Chronic pain affects approximately 100 million people in the U.S. every year. The economic impact of chronic pain is staggering, with back pain patients alone spending $90 billion a year on healthcare costs. As if the financial impacts weren’t enough, chronic pain also impacts daily life, from parenting to partnering to work. The high emotional, physical, financial, and mental price of pain makes finding relief of paramount importance, and technology has begun to offer more and more ways to do that in the form of apps for smartphones. These apps can track any number of things to help manage pain and possibly find relief. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Brigham and Women’s Hospital PMC 320

Used in conjunction with a Fitbit, this pain app is still in development but is showing promise in trials with chronic pain patients. The goal of the app is to support chronic pain patients without subjecting them to unnecessary and fruitless tests. Users are prompted to answer questions about pain and activity levels, mood, and other health data. This information is combined with Fitbit data on steps walked and other physical activity.

Patients can send messages to doctors through the app when pain flares up, eliminating the anxiety and stress that pain can cause. PMC 320 is available for both Android and iOS phones through Google Play and the Apple App Store.

2. Acupressure: Heal Yourself

Acupressure is a non-invasive healing technique that can relieve stress and tension. This app can help guide the user to specific points on the body depending on the symptoms being experienced. When done correctly, this may help relieve nerve pain. Acupressure: Heal Yourself is available for iPhones only and costs $1.99.

3. Catch My Pain

This app is available for both Android and iOS phones and offers something more than just a pain journal (although a pain journal is one of its most user-friendly features). Users can connect with other chronic pain sufferers through the app to share experiences. In addition, information from this app is collected anonymously by doctors as a way to gather data from a wider population. This data may help pain researchers gain new insights into chronic pain.

4. Mindfulness App

Mindfulness meditation is one way to deal with the stress and anxiety that comes with chronic pain and this app, good for both Android and iOS phones, helps you find your way to a calmer, more peaceful state of being. With guided meditations and breathing exercises, Mindfulness App can help you work through chronic pain flare-ups to cultivate a long-term meditation practice. At just $1.99, this may be a great way to try out mediation and mindfulness as a chronic pain management technique.

5. Recharge

Still in the pilot stages, Recharge is an app for iOS phones that offers you a free six-week program designed to help you sleep better. The app focuses on regulating sleep/wake times, adding physical activities at set times before bed, generating fun activities to get you out of bed, and increasing exposure to daylight in the morning to re-set your body clock.

6. WebMD Pain Coach

This comprehensive app available for Android phones offers a holistic approach to pain management that includes many different options for symptom tracking, research, and goal setting. Personalized, physician-reviewed tips relating to your specific condition are delivered through the app. You can also email a report of your activity to your doctor as a way to enhance communication and help him or her better understand your chronic pain.

7. Simply Yoga

For chronic pain patients, exercise can be intimidating but this free app for iOS and Android phones makes incorporating low-impact movement into your life easy. Users get their own yoga instructor who sends daily yoga poses along with video instruction on how to use them correctly. There is an upgrade available for $3.99 if you want even more.

The possibilities for apps to help track sleep and diet are nearly endless. You could spend the rest of your life (and a good bit of your money!) trying out exercise and fitness apps. So how do you find an app that will work for you? Ask these three questions before you buy.

  • What do the scientists say? Review any research or literature that is linked to the app. Look for statistically significant studies that also feature a control group, as these will yield the most reliable data.
  • What do other users say? While one bad review should not doom an app to failure, multiple bad reviews are a clear indication that something is not working on the app. Whether it is complaints about functionality or “bang for your buck,” listen to those who have spent their money before you and back away if comments are overwhelmingly negative.
  • What do your friends say? If you are looking for a specific type of app, ask friends if they have recommendations or put a call out through social media. Chronic pain communities know what you are going through and may be able to give you the best information on the best technology available.

If you decide to dive in and ignore all of this advice, sometimes it is best to go for the free “lite” version to see how it works for you. If the app isn’t free but offers a trial period, that is a great way to “try before you buy.” You may think to yourself, “It’s only 99 cents” but those add up quickly. Do your wallet a favor and give it a test run before you commit fully.

Do you use apps for chronic pain? Which ones do you recommend?


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