Exercise and continuing to work are key to recovery when you are dealing with chronic pain. Lying still for long periods can increase the pain you feel as your body will stiffen up and your muscles and bones will get weaker. This will affect your quality of sleep and could reduce contact with others which will in turn affect your mental wellbeing and could increase your levels of pain.
A good approach to reducing pain is a combination of:
Exercise – Choose an exercise that won’t put too much strain on your body. Suitable options could include walking, swimming, using an exercise bike, dancing, yoga or pilates. Activity and stretching should become part of your routine, so that you exercise little and often.
Try to be active every day instead of only on the days when you’re not in so much pain. This may reduce the number of bad days you have and help you to feel more in control. It is a fine balance, as overdoing it too much on good days can mean an increase in the number of bad days.
Staying at work – Research shows that people become less active and more depressed when they do not work so it is important to stay in work even though you are in pain. Often this will distract you from the pain and in most cases, won’t make your pain any worse.
If you must stay off work for a while, try to get back as soon as possible with the help of your employer. Talk to your employer about the specific parts of your job that you can continue to do well, and those parts which may initially prove difficult to undertake, but stress that you want to be at work.
If you have been off work for an extended period, plan with your doctor, therapist and employer how and when you can return. Gradually increasing the time you spend at work each week can be effective in managing chronic pain and getting back into the workplace.
It may be possible to agree with your employer changes to your job or work pattern if it helps. Larger organisations have Occupational Health departments and Health and Safety Reps who will be able to assist you with any requests.
Physical Therapy – A short course of physical therapy can help you to move better, relieve your pain and make daily tasks and activities easier. Physical therapy for persistent pain can involve manipulation, stretching exercises and pain-relief exercises.
Physiotherapists can give you advice on the right type of exercise and activity. Occupational therapists can support you with environmental changes that help you to remain in work and function better at home.
Painkillers - It's safe to use over-the-counter painkillers to reduce your pain so you can be more active but it's important to use painkillers carefully, as they have side effects. Paracetamol is the simplest and safest painkiller. You could also try anti-inflammatory tablets like ibuprofen as long as you don't have a condition (such as a stomach ulcer) that prevents you using them.
It's important to take painkillers at the recommended dose and to take them regularly every 4 to 6 hours, preferably to overcome a flare-up of your pain or help get you through an impending activity. Don't wait until your pain is severe before you start taking painkillers, as they won't work as well.
If a 2-week course of over-the-counter painkillers does not work, ask for help from your pharmacist or GP.
Page last updated - August 2023