By Pure Matters

An estimated 43 million Americans report living with chronic pain, defined as lasting for at least three months. The good news: Experts are making breakthroughs in understanding it. What they've discovered that could make a real difference for those dealing with pain:

  • Chronic pain is now believed to be a disease, not a symptom.
  • Treating pain is about not simply targeting the source; it's about treating the whole person.

Like heart disease and other chronic conditions, there's no magic bullet, so you need to draw on a number of approaches, from exercise and medication to relaxation techniques and talk therapy. Don't let these common barriers stand in your way when it comes to finding the right formula for lasting relief.

You Try to Tough Out the Pain
One in four pain sufferers waits at least six months before seeing a doctor. They downplay the pain or think it'll pass on its own. Also, many sufferers self-treat with OTC painkillers.

To get pain relief: Seek treatment sooner rather than later. Studies show that the majority of injuries resolve themselves in about four weeks, so if yours hasn't -- or if your pain is affecting your ability to function -- see your doctor. When pain keeps you from being active, muscles weaken and shrink and joints stiffen, setting you up for further injuries.

You're Afraid to Exercise
It may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercise strengthens your muscles and oils your joints, making you less likely to get reinjured. It also releases natural pain-relieving endorphins, and it fights the inflammation associated with conditions like gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

To get pain relief: Start slow and easy. Do 5 or 10 minutes of walking or another low-impact activity a couple of times a day if that's all you can do. Swimming and aquatic aerobics, especially in warm water, make it easier to move, take pressure off joints, and reduce stiffness and pain. A physical therapist can guide you and help lay out a safe plan.

You Haven't Tried Natural Remedies
If you can't take pain meds because of side effects or are just looking to enhance their effects, consider alternative treatments. Clinical studies show that acupuncture, for example, relieves osteoarthritis pain, sciatica, and lower-back problems. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers can benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids supplements. And according to a large review of recent research, patients who took devil's claw, white willow bark, and cayenne for lower-back pain had more relief than those who took a placebo.

To get pain relief: Talk with your doctor about herbal therapies that could help. Numerous studies also show that mental techniques can help ease pain. Start with some simple relaxation techniques: Practice deep breathing and tightening and relaxing different muscles for 15 to 20 minutes every day. A therapist can help you learn other types of relaxation, such as visualization, self-hypnosis, and biofeedback -- ask your doctor for a referral.

You Don't Discuss Depression
About 54 percent of people with chronic back pain also suffer from depression. But only one third of them take antidepressants, according to a recent study. New brain-imaging research, however, clearly shows that our mental state is intricately tied to how we process -- and deal with -- pain.

To get pain relief: Discuss any symptoms of depression with your doctor, who may prescribe an antidepressant, recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or suggest a combination of the two. CBT teaches you how to better cope with and adapt to your pain (and even train your mind to reduce it), which helps lessen the emotional stress that can make the pain feel worse.

Eliminating your pain entirely may not be realistic; what is attainable is lowering it enough to improve your life and do the things you love.