Tips for managing pain

Pain and cancer can affect every part of your life. There are things that you can do to help manage your pain.

Talk about your feelings

Pain can affect your thoughts and feelings, as well as your body. It can cause many different emotions. Many emotions, such as anger, fear and worry, can also make pain worse. Talking about how you are feeling may help you manage pain.

You may feel angry because you are in pain. You may feel sad or upset that your family has to see you in pain. You may feel anxious or worry that your pain will not go away. You may fear that pain will stop you from doing things you enjoy. You may feel that you want to be left alone to deal with your own pain.

You may worry that a new ache or pain means that the cancer is getting worse or has spread. Pain that lasts for a long time can lead to depression, hopelessness and a poorer quality of life. If you are in constant pain, you may feel like you can’t focus on anything else. Pain can keep you from doing things you want to do and spending time with loved ones.

There is no right or wrong way to feel. It can be difficult to share feelings about pain, but talking about it and how you are feeling can often help to reduce pain. Talking about your pain can also help others understand what you are going through. Sometimes just having someone listen to you and acknowledge your pain can be helpful.

Try talking about your feelings with someone you feel comfortable with, such as family, friends, a counsellor, a doctor or a nurse. You may also find it helpful to talk to someone who has had cancer and who understands what you are going through. A support group where people meet and share feelings about how they cope with cancer pain may also be helpful. Ask your healthcare team or talk with others in your community about joining a support group. You are not alone. There are many people who can help you.

Track your pain

The more detail you can give your healthcare team about your pain, the better able they will be to help you. It might be helpful to create a pain journal or diary to keep track of your pain over time. A pain journal can help your healthcare team assess your pain and see how well pain medicines are working.

Your pain journal should be a daily record or report of your pain. Include words to describe the pain, such as sharp, dull, stabbing, spreading (radiating) and so on. Describe where the pain is and how bad it is at different times of the day. List any activities that seem to worsen or lessen the pain and any activities that you can’t do because of the pain.

Include the name, dose and schedule of your pain medicines, as well as when you use other ways to relieve pain. Describe how bad the pain is before you take pain medicines or use other ways to relieve it. Also include how bad the pain is a few hours after you take pain medicines or use other ways to relieve it.

There are also some apps available for mobile devices that may allow you to keep track of your pain and record the time and severity of your pain or side effects. Talk to your healthcare team about using a mobile device to track your pain.

Try relaxation techniques

Relaxation can reduce muscle tension, which can relieve pain or keep it from getting worse. Relaxation can also give you more energy, reduce fatigue, anxiety and stress and help with falling asleep. Relaxation often improves with practice.

There are many different relaxation techniques to help manage pain. One example is progressive muscle relaxation. This approach involves becoming aware of certain groups of muscles in the body and learning to tense and relax them. Another way to relax is to breathe in deeply and exhale while relaxing each part of the body (arms, legs, hands and feet).

Deep breathing helps the body to relax. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth helps draw attention away from pain, helps muscles relax and lowers anxiety. Try to make each breath last for a count of 5. It may help to imagine that you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake, blowing up a balloon or blowing bubbles.

Focus on something you enjoy

Distraction is another way to help you draw attention away from pain by focusing on something fun or relaxing. Examples of distraction include reading a book, doing puzzles, playing a board game, watching a movie, listening to music or doing a hobby.

Keep in touch with friends and family

Pain can make you want to keep to yourself and avoid friends and family. But keeping in touch with friends and family is good for you and can make you feel better. Try short visits or even visits on the phone.

Ask for help

Living with pain is very tiring. Try to focus your energy on the things that are most important for you to do and ask for help with other tasks.

Try to be active when you can

Being active can take your mind off pain. Physical activity can block pain signals to the brain. It can also relieve pain by stretching stiff or tense muscles and joints. Simple everyday activities like walking, gardening and dancing can help relieve pain.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Cancer Pain. 2015.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Managing Cancer-Related Pain: A Guide for Patients, Families and Caregivers. 2017.
  • Cancer Research UK. Cancer and pain control. Cancer Research UK; 2014:

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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