Solving the problem of physical pain is only one part of the puzzle.

Stub a toe, burn a finger, get a headache, and the pain usually goes away after a while.

In some cases, however, pain becomes chronic. According to the American Pain Foundation, more than 50 million Americans suffer from pain that lasts six months or more.

Whether it's caused by disease, disorder or accident, chronic pain doesn't just affect people's bodies. The constant discomfort can also cause emotional distress, anger and frustration with yourself and others.

While physicians can treat pain's physical dimensions, psychologists can help individuals manage the mental aspects.

An analysis of randomized studies of people with non-cancerous lower back pain, published in Health Psychology in 2007, confirmed the effectiveness of psychological interventions. The interventions helped reduce pain's intensity, improved emotional and physical functioning and even reduced the use of pain medication.

Coping with pain

Certain strategies are especially helpful:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. With this approach, patients learn to identify and replace dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behaviors with positive ones.
  • Self-regulatory techniques. Relaxation is one approach. Another is biofeedback, which helps people monitor their mental or physical states and train themselves to change those states. Also effective is hypnosis, a way to enhance concentration and responsiveness to suggestions about altering thoughts, feelings or behaviors. A 2002 review of the research, published in Psychological Bulletin, found that hypnosis was associated with reductions in pain ratings, the need for painkillers or sedation and length of hospital stays.