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: 23/06/2017


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