Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

How to Get Relief from Chronic Pain


Am Fam Physician. 2000 Mar 1;61(5):1345-1346.

  See related article on chronic pain.

What is chronic pain and what causes it?

Pain is what you feel when you've been hurt or have a disease or illness. There are two types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain doesn't last long and usually goes away as your body heals. Chronic pain lasts a long time (at least 6 months) after your body has healed. Chronic pain can occur without a known cause. Along with the discomfort, chronic pain can cause low self-esteem, depression and anger, and it can interfere with your daily activities.

How should I treat chronic pain?

Treatment of chronic pain usually involves medicines and therapy. Medicines include pain relievers, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Different types of pain get better with different types of medicines. Usually you use long-acting medicines for constant pain, and short-acting medicines are used for pain that comes and goes. The medicines that will help you the most depend on what type of pain you have and how long it lasts.

Several types of therapy can help ease your pain. Physical therapy (such as stretching and strengthening activities) and exercise (such as walking, swimming or biking) can help reduce the pain. Occupational therapy teaches you how to pace yourself and how to do ordinary tasks differently so you won't hurt yourself. Not doing physical activity or trying to do too much can hurt chronic pain patients. Behavioral therapy can reduce your pain through exercises that help you relax (such as meditation and yoga). It can also help get rid of stress. Doing these exercises helps your muscles relax and lessen the pain.

Lifestyle changes are also an important part of therapy. Getting regular sleep at night and not taking daytime naps should help. Stopping smoking helps too because the nicotine in cigarettes can make some medicines less effective. Smokers also have more pain than nonsmokers.

Most pain treatments will not take away all of your pain. Instead, treatment should reduce how much pain you have and how often it occurs. Talk to your doctor to learn how to best control your pain.

How do I talk to my doctor about pain?

Telling your doctor about your pain will help him or her find the best treatment. Tell your doctor where, how bad and how often your pain occurs. Also talk about what makes the pain better or worse. Your doctor may also review other health problems (such as arthritis, breathing problems and heart conditions) you may have, as these may keep you from doing some types of therapy. Your doctor may also ask if you have had any problems with sleep, mood or anxiety.

Where can I get more information?

American Chronic Pain Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 850

Rocklin, CA 95677

Telephone: 916-632-0922

Internet address:

American Pain Foundation

111 South Calvert Street

Suite 2700

Baltimore, MD 21202

Internet address:

American Pain Society

4700 W. Lake Avenue

Glenview, IL 60025

Telephone: 847-375-4715

Internet address:

American Council for Headache Education

19 Mantua Road

Mount Royal, NJ 08061

Telephone: 800-255-ACHE (2243) or 856-423-0258

Internet address:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Jan 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article