Your pain goals: Fantasy or reality?

While it would be great to be rid of pain entirely, this may not be possible for people with chronic pain. If pain is unavoidable, it is important to consider what your pain management goals can be. Helpful goals may include:

  • Becoming as comfortable as possible while having pain
  • Getting back to old routines that you enjoyed
  • Becoming able to perform certain specific activities
  • Becoming as independent as possible

Think about one of your pain management goals and answer these questions to see if it is on target.

Get a reality check

Any goal that you set for yourself needs to be realistic. You may have many goals: to reduce your pain intensity, increase your physical activity, control your use of pain medication, improve your sleep, mood, and relationships, or get back to work. One way to find out if your goals are realistic is to talk about them with someone who knows you well. It may be that what you want has only a remote chance of ever happening. Or it may be that what you may think is not achievable, could be achieved.

Time is an important factor in setting realistic goals. Remember that you probably did not get to where you are today overnight. Many people with chronic pain feel impatient, hoping to find a quick way to get back to where they were before the pain began. Unfortunately, expecting a rapid change can lead to frustration and disappointment. It is best to work for gradual improvement, recognizing that there will be ups and downs. The best goal is to find new and better ways to respond to the problems you face.

Do you have a way to get there?

Begin by understanding as much about your goals as possible. By spending time outlining the goals, and breaking them down into smaller parts, you will get a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Remember, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! For example, if your goal is to increase your activity, you may want to start with a list. Write down all the things that you could do in the past that you want to do again. Put them into meaningful categories like work activities, household activities, outdoor activities, social activities, recreational activities and sexual activities.

Under each category identify the activities that:

1.    You cannot do now
2.    You should not do now
3.    You can sometimes do
4.    You can always do

This lays out for you how things are now and can help you think about what you want to see happen in the future.

Any reachable goal requires solutions, strategies and change. This is work. Know that you may have to try different strategies to help achieve your goals. Here are strategies that you can use:

1.    Keep daily records
2.    Maintain an exercise program
3.    Use relaxation techniques
4.    Stick with a daily activity schedule
5.    Find time for yourself
6.    Pace yourself
7.    Eat a healty diet,
8.    Try new activities,
9.    Find ways to express emotions
10.    Be open to ask for help.

Would any of these strategies help you accomplish your goals?

Is it measurable?

You might say “I want my life back to normal,” but how do you know when it’s “normal?” Or you might say, “I want to be more independent.” But what does that mean? “Normal” and “independent” can be difficult to measure. Be concrete and specific about your goals. “Normal” may mean that you can do certain daily activities, such as making dinner. “Independent” may mean that you can dress without help. Measure progress in specific ways. “I will be able to get dressed in five minutes instead of 15 minutes.”

Is it trackable?

By tracking your progress over time you will be able to identify good patterns of change. For example, you may find your pain is least in the mid morning, or that specific activities always tend to cause a flare-up of pain. Knowing this, you can plan your day so that you do things when you know that your pain will be at the lowest level, and avoid activities that cause the most pain at a time when you usually have pain.

Tracking your pain can help you see if one strategy works better than another. Your physician will be interested in the record of your progress, and you will have your own personal history.

Why do it?

You may not be the only person who wants to set goals for you. Your health care provider may encourage you to do more. Family and friends may want you to try to make changes. If you set goals that are realistic, can be achieved, and are measurable and trackable, your chances of satisfying both yourself and others will increase dramatically.


Caudill, M.A. (2002). Managing pain before it manages you (Revised Version). New York: The Gilford Press.

Turk, D.C. & Frits, W. (2005). The Pain Survival Guide: How to Reclaim Your Life. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.