Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Options for managing chronic pain

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Chronic pain can be very intense, and coping with it on your own can be a challenge.
  • Since everyone's experience of chronic pain is different, individuals need their own tailored pain-management plan.
  • You can manage chronic pain by using a combination of methods that improve your physical, social, and mental wellbeing.
  • Medicines are sometimes useful in managing chronic pain in addition to other strategies.
  • Opioids are not usually recommended for chronic non-cancer pain.

What are my options for managing chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a common condition that affects 1 in 5 Australians aged over 45 years. Chronic pain can be difficult to cope with on your own. Your doctor can help you develop a tailored plan for managing your pain.

Medicines alone are not the most effective way to treat chronic pain. It is best managed using a combination of different approaches. These might include pain-relief medicines, together with other management options, such as:

People who actively manage their pain in these ways see more improvements in their mood, health and ability to function, compared with people who only use medicines to manage their pain.

Physical therapy

When you experience chronic pain, it might seem natural to avoid too much standing, bending or moving around. However, exercise and stretching can often decrease your pain and improve your ability to function.

If you are less active over time, you may start to lose muscle mass, flexibility, and strength. This makes it more difficult to carry out regular daily activities, especially as you become weaker as time goes on.

Physiotherapists and exercise physiologists can help teach you how to move your body safely. It can also help to pace yourself throughout the day by doing tasks in smaller steps, rather than all at once.

Psychological therapy

Mood and mindset can influence the way people experience their pain. Psychological techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, can help you limit or eliminate unhelpful thoughts. This may change the way you behave in response to pain.

It's helpful to include mood and social goals in your pain management plan. For example, one goal that a person might set as part of psychological therapy is to spend 30 minutes a day socialising with friends or family.

Mind-body therapies

Mind-body therapies include yoga, relaxation and meditation. These therapies can help you to reduce your stress levels, which may in turn reduce your experience of pain. Yoga and Tai Chi can also be a part of your physical therapy program.

Other therapies

Because everyone's experience of pain is different, individuals need different treatment plans to help manage their own chronic pain.

As well as the above, some complementary therapies may be useful:

  • Learn strategies to improve your sleep, which can help improve your ability to function well during the day and feel less pain.
  • Join a support group, where you can share your experiences and hear how others in similar situations manage their pain.
  • Seek advice from an expert in pain management.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Watch this video from NPS MedicineWise: Australians talk about their experiences with a range of different pain management options.

What is the role of medicines in managing chronic pain?

In some cases, medicines can be helpful in managing chronic pain. These could include over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, supplements and prescription medicines. You can buy OTC pain medicines, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, without a doctor's prescription.

Before taking any pain medicine (even OTC medicines), talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They can advise whether the medicine is suitable for you, and whether it's likely to help you manage your specific type of pain.

Some people find helpful other medicines helpful, including:

  • Antidepressants — some medicines that are used to treat depression, such as amitriptyline, are also sometimes prescribed by doctors to reduce pain.
  • Anticonvulsants or antiepileptic medicines — medicines commonly used to treat epilepsy can also help manage nerve pain. They include pregabalin and gabapentin.

In Australia, these medicines are only available with a doctor's prescription.

Opioid medicines (such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine) can be used to treat:

  • acute (short-term) pain, such as pain after surgery or an injury; or
  • chronic pain for people with cancer

It's important to remember that opioids are not recommended to help people with chronic, non-cancer pain.

Using prescription opioids for an extended period of time can be dangerous and may be addictive.

Evidence shows that the longer a person takes an opioid, the less pain relief they will receive. This is because the body gets used to the dose of opioid that's being taken — known as ‘tolerance'. When a person has tolerance to opioid medicines, they need higher doses of the medicine to feel the same effect. But higher doses also increase the risk of serious side effects.

Long-term use of opioids can also make someone more sensitive to pain. This is known as ‘opioid-induced hyperalgesia'.

WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OPIOID USE? — The Opioid Risk Indicator can help you find out if you may be developing a problem.

What is interventional pain management?

Your doctor may recommend interventional pain treatments if you haven't responded well to other pain management methods. These treatments are usually recommended after consultation with a pain specialist.

Your doctor or pain specialist can discuss the risks and benefits of these treatments and whether they're suitable for you. In most cases, interventional pain treatments provide short-term pain relief. During the period of relief, you can modify your lifestyle and develop good habits. This makes it easier to cope with chronic pain if it returns.

Interventional pain treatments for chronic pain include a range of options:

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — This is a battery-operated stimulator sends a pulse of energy through the skin at the site of your pain.`TENS can help manage a range of pain types, including back and neck pain, arthritis, migraine headaches and post-surgery pain.
  • Spinal-cord stimulation — Similar to TENS, this involves placing an electrical device under your skin near the spine. The device applies a current to the spinal cord, which interrupts the pain signals being sent to the brain. A hand-held control allows you to adjust the intensity of the charge.
  • Radiofrequency ablation — This is a procedure performed by a doctor that targets joint- and nerve-based chronic pain. Needles are placed onto the nerves responsible for the pain, and the tip of the needle is heated. This interrupts the signals to the brain.
  • Nerve block — This intervention is used to treat intense chronic nerve pain. A local anaesthetic is injected to stop the nerves from sending pain signals.
  • Epidural injections — Medicines such as corticosteroids and/or local anaesthetic can be injected in the space around your spinal cord to reduce pain.
  • Surgery — Some types of chronic pain may respond to surgical treatment.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have chronic pain, you should ask your doctor about the pain management options that could be suitable for you.

Chronic pain is best treated using a combination of physical therapies, relaxation techniques and stress-management strategies. Your doctor can help you create a chronic pain management plan that includes some or all of these methods.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Pain Question Planner to prepare for your doctor’s appointment.

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Staying on Track

Keep on track to help maintain improvements in pain management through continual use of coping strategies that you find helpful.

Read more on ACI Pain Management Network website

Chronic Pain Management & Treatment | THIS WAY UP

Understanding the signs, symptoms and treatment options available for those suffering Chronic Pain in Australia.

Read more on This Way Up website

How exercise can help chronic pain and reduce symptoms

Exercise can play a key role in managing your chronic pain, research has even shown it can reverse and reduce pain. Read more here

Read more on Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) website

Chronic Pain | Pain Management Network

Gain a better understanding of your pain to enable you to develop skills and knowledge in the self management of your pain in partnership with your healthcare providers.

Read more on ACI - Agency for Clinical Innovation website

Exercise right for chronic pain - Exercise Right.

Exercise is proven beneficial for numerous persistent pain conditions, including neck and back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and migraines.

Read more on Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) website

Pain Management | enableme - stroke recovery and support

Need to know more about the type of pain you might experience after your stroke and how can it be managed?

Read more on Stroke Foundation website

Pain and Mind-Body Connection

Explore some strategies for managing pain and fear-related thoughts.

Read more on ACI Pain Management Network website

10 Important Messages for Those Living with Chronic Pain - Exercise Right.

Anyone living with chronic pain knows how debilitating it can be. If you're living with chronic pain, here are some things you need to know...

Read more on Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) website

Pain – persistent, chronic, always there - Musculoskeletal Australia (MSK)

For many of us our pain is always there. Pain is invisible, it hurts and it’s exhausting. So we look at some ways you can manage your pain in iso.

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Online Treatment Program for Chronic Pain | THIS WAY UP

Learn practical strategies for managing chronic pain, and low mood/anxiety with our clinically-proven online program. Based on Reboot Online Program.

Read more on This Way Up website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.