Pain management

What is pain & how can it be managed?

Curing pain isn’t always possible, but there are ways to help treat and manage it to help improve your quality of life. Pain can be relieved with treatments like physical therapy or medicines, or in some cases, surgery can help.

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Understanding pain management

Pain management involves working towards reducing pain and improving your quality of life. Different resources or techniques will suit different people, so you might need to try several approaches. Managing pain can involve a combination of exercise, physical therapy, pain relief, and talking therapies.

Physiotherapy can help with restoring function and movement if you’ve been injured, are ill, are disabled or in pain.

Physiotherapy is provided by specially trained and regulated practitioners called physiotherapists. They work as part of teams in various areas of healthcare, for example:

•Community health centres or clinics

•Some GP surgeries

•Some sports teams, charities, workplaces and clubs 

Physiotherapists think about your whole body, rather than individual parts of an injury or illness. They can help with:

•Manual therapy – the physiotherapist can use their hands to help with easing pain and stiffness. This can help to encourage movement

•Movement, physical activity advice and tailored exercise – exercises can be recommended to help improve general mobility and health. Some exercises may also be advised to help to strengthen specific parts of your body

•Education and advice – physiotherapists can give general advice about things that can affect your life. This can include posture, and correct lifting or carrying techniques. You can learn more about these in our “Guide to good posture” article.

Physiotherapy can be accessed through the NHS or privately, for example through Boots Health Hub. PhysioFast Online Virtual Physiotherapy1 is a private service which offers access to online appointments with a physiotherapist skilled in assessing, diagnosing and treatment.

Simple, gentle exercise like swimming, walking and dancing can help with easing pain. This is because they can directly block pain signals to the brain. Gentle exercise and movement can also help with reducing pain as it allows you to stretch your muscles, ligaments and joints if they’re tense or stiff. You might worry that exercise could be too painful or you might worry about causing more damage if your pain is because of an injury, but if you move more gradually and in small amounts, it’s unlikely that you’ll cause more damage. If you do feel pain when you start doing gentle exercise, this might be because your muscles and joints are getting fitter. 

Speak to your GP first if you have not exercised for some time, or if you have medical conditions or concerns. Make sure your activity and its intensity are appropriate for your fitness.

You can buy over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for pain relief without a prescription from a doctor. You might be able to buy them from a pharmacy or a supermarket.

They include:


•Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen

•Opioid-containing medicines, including codeine and dihydrocodeine. These are usually available in combination with another pain relief medicine, like paracetamol

OTC pain relief medicines can be used for short-term relief of pain. They shouldn’t be taken for longer than a few days without speaking to your GP first. You might want to consider them if you have one of the following:


Period pain

Back pain




Sprains and strains

•A fever, for example, if you have a cold or flu

If you have mild pain, paracetamol is often recommended to try first, but NSAIDs like ibuprofen (if suitable for you) can be more appropriate if your pain is linked to inflammation. Opioid-containing medicines can be used to treat acute pain. However, they should only be used if paracetamol or ibuprofen have not worked. These medicines can be addictive, so they should only be used for a maximum of three days when bought over the counter.

The most suitable pain relief for you depends on what you’re taking it for. It also depends on if you have any other medical conditions or if you’re taking any other medicines. If you aren’t sure which pain relief is suitable for you, a pharmacist can help answer questions and give you advice on what can help. Make sure to read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. It’ll give you information about how much to take and how often you can take it. 

Living with pain can be stressful and isolating which can affect your mental health, making you feel anxious or even depressed. Chronic pain can also make you tired, meaning your mobility and productivity might also be affected which can impact your self-worth, too.

Talking therapies can give you a safe space to help your chronic pain. It can give you a chance to explore how you feel and what you’re thinking without judgment. Feeling supported can help you to develop coping strategies to manage living with pain.

Any talking therapy you have needs to be tailored to you and your experiences of living with pain. Different types of therapy can work in different ways.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you to change the way you think and what you do. In CBT, you focus on problems you’re facing at the time and practical solutions to help. Your therapist might set your goals and tasks for you to do between sessions.

If you’re registered with a GP, you might be able to access CBT and some other types of talking therapy through the NHS.1

Hot and cold therapy can be used to ease pain, relax muscles and reduce swelling. Both ice and heat work by increasing circulation in the body, but both need to be used carefully as they can cause burns.

Ice or heat therapy isn’t suitable if you have problems with your circulation or certain health conditions. Make sure to check with your GP before doing hot and cold therapy if you have a medical condition, you’re unsure if it’s suitable for you or you have any concerns.

Cold therapy using ice can help with recent injuries or pain involving hot or swollen joints. Good ways to apply ice can include:

Gel ice packs

• Crushed ice or, for example, packs of frozen vegetables

• An ice bath (ice in water)

It’s important to avoid using inflexible freezer packs as they can increase your risk of getting an ice burn.

Ice packs 

If you’re using an ice pack, a wet thin cloth should always be used between your skin and over the ice pack to help prevent ice burns.

