Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is common amongst people with chronic respiratory diseases and also common amongst their carers, in fact it is one of the most common reasons why one of us visits our doctor. At one time the response of your doctor might have been simple - check what is causing the pain is going to clear up possibly with some intervention and then prescribe painkiller drugs to help the patient cope with the short period of pain. If the predicted period of pain is not going to be short they might continue to give you painkillers but after a certain point we know that two things start to happen:

  • The painkillers will start giving you side effects, some of which can be serious e.g. depression. The longer you are on the painkiller and the higher the dose the worse this can get.
  • Some painkillers - especially those used to treat severe pain - start to lose their effectiveness if given over several weeks

Nowadays doctors are more likely to try to encourage patients to remain active, to remain at work and depending on the source of the pain might well recommend strengthening exercises as improved muscle tone and strength case help support a painful joint for example. This also helps the patient to socialise, reduces anxiety and can reduce pain as well as importantly reduces the risk of depression.

But wait! you might ask - moving a painful joint is going to be even more painful and cause more damage and then more pain? If done with medical supervision this is unlikely and overall an improvement in pain is usually achieved along with a reduction of dose of painkillers.

NHS- Managing chronic pain

But what about the chest pain often experienced by people with respiratory illness?

Firstly it is important to stress that all chest pain needs to be examined by a doctor as there are several possible casues and some causes need immediate attention e.g. heart attack!

Some chest pain comes from sore bones, muscles and joints so as we cannot avoid moving our chests during breathing we tend to reduce movement for a while and take painkillers until the pain is reduced - but then just as written above your doctor may start to use a variety of approaches to keep your chest moving, build up the muscles to help prevent future pain and reduce painkiller dose - the same as any other joint.

NHS Chest pain

How can I reduce my dose of painkillers?

There are several techniques that help you feel that you are more in control of the amount of pain you are in, some are mentioned in the above link on managing chronic pain. Several exploit a little know fact about pain about which most of us will take some convincing. Our pain is not generated by injury it is generated by our brains as a defensive mechanism. That suggests that the amount of pain we feel is not inevitable, we might be able to control it a little by using our brains!

Convinced? Try watching this video recommended by one of our patients as helping her understand that we can do something to reduce our pain and possibly even reduce our dose of painkillers. 

Getting a grip on pain and the brain: Prof Lorimer Moseley