Is Pain Management a Skill?

On the home page of this website we say pain management is a skill.  It’s a strong statement.  Following such a remark a couple of obvious questions include: what do we really mean and how can one acquire this skill?

Our pain group sessions are fairly simple. We talk a bit about pain, practice meditation, use guided imagery, train posture and do various other physical/mental exercises, most involving relaxation. When most people begin to attend, they find it difficult to relax their muscles and correct their posture. Perhaps the most common early experience occurs during meditation practice when people realize how busy their minds seem, filled with thoughts, memories, emotions and the sensation of pain.

Over the years, we’ve seen that most of the participants who practice and attend regularly improve their ability to relax, stand upright and sit more comfortably for longer. Some say that during meditation their thoughts are less troublesome and they can concentrate a bit better. They generally move and do the exercises more easily. Many say that all these things have helped them in some way with their pain.

Current research in pain management is increasingly supportive of self-management techniques such as those we teach. Focused attention, relaxation and meditative exercises are key ingredients shared by what we do in our sessions and such things as yoga, taijiquan (tai chi) and qigong.

Like those taijiquan or yoga students who become more skilled with practice, so do our participants. Focused attention, relaxation and use of the body can obviously be trained. They are skills that can be improved through repetitive use like most human endeavors whether in sports, arts, science or business.

There is one important thing to remember in all this. It takes years to develop skills in some things. Taijiquan, golf or playing the piano can’t be mastered in a few months and neither, unfortunately can pain self-management methods. Nevertheless, practice itself can be immediately rewarding: just playing is fun if you enjoy what you are doing. Furthermore, every time you practice you get a little better.

Pain management isn’t an all or nothing thing. It is not about getting rid of all one’s pain or else one has failed. It is about learning different things that can help one have a better life. These things may or may not directly reduce pain but they still make a difference. The more one learns the better one’s life.

So, when we say pain management is a skill, one thing we really mean is that one simply practices to get better.