You should apply the ice over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, making sure to check your skin colour under the ice pack at least every five minutes – it should be very pink and never have a blue tinge. The area under the ice pack should feel very cold and might feel numb or uncomfortable. An ice pack can be re-applied every two hours.

When using an ice pack, make sure to never put it directly onto your skin. It’s important to place a damp cloth between the ice pack and your skin. You should also only be using an ice pack on healthy skin with normal circulation.

Ice baths can be used for pain in your hands or feet.
You should:

•Place ice cubes into a bowl of cold water 

•Place your hand or foot into the water for one minute if possible

•Remove your hand or foot from the water for one minute, then place it into the water again

•Repeat this up to 10  times

You can repeat these steps every two hours.

Ice massage 

An ice massage can be done over smaller areas of pain. Steps for an ice massage include:

•Prepare the skin by applying a small amount of oil for example olive or vegetable oil on the skin first to prevent the ice from sticking

•Hold an ice cube in a cloth or hanky and rub the ice over the area for up to two minutes at a time

•After one or two minutes of rest, repeat the steps again

You might need an extra towel to help keep you dry as the ice will melt during the massage. You can repeat the steps every two hours.


Heat therapy can be useful for stiff or painful joints and muscles which might feel cramped or tight. Hot water bottles and wheat bags can be used to apply heat. Hot water bottles should never be applied directly to your skin – they should be wrapped in a towel. It’s also important to never overfill a hot water bottle when using it and never to use boiling water to fill then. When using a wheat bag, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for heating them up:

•Place the heat pack over the area to be treated. Don’t lie, sit or sleep on the heat pack as this can increase the risk of getting a burn.

•Heat should be applied for 15 to 30 minutes and can be reapplied every two hours

•If the area starts to feel too warm, place an extra towel between the heat pack and your skin. This can help to reduce the temperature

Heat therapy shouldn’t be used on a new injury as it could make the problem worse, except if you have a new lower back strain. If you’d like to use heat on an injury, it can be used a couple of days after. Lower back strains are usually caused by a muscle spasm, not tissue damage, so heat can help more than ice.

TENS machines 

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief which uses a mild electrical current. A TENS machine isn’t a cure for pain, it can only provide temporary pain relief from minor pain.

If you’d like to try TENS, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. Although TENS machines can be bought, it’s important to have an assessment with your GP to find out if it’s appropriate for you. 

The Boots TENS Period Pain Relief uses TENS technology combined with heat to help relax cramping abdominal muscles. This can help to relax cramping abdominal muscles to help provide relief from period and endometriosis pain during your menstrual cycle.

TENS isn’t safe for everyone. Don’t use one without speaking to your doctor if:

•You have a pacemaker or another type of electrical or metal implant 

•You’re pregnant or there’s a chance you might be pregnant (TENS isn’t usually recommended early in pregnancy)

•You have epilepsy or a heart problem

•You have an overactive bladder 

If you’ve been struggling with pain for more than 12 weeks, you’re having difficulty managing pain or you’re worried about your pain, it’s important to speak to your GP. There are many services available to help you.

Long-term pain has many causes like arthritis, back problems, illness, nerve damage or an old injury.

Your GP might:

•Do a physical examination

•Talk with you about your history of pain

•Identify where your pain is coming from

•Record your level of pain

•Check for signs of illness that could be causing your pain or making it feel worse

•Talk with you about how your pain is affecting your life

If you speak to your GP, they should help you with advice to help you to manage your pain.

Pain selector tool

Designed with your well-being in mind, our pain relief selector tool can help you pinpoint your pain and address your discomfort. You can rate your pain and depending on what it is, we can help you to tailor relief. From pain relief tablets to massage guns, we’ve created a list of products and services that can help. Try our tool today to begin your personalised path to pain relief.

Save up to 1/3 on selected pain relief including back braces, ibuprofen & more. T&Cs apply

Bite-sized tips for pain relief

Frequently asked questions

The aim of a Pain Management Programme is to improve your quality of life despite your pain, rather than reduce your pain. PMPs are usually delivered through a series of sessions, either in-person or virtually. Speak to your GP to see if there are any courses available locally or, alternatively, you could access the Leva Pain Management Programme1, which is available via the Boots Health Hub.

We're here to support you in managing pain. From advice to specialist services, we've got you covered!

1 Subject to availability. Eligibility criteria may apply. Charges may apply.

 Access to treatment is subject to an online consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Subject to availability. Charges apply.

12 Please note, free home postal delivery is only available to patients registered with a GP in England. However, the option to collect in-store is available for all customers registered with a participating GP anywhere in the UK. For patients registered with a participating GP surgery only. NHS Prescriptions charges may apply.

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Page last reviewed on 26/03/2024

Being in pain, acute or chronic, dull or sharp, can affect your day-to-day life, so knowing how to manage it and when to seek medical advice is important. For some types of pain, Boots can help with your pain management with our range of products and services. Explore our advice on pain management and learn some tips and recommendations on how to manage certain types of pain from our pain management specialists.