Understanding your chronic pain: strategies for self-management

Chronic pain is a complex, persistent and challenging condition that affects nearly eight million Canadians today, significantly impacting their daily lives both physically and emotionally.

There is a wealth of support and self-management strategies available to individuals dealing with chronic pain. This includes online resources, support from your family physician, access to specialized care and effective techniques that can significantly contribute to managing chronic pain.

Unlike acute pain, which signals tissue damage and is essential for survival, the root of chronic pain lies in the way the nervous system processes signals from the body and the environment.

Chronic pain persists after the expected healing period and the underlying tissue damage has been resolved, lasting for three to six months — or in many cases, much longer.

Common conditions leading to chronic pain

The impact of chronic pain conditions can extend beyond just physical sensations and may affect daily activities, relationships, thoughts and emotions, often resulting in brain fog, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Conditions that can lead to chronic pain include:

  • back pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • arthritis
  • nerve damage
  • repetitive strain injuries
  • trauma

A balanced approach to pain management

For many, learning how to manage pain resulting from chronic conditions is difficult but possible. The best results are achieved by taking a multidimensional approach that involves physical, mental and social strategies. 

Cori Bryant, an Occupational Therapist and Program Manager of the Extended Health Team at Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network, emphasizes that for patients experiencing chronic pain, “There is hope of a higher quality of life and better function regardless of how much change there is in pain.” 
In some cases, using physical techniques like pacing — a self-management practice where you plan your activities intentionally to create balance, ensuring you do not over-exert yourself — along with a graded activity program, can provide relief.

Psychological strategies like mindfulness and cognitive-behavioural therapy can also help. Social strategies, including staying connected with loved ones and finding support groups, can combat the isolation often associated with chronic pain.

Incorporating these techniques into daily life can empower individuals to take control of their pain experience.

How interdisciplinary health teams can help

If you experience chronic pain, tailoring your treatment plan begins by understanding your unique pain condition, life circumstances and goals.

Interdisciplinary teams that include health care professionals like family doctors, registered nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and kinesiologists, collaborate to design personalized plans that prioritize improving the patient's overall quality of life. Many Primary Care Networks have dedicated programs to help improve the health and quality of life for patients experiencing chronic pain. Ask your family doctor for more information.

Managing chronic pain is possible

Addressing chronic pain requires a shift in perception, recognizing it as a complex condition of the nervous system.

By embracing a well-rounded approach and leveraging available support and resources, patients can navigate the challenges of chronic pain.

Staying active, managing stress, nurturing social connections and maintaining proper nutrition and hydration are crucial strategies for anyone looking to manage their pain.

Additional resources

Various resources and support programs, such as Alberta Healthy Living and dedicated mobile apps like Curable and Headspace are available.

Alberta Healthy Living Program

Virtual Workshops:
Moving on with persistent pain
Chronic pain self-management
Chronic disease

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