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Pain coping skills

Helpful pain management strategies for osteoarthritis. In this article, Dr Nelligan describes how to use pain coping skills to manage arthritis pain.

Living with pain can be one of the hardest parts of having osteoarthritis. As we discussed in week 1, the experience of pain is complex. The good news is that there are many strategies you can use to help you manage your pain. Strategies that help you manage your thoughts, feelings and actions that affect your pain can be very helpful. These strategies are called pain coping skills (techniques) and include:

Progressive muscle relaxation: This is one of the most important skills for controlling and decreasing pain and other symptoms of osteoarthritis. It also helps with stress, fatigue and sleeping difficulties. It is a skill that can be learned just as any other skill, like riding a bike. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you how to pay attention to feelings of tension and relaxation in your body through tensing various muscle groups. By tensing muscles, it makes it easier for you to release them and become more relaxed. Over time, you will learn to keep tension in your body at a low level. Importantly, less tension usually means less pain. A progressive muscle relaxation session can take 15 minutes or more.

Mini relaxations: Mini relaxations are similar to progressive muscle relaxation, but can be done much more quickly and easily. Mini relaxations focus on letting go of as much tension as possible throughout your whole body, at once. A mini relaxation can be done in 30 seconds or less, and can be done anywhere and at any time. This skill can be very helpful when you are feeling increased tension or pain by reversing the tension you feel and replacing it with a feeling of quiet relaxation.

Pleasant imagery: Pleasant imagery is a technique that uses your imagination to create a pleasant scene, a bit like what you do when you daydream. This relaxation technique allows you to focus on a favourite place – real or imaginary – that’s safe, calm and pain-free. It distracts you away from unpleasant thoughts or experiences. When you are concentrating on something pleasant, you are not able to give as much thought to your discomfort. Studies have shown that imagery is a very effective technique for reducing stress and pain.

If you would like to try these techniques and others and learn how to use them in your everyday life, try our program, painTRAINER.

Image of painTrainer website homepage

painTRAINER is an interactive, FREE online program that teaches you these techniques (and more) to manage your pain. It has been proven to help people with hip and knee osteoarthritis manage their pain and is highly valued by people who are working to increase their physical activity/exercise. It is made up of 8 weekly sessions, each lasting about 30-45 minutes.

You might also like to look for other guided sessions. Guided sessions are where a facilitator talks you through the process of relaxation or of using imagery. There are many guided sessions available for free over the internet. For example, here’s a 13-minute guided session we like on YouTube. Guided sessions can also be done in person and are commonly provided through meditation or yoga centers.

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Taking Control of Your Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis

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