What Are the Best Ways to Manage Chronic Pain in Recovery?

Updated on August 25, 2020

Chronic pain is a distressing condition that is common in America’s general population, with about one in every three adult Americans reporting the condition at some point in their life.1 It is projected that the prevalence of chronic pain amongst the general populace will continue to rise, as a lot of co-morbidity factors such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, etc., continue to thrive. Thankfully, various pharmaceutical breakthroughs have been formulated for the effective management of this condition.

For recovering addicts, chronic pains are a little bit tricky to manage, and these breakthroughs are not always the best treatment options for them. Doctors who are aware of a patient’s history of addiction are likely to under-prescribe pain relief medications, most especially if the patient was an opioid addict. Of course, this is done in good faith, to limit the chances of a relapse.

Unfortunately, with limited access to chronic pain treatment, recovering addicts who are fraught with chronic pain are inadvertently exposed to addiction triggers. This is especially true if the recovering addict is unaware of other means, aside from drugs, which they can utilize to manage their pain.

If chronic pain is left untreated in a recovering addict, living with the agony over time can push them towards depression, insomnia, anxiety, mood changes, etc. In turn, they might slip into addiction in the process of looking for relief.

Chronic pain has the potential to lead to opioid misuse and addiction, which led to over 42,000 deaths in 2016.2 It doesn’t really help that some of the commonly available painkillers – whether over-the-counter or prescription pills – are opiate-based and can be addictive. As a recovering addict, consuming these drugs puts you at risk of addiction relapse, and may pose a threat to your life in the long run.

To that end, exemplary rehabs offer sober living programs that utilize holistic approaches to alleviate chronic pain in recovering addicts. This is in line with United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) proposal, which suggests that physicians/clinicians adopt treatment options that boost the quality of life, maximizes mental and physical functions, and reduces pain while treating recovering addicts suffering from chronic pain.3

7 Best Ways To Manage Chronic Pain In Recovery

According to SAMHSA, some methods for managing chronic pain in newly sober individuals include non-opioid analgesics, Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), physical therapy, therapeutic exercise, and complementary and alternative medicine. These methods are commendable because in addition to chronic pain management they also –

  • Adopt a whole person approach in the treatment process
  • Encourage the patient’s active participation in recovery and chronic pain relief
  • Improve the overall functioning of the individual by improving sleep quality and coping abilities
  • Limit the chances of anxiety, depression, distress and negative perceptions in recovery
  • Pose low to zero risks of dependence while in recovery

Below, an insight into seven of the best chronic pain management options within these treatment categories will be discussed.

1. Physical therapy

This is especially useful if you have undergone a long-term opioid therapy. A physical therapist can help you manage your chronic pain, by retraining your nerves and resetting your hyperactive nervous system to cease perceiving certain stimuli or sensation as pain. In the process, your damaged nerves can be repaired, and your body’s production of natural pain-relieving chemicals will be boosted.

A physical therapy session may include treatments like Pilates, yoga, etc., for the relief of stiffness or soreness of the body.

2.     Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a complementary and alternative medicine, which has, for centuries, been practiced in China. In recent times, the utilization of acupuncture is becoming popular as a pain management procedure on a global scale. Depending on the type of chronic pain (e.g., headaches, back and neck pain) you might be suffering from while in recovery, acupuncture could greatly benefit you.

The process involves the strategic placement of thread-like needles on various parts of the body to stimulate the nerves. Consequently, beta-endorphin – the body’s natural pain relief chemical – is continuously produced and released, thus offering some degree of freedom from the prevalent chronic pain.

3.     Therapeutic massage

Generally, massages are effective in providing pain relief and relaxing the body, making it a double win for individuals in recovery. The tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints are soothed and relaxed by a massage therapist to relieve pains and relax nerve compressions. Besides, emotional distress such as anxiety and stress might also get a kick to the curb.

To get the best result, your massage sessions should be personalized to address the persistent pain and its source instead of a full-body massage.

4.     Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This includes psychotherapeutic procedures, which a recovery specialist can adopt to help a recovering addict deal with their chronic pain. SAMHSA’s review of various studies showed that this treatment model could help addicts in recovery find relief from their chronic pain.

Cognitive-Behavioral therapy takes a psychological approach to help individuals understand the pain and how their thoughts and overall mental state can affect their perception of pain. The therapy can help you change your thought processes, and train your body to provide positive responses whenever you experience chronic pains.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and breathing exercises are some of the simple, commonly used approaches.

5.     Eat nutritious, balanced diets

What you eat has a role to play in determining the amount of pain you feel. Also, the more weight you gain, the more pain you are likely to feel. Instead of consuming junks and processed foods, you can opt for meals that include fresh fruits, fish, leafy vegetables, spices (e.g., pepper), whole grains, etc.

Not only will opting for a better meal plan boost your overall health, but it will also reduce your susceptibility to inflammation that causes pains.

6.     Exercising

When you think of exercise as a means of managing chronic pain, you probably shouldn’t be thinking of exercising like a professional boxer would – well, not yet. Here, exercises being referred to include simple activities such as swimming, squats, walking, biking, etc.

Exercising daily helps to strengthen your muscles and make you fit. It also increases your body’s pain threshold, as more endorphins are released when you exercise.

7. Non-opioid analgesics

Various non-addictive analgesics such as Acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), topical analgesics, anticonvulsants, and tricyclic antidepressants have been studied, and to varying degrees have shown to be effective. But these are not without side-effects. Hence, they should only be used as recommended by a doctor.

Bear in mind that some non-opioid analgesics can be addictive, so it is important to inform your healthcare provider of your addiction history. In so doing, your physician will know not to prescribe addictive pills for you.

Chronic pain management during active addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic pains while dealing with addiction, you need to go for medically-supervised drug detox in an ideal, well-equipped addiction recovery center. The detox procedure is aimed at weaning the body off the addictive substances, to make the individual receptive to ensuing treatments.

By opting for an exceptional recovery center, you can be confident that the co-occurring conditions will be effectively managed to ensure a long-lasting recovery.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92516/
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db294_table.pdf#page=4
  3. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma13-4671.pdf

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