How to get NHS help for your pain

Many people struggle with long-term pain. But help from your GP and hospital pain services can lessen the pain, improve your independence and help you cope in general.

Acute or chronic?

There are two main types of pain:

  • Acute pain, also known as short-term pain, is pain that has started recently.
  • Chronic, or long-term pain, is pain that has lasted for three months or more.

You may have a painful diagnosed condition such as arthritis or diabetes nerve pain. Or, you may have a painful condition that medical science doesn't fully understand, such as long-term back pain.

Often, chronic pain is an illness in its own right, due to a fault or malfunction in the body's pain system.

Whatever the cause of your pain, it's important that doctors and other clinicians take you and your pain seriously. That's because pain is a complicated, hard-to-treat problem, and the answer may not necessarily always be stronger and stronger painkillers (analgesics).

According to Dr Alf Collins, a consultant in pain management at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, people who have long-term pain should be thought of as having a pain-related disability.

He advises asking yourself the following questions: “What is the pain getting in the way of? How can I set goals for the future? How can painkillers help me reach my goals? How can I cope, become more independent and manage this for myself? How can my family, carers and healthcare staff support me in my plans to be more in control of my life?"

Dr Collins says, "People with long-term pain often have a variety of problems. The emotional consequences come not just from the pain, but from how the pain changes the way they live their lives and perhaps the way they think about themselves."

GP help for your pain?

There are two main types of pain.

  • Acute pain, also known as short-term pain, is pain that has started recently.
  • Chronic, or long-term pain, is pain that has lasted for three months or more.

If you have short-term (acute) pain, your GP will try to make a diagnosis and treat the pain.

If you have long-term pain it might be as a result of a diagnosed medical condition, a painful condition that is not yet fully understood or no underlying condition at all. This doesn't mean you don't have pain, but it does mean that a different approach to managing that pain might be helpful.

If you have mild to moderate pain, for example as a result of arthritis, your GP can talk to you about painkillers and other ways of managing the pain such as:

If your pain is more severe and affecting your quality of life, damaging your mobility and stopping you leaving the house, you could probably benefit from a referral to your local pain clinic


How hospital pain clinics can help

There are around 300 pain clinics in the UK. Most are in hospitals and have teams of staff from different medical areas, including occupational therapists, psychologists, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. They all work together to help people with pain.

Pain clinics vary but usually offer a variety of treatments aimed at relieving long term pain, such as painkilling drugs; injections; hypnotherapy and acupuncture.

You will need to be referred to a pain clinic by your GP or hospital consultant.

Pain management programmes

Pain management programmes are a series of sessions, for groups of 6-8 people, aimed at teaching you how to live with your pain. Instead of treating your pain, you learn to cope with it and, research shows, can expect to enjoy a better quality of life, sleep and mobility afterwards.

Some hospital pain clinics offer pain management programmes, and some are held within GP surgeries.
As with pain clinics, you will need a referral to join a pain management programme from a GP or hospital specialist.


Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016


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The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Bealings48 said on 12 November 2015

I am just bemused these days about what seems to constitute pain relief in the NHS. Maybe it is just in Wales but when I used to attend A & E with pain and quite severe pain I would normally have received an injection of pain relief either into my knee (for arthritic pain) or injection of pain relief for other pain. Over the past 20 years since I have lived in wales I have attended 6 times, on each occasion I was not given any pain relief (despite the orthopaedic consultants having recorded in my noted that I should have an injection in my knee if that was the pain), I have been left for over 12 hours in A and E crying with pain, I have been down right refused pain relief, I have been told to take paracetamol (as if I had not already tried that), Once on admisson to hospital with pain I was given oral codeine and oromorph despite telling them this would result in vomiting blood within 24 hrs, when this did result they stopped all pain relief and gave me a microwave heated pad - despite me in tears with the pain. I dont like injections but believe me I would def. have accepted one of pain relief. before this i.e. before 1997 I was always given adequate pain relief so what has changed.?

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JBSB71 said on 03 September 2015

My experience with the NHS has been absolutely shocking. After battling chronic pain in my lower back after tripping over in 2011 things went from bad to worse to the point were my mobility has been widely affected since 2012. I was repeatedly fobbed off by my previous GP and was told I had fibromyalgia, to manage my own pain, it was all in my head, accept it and it was a case of pain killers, painkillers and more pain killers and that was it I was sent on my way. This was despite the fact that I could barely move my legs to walk, could barely sit or stand. Nothing was investigated and they would not budge either way from fibromyalgia. I never had a major back problem or any form of lower back pain until I tripped and to be quite frank, a lot of GP's are currently using fibromyalgia as a cop out to make their job easier because it takes too much time trying to get to the root cause of a paitent's medical problem. It is actually quiet frightening when you wonder how many people are being told they have fibromyalgia when its not that at all. Thankfully I have now got a superb GP and it turns out I have coccydynia, lumbor lordosis, spinal stenosis, spondulosis and mild disc degeneration. I have also just recently had a course of Vitamin B12 injections and I have been told that I need the B12 every three months. Since having the B12 injections this has helped no end with the chronic pain that I have been trying to deal with. My mobility has increased dramatically, I feel so much happier and less anxious. I am currently paying for electro-acupuncture which is not cheap but its also helped me no end. My argument is that why wasn't the B12 picked up by my previous GP and why was I told that each time I had asked for an MRI that I was told that nothing would show up and why was I told I had fibromyalgia when it is clearly evident that I don't. Disgusted with previous GP who only seemed interested in their salary. Patient centred care was non existent.

