Managing chronic pain: movement, medication and motivation!

December 13, 2023
7 minute read

Chronic pain is defined as a type of pain that lasts for longer than 3 months, either as part of another health condition or despite ongoing investigations and treatment.

From the simplest actions such as getting out of bed to more complex endeavours such as continuing to have a productive work life, chronic pain can cast a shadow over every facet of daily life. The limitations imposed by chronic pain can severely affect one’s quality of life. In the UK, most sources estimate at least 1/3 of the population is affected by chronic pain.  

Read on as we explore the landscape of chronic pain, discussing how chronic pain differs from acute pain, possible causes of chronic pain and crucial management strategies, including lifestyle habits and medication.  

How does chronic pain differ compared to acute pain?

Acute pain is something we’ve all probably experienced throughout our lives and is a type of short-term pain that is more straightforward to understand. It often surfaces after a recognisable injury or illness, and medication frequently proves effective in managing it and offering a pathway back to regular life after a period of disruption. While acute pain often does evoke temporary feelings of frustration and stress, its impact often diminishes as the healing process continues, and a return to normal life is on the horizon.  

On the other hand, chronic pain is a much more complex condition. Chronic pain is often hard to categorise, and in some cases, may even defy a clear explanation as to why it is present in the first place. Medication that is often effective for acute pain may not provide the same relief for chronic pain sufferers. The long-lasting nature of chronic pain brings about lasting alterations to daily activities and routines, and even one’s ability to carry out their work. Its enduring and often debilitating nature can take a significant emotional toll on the sufferer.  

What causes chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a highly intricate and an individualised experience, with causes that can vary significantly from person to person. It often stems from a combination of factors that interplay to create a complex condition requiring careful, long-term management.

Some of the causes and contributors to chronic pain include:

  • Surgery or serious injuries - these can lead to ongoing pain that persists beyond the expected healing period  
  • Nerve damage - caused by injury or diseases such as diabetes, resulting in sensations like tingling, burning and shooting pain (also known as neuropathic pain)
  • Muscular and skeletal problems - can also contribute to chronic pain  
  • Chronic inflammation - often associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune disorders, contributing to persistent pain  
  • Psychological factors - stress, anxiety or depression can exacerbate chronic pain  
  • Changes in nervous system signals - these can result in heightened sensitivity and a lower pain threshold (also known as central sensitisation)  
  • Genetic and lifestyle factors - certain genetic predispositions can increase the risk for conditions causing chronic pain, while lifestyle factors such as ongoing bad habits can also contribute to chronic pain  

In some cases, such as following a traumatic injury or operation, pain can inexplicably persist beyond the anticipated healing period, evolving into what is known as chronic primary pain. Unlike acute pain, chronic primary pain lacks a clear, identifiable cause or specific underlying condition—the pain itself is considered the primary condition.

Tips for managing chronic pain

Successful management of chronic pain often involves a personalised, multifaceted approach, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, you should first consult a medical professional who will be able to provide the personalised guidance and help required to help manage your chronic pain successfully.

Here are a few useful tips to consider and incorporate into your daily life, which can help make it easier to manage your chronic pain.

  1. Remain active  

Living with chronic pain almost always impacts one’s ability to carry out normal daily activities. Many sufferers of chronic pain instinctually try to avoid being active as they are worried that doing so will make their pain worse.  

While being less active might feel like it’s helping in the short term, this can worsen your pain in the long term. As such, it’s important to find a sustainable and balanced way to remain active. Knowing where to start with getting more physical activity can be daunting for some people with chronic pain.  

Remember that any type of movement can be exercise – it’s important to choose a level of exercise that suits you. You can consider low impact forms of exercise such as:

  • Walking  
  • Using an exercise bike  
  • Dancing or moving to music  
  • Exercising in the pool  

  1. Continue working if you can

It’s crucial to attempt to remain employed even if you’re in pain. People become less active and more depressed when they don’t work.

Continuing to work will offer a sense of purpose and won’t necessarily make your pain worse. If you find that it does, talk to your boss about the parts of your job which you find difficult, and try to put in place strategies so that you can continue working.  

  1. Pace yourself

In the context of chronic pain, pacing is a strategy that can help individuals manage and cope with persistent pain by finding a balance between activity and rest to avoid exacerbating symptoms and to maintain a more functional and fulfilling life.  

The concept of pacing recognises that pushing through pain or overexerting oneself can often lead to increased discomfort and may contribute to a cycle of pain escalation. On the other hand, excessive rest or avoidance of all activities can lead to deconditioning and a decrease in overall wellbeing.

Core pacing principles involve:

  • Dividing larger tasks into more manageable segments
  • Incorporating regular rest intervals to avoid overexertion
  • Being attuned to your body and recognise signs of discomfort or fatigue
  • Gradually raising activity levels through setting achievable goals
  • Prioritising activities based on importance and energy demands

  1. Physical therapy

For certain types of chronic pain, particularly those caused by a traumatic injury, or muscle or skeletal problems, physical therapy can help a great deal by relieving pain and facilitating daily activities.  

Physical therapy involves a range of exercises such as pain-relief exercises, stretching and more, and is usually delivered by a qualified physiotherapist.  

Speak to your GP as they may be able to refer you for physical therapy through the NHS.  

  1. Relaxation and sleep  

Coping with chronic pain can understandably take an emotional toll on you. It’s important that you take active steps to manage and look after your mental wellbeing, as stress, anxiety or depression can all make your symptoms worse.  

Taking time to relax is therefore important, and you should try to find activities that help you relax and unwind. If you find that you are really struggling with your mental health, seeking help from your GP or a healthcare professional should be considered.  

Relaxing before bed can also improve your sleep quality, and you should consider prioritising your sleep quality and exploring strategies such as practising good sleep hygiene to get the best quality sleep that you can.  

  1. Medication

Medication has its place in the holistic management of chronic pain, alongside some of the strategies we’ve outlined above.  

Some of the main classes of medication prescribed for chronic pain include:

  • Opioids are medications that can be helpful in the short term, though not a viable solution over the longer term  
  • Certain antidepressants such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline can help by acting on chemicals in the brain that assist with pain relief, such as serotonin  

Your GP will be able to provide more information and guidance on the most appropriate medication for you.  

Remember to consult your GP for personalised advice on the most suitable management strategies, combining lifestyle adjustments and medication, tailored to your unique needs.

Learn more

To find out more about chronic pain and useful management strategies, explore the NHS Pain resource pages.

To understand how alternative options might suit you, visit  

Do you have any additional questions? Get in touch with our friendly, professional pharmacy team who can offer you guidance and advice.

Content last reviewed on:
December 13, 2023
Next review date:
December 13, 2025
Further reading
Patient receiving delivery from Phlo

Join our pharmacy revolution

There’s no better time to become part of the Phlo community. Take control of your medication management and join the 1,000s of patients we’ve helped safely manage their medication.

Download the Phlo app and enjoy an enhanced experience!
Link to download app from Apple StoreLink to download app from Google Play store