Chronic pain is common amongst people with chronic respiratory diseases, and also amongst their carers; in fact it is one of the most common reasons for both to visit the doctor. At one time your doctor’s response might have been simple – check that the cause of the pain should clear up with 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 (eg. depression). The longer you are on the painkillers, 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 and encourage patients to remain active, to remain at work and, depending on the source of the pain, might well recommend strengthening exercises (improved muscle tone and strength case help support a painful joint). This also helps the patient to socialise, reduces anxiety and the risk of depression, and can even reduce the pain itself.
But wait! You might ask: Won’t moving a painful joint cause more damage and therefore more pain? If done under medical supervision this is unlikely, and overall the pain usually improves and the dose of painkillers is reduced.
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 causes 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, 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 with any other joint pain.
How can I reduce my dose of painkillers?
There are several techniques that will help you feel more in control of the amount of pain you are in – some are mentioned in the above link, managing chronic pain. Several exploit a little known fact about pain, which most of us will take some convincing of. 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!
Not convinced? Try watching this video recommended by one of our patients, which helped her understand that we can do something to reduce our pain, and possibly even reduce our dose of painkillers.