DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Since a car accident three years ago, I’ve had chronic back pain. Medication is no longer working. The pain makes it hard for me to get out of the house. I can’t do the activities and hobbies I used to because I’m too uncomfortable. Would a pain rehabilitation program be a good next step? If so, what can I expect?
ANSWER: From your description, it sounds like you may benefit from a pain rehabilitation program. Because chronic pain cannot be eliminated, the goal of these programs is not to get rid of pain. Instead, they can help you take control of your life in spite of the pain.
Pain rehabilitation programs usually involve experts from many medical backgrounds. They bring together physicians, psychologists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and pharmacists to help participants improve their quality of life.
Many of these programs are intensive and include full-day schedules that last several weeks. This may seem like a big commitment. But participating in this kind of comprehensive program can give you the tools and confidence you need to start enjoying life again.
Pain rehabilitation programs involve a variety of activities. Most have daily physical and occupational therapy sessions. Planning also plays a key role. For example, at Mayo Clinic, we ask participants to set a structure for their days that they can follow even if they have pain. This technique allows people to get past the tendency of waiting to make plans until they see how much pain they have on a certain day. Instead, the mindset is one that sets a plan in motion, knowing there may be some pain.
We also ask them to develop a plan for difficult days. Then on days when pain is more troublesome, they have in mind activities or support that they know will help. That may be taking a walk, going to see a friend or taking a drive. It involves making a conscious effort to engage in activities that help and avoid behaviors that can make pain worse, like staying in bed, doing too much or avoiding other people.