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dogdobbin said on 01 May 2015

I have had chronic, debilitating pain for many years, I've attended a pain management programme , which was of marginal help.
The main help I have with my daily pain is tramadol. I don't like taking it but I've tried many other drugs and tramadol is the only one that works , with no apparent side effects. I don't take a massive amount , only one or two pills a day and sometimes I don't take any. However, my GP has recently seen fit to reduce my prescription by a large percentage without even telling me or consulting me . I just was given less when I collected my repeat prescription from the chemist.
You may well say that I should ask my GP about this, but that is no simple matter, Just getting through on the phone is a massive ordeal these days, and sometimes I've tried to get through all day getting only a constant engaged tone.
What happened to all the billions of pounds spent on the NHS? I paid my NI for over forty years, by the way, and worked for the good of the community.

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Sun set said on 10 December 2014

I have a ruptured tendon in my groin pelvic area. The pain now affects my knee and thigh. I cannot walk without sticks, which I provided. The painkillers prescribed are next to useless, I cannot dress my lower half without extreme pain etc. it is now five and half weeks. I do have experience of tendon injury but the Doctor has said I need an X-ray, this is fine but I cannot get into a taxi, too low. I am having cancer treatment but I shall not be able to have a cystoscopy, I am in far too much pain. Reading the above it came to my attention that Doctors expect patients to be able to pop to the hospital whatever their problem is. So frustrating.

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JamesRoss said on 25 November 2014

My experience with the NHS has not been good.
I have suffered with chronic low back pain for 12 years since the age of 23.
I have had to fight constantly to be taken seriously. Nothing has worked and I experience pain every single day. I have had to accept that this is the way its going to be for the rest of my life.
I do not believe that this day in age anybody should have to endure such torture but to try and even get pain relief is a battle in itself. Doctors are frightened to prescribe effective pain relief instead they refer you off to another doctor who refers you on and so on.

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rongraves said on 16 October 2014

I am staggered to see the pain of arthritis described as "mild to moderate".

I have widespread osteoarthritis, particularly affecting both hips, which dates from my early 30s (I'm now 70). I can assure Dr. Collins that there is nothing mild or moderate about it.

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Jojo2509 said on 23 January 2014

I've had chronic knee and hip pain since I was 12 and now at 32 the doctors still have no idea what is wrong with me apart from the fact that I will be in pain for the rest of my life. For now my GP thinks it's a good idea for me to be on tramadol and paracetamol which doesn't touch the pain. Following my latest visit to the GP he has decided to refer me to the Muscular Triage Clinic with the recommendation that I'm sent to the Pain Management Clinic, so fingers crossed it works cos I think we are slowly running out of options of treatment.

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mr mouse said on 03 December 2013

Ive had chronic testicular pain for over 2 years now & have been given all kinds of drugs none of which do the slightest thing. The only way I can get to sleep at night is to drink a bottle of wine & take a sleeping pill! Ive seen consultant urologist several times but when I ask about surgery I get " oh well a high percentage of times that is unsuccessful - try some more drugs"! It seems it is unethical to remove healthy testicles - DOH! I have hypogonadism, am 58 years old have had a vasectomy & am in constant pain! I must be missing something re their term "healthy"!
The lastest idea is to send me to a pain management clinic but reading here this will also be a waste of my time & the NHS's money! Im seriously considering chatting to a farmer I know!

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jacqueline60 said on 31 July 2013

I suffer from hypermobility and osteoarthritis which cause me pain that is not always relieved by painkillers.
I purchased a Shakti mat which seems to work through acupressure and it has given me a lot of relief and aided in giving me a good nights rest. I have no medical training and can only say that this has helped me enormously. It is not a cure all. I would also advise that it may be wise to ask your doctor if it may benefit in your particular case. The other thing is that initially the sharp points on the mat are uncomfortable but if you stick with it the sensation changes as the bodies natural painkillers kick in.

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tisketsmum said on 16 July 2012

My sciatic nerve was damaged during surgery and as a direct result I have significant neuropathic pain. I take 1800mg Gabapentin per day in 3 x 600mg doses. I have a Spinal Cord Stimulation implant by no longer get stimulation from it, although the pain it masked has also reduced.
I would be very interested to hear of the supplements referrd to by Woodlandia that help strengthen and repair nerve damage.
I am in discomfort 24/7 and in pain fequently, also get cramp in unusual muscles that are impossible to stretch without breaking bones, and have significantly altered sensation below the knee.
I frequently have problems sleeping because of the pain I experience and this badly affects my mood and ability to deal with the pain.
I've played sports all my life and find my anger that this has happened to me as difficult to deal with as the pain.
Does the NHS have anything to offer?

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Woodlandia said on 14 January 2010

I have extensive nerve damage, all over my body and the resultant pain is called neuropathy. Unfortunately I have had very little help available apart from being dosed up with Gabapentin and Nortriptyline, in hefty measures. I have taken on the responsibility for my own pain management and do relaxation and meditative therapies; where I have trained my mind to handle the pain and helps me cope with it. I take supplements to strengthen and repair damaged nerves and use a machine which delivers electronic pulses to reawaken my nerves and keep them working. This also helps my muscles and circulatory system to function better. Exercise is also crucial as it gets my body back into the healthier position, so the endorphins flow and make the pain less evident. Eating healthily and being in charge mentally helps my body to relax when necessary and enjoy life with far less pain.

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