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8 COPD Pain Management Techniques You Need to Know

Jun 2, 2018 2:23:17 AM / by Cory Luckner

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Unfortunately with a COPD diagnosis, comes a whole myriad of new symptoms that you will have to learn to manage, or else your quality of life and overall COPD will suffer.

You need to stay on top of managing your COPD related symptoms, fitness levels, and ensuring you are maintaining a healthy weight. But that’s not all, another important aspect of COPD management that is often overlooked is pain management.The most common areas of pain in patients with COPD are in the neck, shoulders, upper arms, and chest.

Wait a minute, COPD impacts my lungs, so how does it result in pain? One common factor of this respiratory disease that plays a role in frequent pain is coughing, that leads to frequent chest pain.

Although that’s not the only cause, experiencing chronic pain daily as a result of your COPD can impact your ability to sleep, increase your difficulty of breathing, and even affect the quality of your entire day.

If COPD pain management is often overlooked, what are some pain management strategies that I can implement starting today?

Let’s take a look into the causes of pain with COPD, as well as pain management techniques that you can harness today to start improving your quality of life with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.   

Chronic Pain, What’s That?

Acute pain and chronic pain are actually two completely different things. Acute pain is a result of a sudden injury, but once the injury is healed your pain is gone.

On the other hand, chronic pain continues even after the injury has healed. Chronic pain is constant day in and day out, affecting the quality of your life daily.

According to pre-existing studies in regards to chronic pain and COPD, roughly 45% of all COPD patients reported chronic pain as an issue when compared to people without COPD. When looking at the placement of pain, it's most common in the chest, neck, upper arms, and shoulders.

Reasons for Pain with COPD

When trying to understand the direct causes of chronic pain with COPD, you must first realize that there are direct and indirect causes of pain.

A direct cause of pain with COPD that is experienced frequently is due to your lungs being inflamed. Since your lungs are blown up like a balloon, they induce pressure on your chest wall, spine, and your diaphragm that results in chronic pain. The chronic pain is so severe that something as simple as walking can lead to aggravation.causes-of-chronic-pain-with-COPD.jpg

Another frequent symptom of COPD that induces pain is coughing. Living with an extreme cough is not only annoying, but it can also cause you to experience muscle strains in your chest muscles.

A COPD related cough can even lead to a cracked rib, this is even more likely if you are also diagnosed with osteoporosis.

In the grand scheme of things, COPD overall can cause you to experience pain more intensely than someone without COPD.

As the constant stress of not being able to breathe can induce anxiety. Causing your pain threshold to dramatically decrease and your pain sensitivity to skyrocket.   

Unfortunately, when experiencing both pain and anxiety simultaneously, your COPD symptoms can worsen.

Further more, a combination of pain and anxiety can lead to worsening sleeping patterns and depression helping to further aggravate your COPD symptoms.

COPD and Osteoporosis

Although this disease only affects an estimated 20% of COPD patients, osteoporosis is a common trigger of pain, which causes your bones to thin and can result in frequent bone and painful fractures.

When you have COPD in combination with osteoporosis, you are also put at a higher risk of experiencing worsening back pain as a result of expanded lungs from your COPD.

COPD Pain Management Techniques

Now that you are aware of the varying causes of pain with COPD, let’s now discuss the pain management techniques you can harness starting today! Remember, many of these pain management techniques can be used in combination with one another for even better results!

pain-relief.jpgYou should first take into consideration that the methods you use for COPD pain management will depend on the cause of your pain and the current stage of COPD that you are in.

If you also have osteoporosis in addition to COPD, you and your doctor need to address it directly and use appropriate pain management techniques.

As these treatments may be different from those that would be used to treat COPD related pain.

Medication for COPD Pain Management

Does you pain level range from mild to moderate? Then your doctor may recommended to treat your pain with either prescription pain medications, over-the-counter NSAIDs, or antidepressants.

Let’s now look into the varying over-the-counter pain medications and NSAIDs that can be used for COPD pain management.

Opioids Medications

This class of medications includes morphine, codeine, or a topical like Capsicum. However, these types of medications need to be used with extreme caution.

Using Opioid medications in large doses can lower your breathing rate to dangerous levels, but with low yet effective dosing they can greatly minimize pain and reduce your difficulty to breathe in advanced stages of COPD.


This class of medications include Motrin and Aspirin. Medications used for colds, sinus pressure, and allergies also fall in this classification of medications.

You may already have experience using these as they are very commonly used to relieve minor aches and pains and to minimize a fever in both people with and without COPD.

