According to the Institute of Medicine, a whopping 100 million Americans—that’s one in three—suffer from some sort of chronic pain. And if you’re one of them, chances are at least one doctor has told you, “It’s all in your head.”
The trick is that chronic pain wears many disguises. Sometimes chronic pain is psychosomatic, which does not mean it’s all in your head or that you’re faking (that’s another term: malingering), but does mean that your very real pain is caused by psychological factors, like stress or depression.
Other times, to everyone’s befuddlement, pain is caused by a mysterious injury that may or may not be visible on x-rays or MRIs. In other cases, there’s an underlying condition, like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or neuropathy. And if those weren’t enough options, sometimes chronic pain stems from damage to the the nerves and spinal cord—the pain system itself.
In the comprehensive book that inspired some of these tips, Managing Pain Before It Manages You, Dr. Margaret A. Caudill likens chronic pain to a fire alarm that keeps clanging long after the fire is out.
But whether your chronic pain stems from any of these four sources, it’s still, well, a pain. For those with migraines, back pain, joint pain, or anyone else who knows tension headaches are for amateurs, here are five tips to manage your chronic pain.