What is pain management?

Pain Management
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Managing pain during cancer treatment: Overview

Cancer and some of the treatments for it can cause pain. But having cancer does not mean that you have to live with pain. Medicines and other treatments can reduce or stop your pain completely. Getting your pain under control is an important part of cancer treatment. It can help you eat and sleep better, have more energy for your usual activities, and enjoy time with your family and friends.

Pain control starts with finding the cause of the pain. As soon as your doctor knows what is causing your pain, the doctor can recommend the best treatment for your type of pain.

Medicines are often used to treat pain. You and your doctor may need to adjust your medicine to help you get the best possible pain control with the fewest side effects. Your doctor may suggest different medicines, combinations of medicines, or higher doses. You do not need to "tough it out" or wait until your pain is bad before you take medicine. Pain medicine may work better if you use it when you first notice pain, before it becomes bad.

You are the only person who can say how much pain you have, or if a certain pain medicine is working for you. It is important to tell your doctor what your pain feels like and what works and does not work. The more specific you can be about your pain, the better your doctor will be able to treat it.

Besides pain medicine, there also are many other ways to control cancer pain, including things you can do at home. Some people find acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy helpful. Or you may want to use relaxation exercises, biofeedback, or guided imagery to help you cope better with the pain. Emotional support from your family and friends can also help.

What services does a pain management clinic provide?

Chronic pain often requires both counseling and medical treatment, because it can have a wearing effect on both the body and the mind. At a pain management clinic, you can get multidisciplinary treatment from a team of specialists, including:


These medical doctors specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They often coordinate a chronic pain treatment team.

Psychologists or counselors.

They teach cognitive-behavioral skills for managing pain, anxiety, and depression.

Physical therapists.

They teach exercises for improving and maintaining strength, function, and mobility.

Doctors who prescribe pain medicine and are skilled in pain management devices and procedures.

These doctors include neurologists, anesthesiologists, physiatrists or physical medicine specialists, internists, and family medicine doctors.

Doctors who prescribe medicine for supporting mental health.

These doctors include psychiatrists and family medicine doctors.

Nurses or social workers.

These professionals help support and coordinate patient care.

Other specialists, such as complementary medicine providers, may also be available in a chronic pain management clinic. These specialists meet to share information and make sure that care is coordinated.

Some chronic pain clinics have a stronger emphasis on invasive treatment, such as injections and surgical procedures, than others. Look for a clinic that offers you a choice of noninvasive treatments, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. Before having an invasive pain treatment, ask your doctor about his or her experience with that treatment. Also, ask about research that shows how well it works for your condition.

What is pain in the hospital like?

You may feel some pain during your stay in the hospital. A certain amount of pain from an injury or surgery is common and normal.

Pain is your body's way of letting you know that something is wrong. Your body's nerve endings send pain signals to your brain. Everyone feels pain differently. It can be dull or sharp. It can throb or burn. It can move from one part of your body to another.

No matter how much or why or for how long it hurts, pain can make it hard to move, sleep, and recover. Your care team will work with you to help manage your pain.

Talking to your doctor about your pain

It's important to be open and honest with your doctor about your pain. By describing your pain, you will help your doctor know how best to treat it. Here are some ideas to help you work with your doctor.

  • Keep a pain diary and share it with your doctor.

    An important part of managing your pain is keeping a pain diary. A pain diary is a place to record how you feel, what you are doing, and what helps you feel better. For example, keep track of things like:

    • Where you feel pain and what it feels like.
    • How bad your pain is.
    • How long the pain lasts.
    • What eases the pain and what makes it worse.

    Take your pain diary with you to the doctor. It will help you remember things, answer questions, and describe your pain.

  • Keep track of your doctor's advice.

    Ask your doctor to give you written or printed information. Take notes or record the conversation. Ask your doctor to slow down or repeat information when you need more time to write it down. Later, you can review the information whenever you need to.

  • Bring a support person to your appointments.

    When you're in pain, you may have a hard time remembering what your doctor tells you. Bring a friend or family member with you to the doctor to help you understand and remember or write down what your doctor said.

  • Do what you can to improve communication.

    If you don't feel like you can talk with your doctor, there may be things you can do to improve communication. Think through your concerns. State them as honestly as you can. Here are some opening lines you might use:

    • "I'm concerned that we're not communicating well, and here's why."
    • "I need to be able to talk with you about a certain issue, and I'm having trouble getting started. Can we discuss this?"
    • "I know you're very busy, but I really need to talk to you at more length. Can we schedule a time to do that?"
    • "I'm having trouble understanding something. Can you help me?"

Managing pain during cancer treatment: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse pain.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Why is it important to manage your pain?

Controlling your pain can help you to:

  • Be active.
  • Sleep.
  • Cope better with your treatment for a health problem.
  • Enjoy family and friends.
  • Eat with pleasure.
  • Heal faster after an injury or surgery.

Long-term pain that isn't controlled can take the joy from your life. You may not be able to work. Physical activity may be too painful or exhausting. You may have a hard time sleeping at night, which can make you tired and cranky. Your outlook on life may change and strain your relationships with family and friends. You may become depressed and anxious.

Controlling pain can help with all these things.

How will your pain be managed in the hospital?

Your doctor will explain how much pain you should expect and how long it may last. This will depend on what is causing your pain.

Controlling pain doesn't always mean that you will feel no pain at all. You and your doctor can work together to find ways to limit your pain as you recover so you can feel better and do more for yourself.

Your feelings about how you want your pain to be managed are important. Some things that might shape what you prefer include:

  • How you've dealt with pain in the past.
  • Your feelings about side effects of medicine.
  • Your past health.
  • Your age.

Your doctor will talk with you about what options are available in your case. Your choices for pain control might include more than one medicine. In the hospital, you might get intravenous (I.V.) medicines through a tube in a vein in your arm or hand. You may also use a type of pump that lets you give yourself a certain amount of pain medicine if you need it. And some pain control medicines might be in pill form.

Some conditions can make pain control more complex. If this is true in your case, you might be referred to a pain specialist.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.