, PharmD, BCPS, CPE, and presented at PAINWeek 2019, a healthcare provider conference. Dr. Meyer-Junco works with both oncology and geriatric patients suffering from pain conditions in Illinois.

Simple self-management strategies and behaviors can go a long way toward improving your overall chronic pain treatment plan. (Image: 123RF)

Brush up on your pain science. In addition to reading up on your particular condition(s), spend some time learning about how chronic pain works and why it persists long after tissues and injuries have healed. There is a lot of new research coming out around neural plasticity — the way the brain changes over time — and how we can have a say in those changes based on the way we think and react to stimuli (eg, think meditation and mindfulness). Some of this research is based on the Gate Control theory, which emerged in 1965. Using the analogy of a gate that exists between your central nervous system (where nerve impulses from tissues are conducted) and your brain (where the perception of pain is acknowledged), psychologist Ronald Melzack and neuroscientist Patrick Wall established that transmissions through the gate can be closed with the help of nonpainful stimuli (eg, rubbing your elbow after hitting your funny bone) and positive thinking. Ask your doctor about this science and what types of approaches you can take to “close the gate” on pain. Remember, out of all the treatments out there, patient education is free, safe, and effective—so ask your doctor questions whenever the opportunity arises, advises Dr. Meyer-Junco.

If you live with chronic pain, you may feel as though your identity has been stolen. Perhaps the person you were before your chronic pain has morphed into someone you don’t recognize. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can you help find and regain your old self. While you may need the help of a psychologist or trained clinician to get started, you can then put these tactics (eg, responding to stressors and flares, turning negative thoughts into positive images and opportunities) into practice on your own. If your insurance doesn’t cover psychotherapy or you don’t have access to a CBT/ACT specialist, ask your main doctor about other options. Community-based workshops on self-management skills for pain may be available in your area to help you live a healthier and more satisfying life with chronic pain.

To learn more about pain self-management programs, Dr. Meyer-Junco recommends visiting these websites:

When a pain flare comes on, your body will naturally enter a flight-or-fight response. And with chronic pain, you may feel as though you’re constantly in this overdrive state. Purposeful distractions can help you get through. For instance, if you find climbing stairs to be painful,  think about what you will do when you get to the top of the stairs, as you climb. If walking is painful, try applying a friend’s name or food item to each step. If a flare comes on, focus on remembering all the words to a song or on massaging one of their hands. (Read about how chronic pain warrior Jennie Grover uses quilting and craftwork to distract from her chronic pain ).  Relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, also called “belly breathing,” can also help to reduce the stress response and calm the nervous system. Listening to relaxation audio recordings from the American Chronic Pain Association may also help you cope with pain and stress.

Experiment with comfort-inducing applications. For those with chronic knee pain, Dr. Meyer-Junco suggests wearing “knee socks” while you sleep to keep painful knees warm. Simply cut the toes off of an old pair of socks and pull the remaining material up over the knees for support and comfort while you sleep. Good sleep is important to reducing pain intensity.  (Read about the insomnia-chronic pain cycle.)

Use visualizations. Either with a meditation coach or on your own, try to visualize your pain as a symbol that you can turn and dissipate, such as a red joint that slowly fades until colorless. For  tension and stress, think of a tightly twisted rope slowly unravelling. When undergoing a treatment, try to imagine a healing white light filling your body. If you prefer a more tangible image, post some affirmative or even humorous messages or smile-inducing pictures around your house to keep the mood light. Dr. Meyer-Junco calls these notes and images “thought stoppers.”

When worries have you spiraling down, try the STOP technique. If you experience an endless track of negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios, literally shout out loud the word “STOP!” while slapping your hands on a table or your thighs. The abruptness can shock your thought pattern and give you a chance to recharge and refocus.

And, as always, recommends Dr. Meyer-Junco, you can use these common tips to keep pain flares and sleep disturbance in check:

  1. Pace activities and allow for adequate rest
  2. Relaxation and positive thoughts
  3. A regular sleep routine, including skipping food and alcohol before bedtime.


What life hacks or self-care tricks do you use? Email and we will expand this list.

For more details on the life hacks herein, Dr. Meyer-Junco recommends the following books:

  • Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Pain, by MD Lefort
  • Living Beyond Your Pain: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Ease Chronic Pain, by JoAnne Dahl and Tobias Lundgren
  • Managing Pain Before it Manages You, by Margaret Caudill
  • Bouncing Back: Skills for Adaption to Injury, Aging, Illness and Pain, by Richard Wanlass
  • Cognitive Therapy for Chronic Pain, Second Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide Second Edition, by Beverly E. Thorn
Updated on: 09/19/19
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