NSAIDs-medications-for-COPD-pain-management.jpgThere are a few things that you need to keep in mind while using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Overdosing on NSAIDs is dangerous and can lead to stomach bleeding.

This is more likely if you are over the age of 60, take prescriptions for steroids or blood thinners, or if you have a history of stomach bleeding, ulcers, and/or other bleeding issues.

What's more, if you are over the age of 60 NSAIDs can result in reversible kidney damage.

You may be at even more risk for this kidney damage if you take a diuretic, or if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or a pre-existing kidney disease. 

It's important that you don't over consume these types of medications, doing so can cause your body to become immune to the medication's effects.

To avoid this, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke advises the use of pain relief medication no more than two times per week. If pain is still constant, try another pain management technique from this post.


Physical pain isn't the only cause of pain with COPD. For many patients with COPD, their chronic pain stems from emotional stress. If emotional stress is the cause of your chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant medication to provide relief. With an antidepressant prescription, you may also experience a relief in anxiety levels and overall physical discomfort due to your COPD.

If you are enrolled in pulmonary rehab, which is something the COPDStore highly recommends, you will be involved in group talk therapy. Which has also been know to help alleviate emotional stress. 

Medication Free COPD Pain Management Techniques

On the other hand, if you are looking to avoid pharmaceutical medication, due to their addictive nature or dangerous side effects, consider the following non-pharmacological pain management techniques. To enjoy the most effective level of pain management, you should combine more than one pain management technique into your daily routine.

Pulmonary Rehab


Pulmonary rehab is not only beneficial for pain management with COPD, but it’s also recommended that all COPD patients enroll in a pulmonary rehab class to learn how to properly manage your COPD. Such as emotional support, physical therapy, proper nutrition, and breathing retraining.

In regard to pain management, pulmonary rehab is an exceptional treatment for chest pain that results from your expanded lungs.

Specifically, while in pulmonary rehab you will strengthen the muscles of your chest wall and alleviate pain in the meantime. This is a result of all the knowledge you will obtain while in pulmonary rehab.

Ice the Pain Away

Suffering inflammation and swelling due to chronic pain? Ice is an exceptional medication free treatment option that can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation due to chronic pain with COPD. Plus, this technique is simple and easy to do. You can either fill a bag with ice or a reusable ice pack.


With the help of a heating pad, you can apply it to pain ridden areas of your body to increase blood flow to those tissues. If you are experiencing an arthritis-type of pain, applying heat can be helpful to alleviate your pain.


There is nothing quite like a good old fashioned massage, especially when experiencing stress and chronic pain with COPD. When looking into the varying types of massages, you must first understand that the type of massage you select depends on the stage of your COPD.

Below is a list of massages that you can benefit from no matter what stage of COPD you are in:

  • Stage 1 COPD: Swedish Massage, Thai Massage, Myofascial Release Therapy
  • Stage 2 COPD: All Types of Massages; Except a Thai Massage
  • Stage 3 COPD: Hot Stone Massage (Laying Face Down), Reflexology Foot Massage, Lymphatic Massage
  • Stage 4 COPD: Raindrop Therapy Massage (Laying Face Down), Chair Massage

Guided Imagery

Take yourself to your happy place while enjoying pain relief with the help of guided imagery. This technique will take your mind off of the pain and help to relax your muscles.



If you haven’t already tried acupuncture, you should consider giving it a try to see if you can benefit from its pain relieving properties.

Acupuncture works by inserting very thin needles at strategic locations on your body. By doing so, acupuncture releases chemical toxins from your body and stimulates muscle relaxation. Learn how acupuncture can improve your COPD.


Although pain management with COPD doesn’t get as much recognition as other commonly experienced COPD symptoms, chronic pain is being increasingly recognized.

Though there can be many causes of your chronic pain with COPD, you are now equipped with the necessary knowledge to combat the varying causes of chronic pain.

It’s important that when you are experiencing chronic pain with COPD that you address it with your doctor. If you are suffering from pain that stems from depression or anxiety, ask your health care provider for help.

But whatever you do, don’t just sit in silence and let it fester, as this will only make your quality of life with COPD that much worse.

Do you have an additional pain management technique for COPD? Let us know in the comments below.

Is chronic pain holding you back from exercising? Which is one of the most important pillars to COPD management and thus for improving your overall quality of life.

Now that you are equipped with COPD pain management techniques, it's time for you to get up and get active! Learn how to properly exercise with COPD by downloading our Official Guide to Exercising with COPD. Just click the image below!

Cory Luckner

Written by Cory Luckner

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