Managing chronic pain

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​​Pain is much like hunger and thirst – it requires you to do something to make it go away.

When chronic pain is not due to an underlying uncontrolled disease, it is described as a primary pain disorder. The chronic pain must be treated without delay. In many cases, however, chronic pain cannot be totally eliminated. As a result, the goal of a chronic pain management plan is to live as normal a life as possible rather than achieve complete pain relief. So even if you cannot eliminate your pain, you can at least reduce it by modifying (changing) the pain signals that reach your brain.

3P approach to pain management

Chronic pain is best treated with:

  • physical strategies
  • psychological strategies
  • pharmacological strategies.

Together, these combine to form the 3P approach to pain management. Check out this animation to learn more! Tip: The animation is best viewed in landscape mode if you are accessing this page on a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device.

Physical strategies

Physical strategies can help you live a more active life, which can improve your mood, sleep and energy level as well as reduce your pain. They include positions of comfort, use of warm and cold and exercise.

  • Learning how to get active in the right way retrains your pain system to be less sensitive. It also improves your physical function and overall wellbeing.
  • Some exercise programs may be prescribed just for you to help you strengthen any muscles that might have become weak or imbalanced because of your pain disorder.
  • If you have nerve pain, you will be taught how to desensitize areas that are very painful.

Psychological strategies

Psychological strategies can help people reduce pain by learning how to manage stress, practise mindfulness, relax tense muscles and distract themselves from pain sensations. The goal is to find strategies that will help you manage your pain in healthy ways and get back to doing what you love.

Pharmacological strategies

Pharmacological strategies are another name for medications. They can be helpful when you use them with physical and psychological strategies. Pain medications are designed to reduce pain signals at specific points in the pain pathway. Other medications may be recommended to help improve sleep, reduce anxiety and manage mood problems that contribute to or develop from pain disorders.

Multidisciplinary treatment

Your management plan will revolve around the 3Ps, so you may need more than one healthcare provider to help you find the solutions that work for you. For example your doctor or nurse may ask you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a physiotherapist. You may also find that you benefit most from more or less of a particular strategy.

Sometimes you may be referred to a multidisciplinary pain clinic. This is staffed by healthcare providers from a range of disciplines or professional backgrounds, such as anaesthesiologists, paediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, and/or occupational therapists. In rare cases, you may even be admitted to hospital for certain treatments.

Whether you are referred to a specialized team, work with your doctor and other healthcare providers in your community or use the iCanCope app, your tools will come from the 3Ps. Your healthcare team will focus on helping you to improve your function and quality of life despite your pain.


Tyrrell, J. (2009). Chronic pain. [Accessed August 25, 2018]

Last updated: May 2nd 2016