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NHS help on offer for people with pain


Many people struggle with long-term pain. But help from your GP and pain services can lessen the pain, improve your independence and help you cope in general.

Some people may have a condition such as arthritis or diabetes nerve pain. Others may have a painful condition that medical science doesn't fully understand, such as long-term back pain.

Often, chronic pain is an illness in its own right, due to a fault or malfunction in the body's pain system.

It's important that people, including doctors and other clinicians, take you and your pain seriously. The answer to managing your pain may not necessarily be stronger and stronger painkillers (analgesics).

According to Dr Alf Collins, a consultant in pain management at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, people who have long-term pain should be thought of as having a pain-related disability.

He advises asking yourself the following questions: “What is the pain getting in the way of? How can you set goals for the future? How can painkillers help you reach your goals? How can you cope, become more independent and manage this for yourself? How can your family, carers and healthcare staff support you in your plans to be more in control of your life?"

Dr Collins says, "People with long-term pain often have a variety of problems. The emotional consequences come not just from the pain, but from how the pain changes the way they live their lives and perhaps the way they think about themselves."

What can your GP do?

Types of pain

There are two main types of pain.

  • Acute pain, also known as short-term pain, is pain that has started recently.
  • Chronic, or long-term pain, is pain that has lasted for three months or more.

If you have short-term (acute) pain, your GP will try to make a diagnosis and treat the pain.

If you have long-term pain, it might be as a result of a diagnosed medical condition, a painful condition that is not yet fully understood or no underlying condition at all. This doesn't mean you don't have pain, it means that a different approach to managing that pain might be helpful.

If you have mild to moderate pain, for example as a result of arthritis, your GP can talk to you about pain relief medication and other ways of managing the pain, such as:

  • going on an NHS self-help course like the Expert Patients Programme (a six-week course for people who have a long-term condition)
  • attending a Challenging Arthritis course run by Arthritis Care
  • having a series of sessions with a counsellor or clinical psychologist

If your pain is more severe and affecting your quality of life, damaging your mobility and stopping you leaving the house, you could probably benefit from a referral to your local pain management services.

Pain clinics

There are around 300 pain clinics in the UK. Most are located in hospitals and have teams of staff from different medical areas, including occupational therapists, psychologists, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. They all work together to help people with pain.

Pain clinics vary but usually offer a variety of treatments aimed at relieving long-term pain, such as painkilling drugs, injections, hypnotherapy and acupuncture.

You will need to be referred to a pain clinic by your GP or hospital consultant.

Pain management programmes

Pain management programmes are a series of sessions, for groups of 6-8 people, aimed at teaching you how to live with your pain. Instead of treating your pain, you learn to cope with it, gaining skills such as setting realistic goals and managing your moods and pain flare-ups. Research shows that after going on a pain management programme, the patient's confidence grows and they can expect to enjoy a better quality of life, sleep and mobility as a result.

Some hospital and community pain services offer pain management programmes, and some are run by GPs.

As with pain clinics, you will need a referral from a GP or hospital specialist to join a pain management programme.


Shoulder pain

An osteopath explains what you can do to prevent and ease shoulder pain, and when to get help from an expert.

Last reviewed: 01/06/2010

Next review due: 01/06/2012



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Woodlandia said on 14 January 2010

I have extensive nerve damage, all over my body and the resultant pain is called neuropathy. Unfortunately I have had very little help available apart from being dosed up with Gabapentin and Nortriptyline, in hefty measures. I have taken on the responsibility for my own pain management and do relaxation and meditative therapies; where I have trained my mind to handle the pain and helps me cope with it. I take supplements to strengthen and repair damaged nerves and use a machine which delivers electronic pulses to reawaken my nerves and keep them working. This also helps my muscles and circulatory system to function better. Exercise is also crucial as it gets my body back into the healthier position, so the endorphins flow and make the pain less evident. Eating healthily and being in charge mentally helps my body to relax when necessary and enjoy life with far less pain.

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User72855 said on 09 December 2008

Long-term back pain is now proved to be more understood. See BMJ ATEAM trial pub. 19/8/2008 comparing the effects of the Alexander Technique, exercise and massage. Pain relief is now available without excessive reliance on analgesia. Visit

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