Managing Chronic Pain

Opioid painkillers may not be the best way to manage your pain

Opioid painkillers can be very helpful for short term pain – like the day after surgery or the first couple days after a broken bone. But in most cases opioid painkillers, like OxyContin and Vicodin, do not work very well with pain that lasts longer than a few days. Joint pain, back pain, neck pain, nerve pain, headaches, and stomach pain are examples of challenging conditions that are not helped much – or at all - by opioid painkillers.

In most cases opioid painkillers, like OxyContin and Vicodin, do not work very well with pain that lasts longer than a few days

Plus, using opioids for longer than a few days to a few weeks can cause unpleasant side effects, and increases the risk of addiction. So if you’re suffering from a condition like those, or from a condition that has resulted in pain lasting longer than a few weeks, opioid painkillers may not be the best way to manage your pain. Other kinds of medicine – or approaches to pain management that do not involve drugs at all – are usually better choices in these situations.

Exercise, lifestyle adjustments, behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and massage can significantly reduce pain and increase your ability to stay on your daily routine

Some people with mild and even moderate chronic pain manage well without taking any medications regularly. For others, non-opioid prescription medication is the most effective choice, and often over-the counter pain relievers work as well or better for managing certain kinds of pain – without the risks of opioids.

Many people living with pain start out skeptical that being more active can improve their pain; often it seems that moving worsens their pain, and they avoid activity to try not to “aggravate” it. But studies have shown that remaining active and mobile improves flexibility and reduces pain; many patients willing to try, find this to be true. For most patients living with pain, staying on the couch makes pain worse.

Talk to your doctor

If you have been in pain for more than a few months and opioid painkillers have not brought you significant relief, talk to your doctor about other options. In most cases there are choices that may work as well or better – but without the risks of side effects and addiction. In particular, talk to your doctor about the following.

Back, neck, and joint pain

Staying physically active often helps. Acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, and yoga might work, too.


Cutting back on alcohol and avoiding foods that set off your headaches (keep a food diary to identify any culprits) might help, as can controlling stress with meditation, relaxation therapy, or other means. Exercise can also help.


Low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, swimming, and yoga can ease pain and improve mobility. But it’s best to avoid high-impact activities, such as running or tennis, that might aggravate your symptoms.


Regular exercise can help reduce pain and fatigue. Other options to consider include cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of counseling), meditation, and tai chi (a form of exercise involving slow, gentle movements combined with deep breathing).

Tufts Health Plan may also be able to assist. For help developing a pain management plan that’s right for you, call us at 800-208-9565.

Tufts Health Plan also offers Wellness Discounts that may be useful in treating chronic pain.