Pain is rarely a straightforward phenomenon. In the case of clear physical injury, it may be obvious to trace pain back to a source, but not always. When pain persists after trauma has healed or arises without an observable cause, and lasts longer than three months or so, it slips into the realm of chronic pain. For many years, very little was known about the nature of pain, and so the knowledge of chronic pain and how to treat it was limited. Understanding that pain treatment will never be a one-size-fits-all model is the most important step on the road to recovery and functional restoration.

“Functional restoration” is a new frontier for chronic pain treatment, one in which patients and their physicians work in harmony to give back control and increase the quality of life of those suffering. Too often in chronic pain cases do patients become despondent due to repeated failed treatments based around biomedical approaches alone.

The journey to recovery doesn’t have to be hopeless. The perspective of functional restoration is to give independence back to patients and empower them to discover their own individualized methods of healing.

The Need for Functional Restoration Programs

Traditional treatment plans for chronic pain are often pain-centered. Surgery and opioids are meant to reduce or eliminate pain and nothing else. Pain is treated as the beginning and end of the conversation. Treatment like this turns a blind eye to the rest of the factors in a person’s life that have an impact on their pain and how they experience it. Pain-centered treatment ignores the person behind the pain and can shrink a patient’s view so much that when medical procedures fail, they are left fixated on their pain and disconnected from their life.

The perspective needs to shift. Physicians are not treating pain, they are treating people with pain. People have hundreds of facets to their lives – all of which have some impact on the experience of their condition. Putting all the power for healing in a physician’s hands, coupled with a too-narrow focus on just pain, limits patients’ options and fails to recognize the individuality of each chronic pain case. There is no cure for chronic pain, but there is hope and empowerment through functional restoration programs.

What Functional Restoration Involves

Practical Pain Management defines functional restoration as, “a biopsychosocial model of medical diagnosis and care that focuses on not just the biology (injury/illness and associated pathology), but also on the individual as a whole person, including psychological and social aspects.” With functional restoration as the focus of chronic pain care, patients are active participants in the healing process instead of bystanders forced to watch as others try and fail to take away their pain.

Since there is no cure for chronic pain, the long-term goal of functional restoration programs is to empower patients to manage their pain themselves and return to the activities of their daily lives that pain jeopardized. Biomedical, psychological, and social factors all play into functional restoration to give patients a diverse and well-rounded treatment plan. That means detailed consultations with medical professionals every step of the way to determine individual needs. Treatment may combine pain medication with behavioral and physical therapy, exercise, or other activities. Each case is different, because each patient is different.

Functional restoration programs put patients and their needs first, instead of trying to create one solution for an extremely varied condition. A program that focuses on a person’s biomedical, physical, biochemical, psychological, social, occupational, and behavioral well-being is the key to successful pain recovery. At the Institutes of Health, we are committed to this approach and to breaking the cycle of pain and hopelessness. For more information, contact us at or call (858) 465-6194.