Taking an active role in your health can help you feel better — and become better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs. Learn different strategies to manage your pain and improve your ability to function.
What’s the difference between acute and chronic pain?
Pain usually starts when nerves send signals to your brain, telling it you have an injury or illness.
Acute pain doesn’t last long. It may result from an injury or illness.
With chronic pain, your body might heal but your brain keeps getting “pain signals.” The pain becomes persistent. Chronic pain is often “invisible.” You might look healthy to others, while still suffering from extreme pain.
Pain signals from the body do not go to a single location in the brain. Instead, they go to several different networks of brain cells. The networks work together to determine how you experience the pain.
Attention: Controls how much attention you direct toward and away from pain.
Sensory: Processes the location and intensity of pain and whether pain is sharp, dull, or burning.
Action: allows you to respond to pain with your behavior.
Feelings/motivation: Influences how unpleasant and threatening pain is by processing related thoughts, feelings (fear, anger, depression), and stress responses.
Pain control: Takes messages from the other brain networks and controls your experience of pain by producing natural painkillers called endorphins. This network sends signals from the brain down into the spinal cord and out to the body.
How can I help myself?
You can help yourself with chronic pain. Start by listening to your body!
Kaiser Permanente members have access to digital mental health and wellness tools at no charge. Check out this page for a 1-year subscription to Calm or myStrength. You also can call a health coach for 6-month subscriptions to Headspace, Whil, SilverCloud, Woebot, or Thrive.
Being active is important. It can be an effective way to manage pain. One thing that is even more important is how you balance activity with rest. Check out these two models that describe what this can look like.
You might sometimes find yourself overdoing activities to “catch up” after periods of restricted activity. This can result in severe pain, which then may force you to rest for even longer periods, creating a pain overactivity cycle.
The activity-rest cycle is a better way to increase the amount of activity you can do over time.
To use this cycle, first identify an activity you tend to overdo. Then decide how long you can do the activity before you need to stop, rest, relax, and restart.
Common chronic pain conditions
While the cause of chronic pain can vary, there are some common pain conditions. Learn more about each:
Sometimes, we all need a little help as we’re dealing with health conditions. As you work to manage chronic pain, a health coach can help you work towards your goals, find new coping strategies, and keep on track.