MSK: Problem-Solving Summary

Controlling Your Pain: Problem-Solving

This is a summary of the module Controlling Your Pain: Problem-Solving for your reference.

This module will focus on problem-solving, a helpful skill when you are experiencing pain. 

Everyone encounters problems and difficult situations, whether it is from pain, an injury, or any other challenge in life. These situations can naturally create stress in your life and worsen your symptoms. You can face these challenges and manage your symptoms by improving your problem-solving skills.


When you develop good problem-solving skills, you are able to cope with life’s stressors in a positive and productive way. 

Over time, problems and difficult situations become easier to manage. You will be better able to adapt to stressful situations. Let’s go through the process of problem-solving.


Use a positive approach to the problem

Before addressing the problem, it is helpful to take a look at how you usually approach issues. 


Think back to a problem you had over the past few weeks. What mindset did you have when you first encountered the problem? (Did it feel overwhelming? Did you feel up for the challenge?)



To have a more positive attitude or approach to a problem, try to:

1. Recognize that problems are a “normal” part of life. It is “normal” to feel upset at times. Remind yourself that others may be facing similar issues. 

2. See problems as opportunities to learn and grow. A helpful mindset to have during challenging times is called a “growth mindset.” Read below for what a growth mindset is all about. 

3. Believe in your ability to solve the problem. Sound familiar? Think back to the lesson on self-efficacy. Remind yourself that you have the skills, strengths, and resources to come up with solutions!

4. Know that challenges require time and effort: Some problems might take longer than others to solve, and that’s okay!

5. Be mindful of your emotional response to the problem: It can be difficult to see the problem clearly when you are facing many feelings.

What does it mean to be mindful? When you are mindful, you become aware of the present moment, what is going on “right now,” without judgment. 

Being mindful of your emotions in difficult situations can help you deal with stress and recover from such circumstances more effectively.


When dealing with a problem, you can practice mindful emotional awareness by:

  1. Taking a moment to pause.

  2. Recognizing any emotions you might be feeling (angry, overwhelmed, sad)

  3. Noticing any thoughts, physical sensations, or behaviors that come up for you when you feel this emotion

  4. Accepting the emotion without judgment

  5. Practicing your favorite form of stress-relieving techniques– i.e. listening to music, doing a Goodpath meditation, walking outside, taking three deep breaths, etc.

After following these steps, you can check back in with the problem and notice how your perspective may have changed. 

describing your emotions


Problem-Solving Steps

The next slides cover the problem-solving process. You can use a piece of paper to work through the steps.


Step 1. Define the problem

  • What exactly is the problem? 

  • List the details or facts associated with the problem. 

Let’s revisit our friend, Julia.  The problem: Julia re-injured her lower back and was experiencing a lot of pain. This injury kept her from being able to participate in hobbies like running. 


Step 2. Use SMART goals

You can write out any goals associated with your issue using a SMART framework. This will help you figure out the details of each of your goals and provide direction to resolve the issue. SMART stands for:

Specific (Who, what, when, where, how, why?)

Measurable (How will you know you achieved your goal?)

Achievable  (Is the goal doable within the timeframe?)

Relevant (Does the goal relate to your overall goal/problem to address?)

Time-bound (How long will it take to complete?)


Let’s use Julia’s situation as an example.

The goal: To improve her low back pain and return back to her favorite hobbies, like running.

The SMART goal: To improve her low back pain in three months. On a scale from 1-10, Julia is aiming for 5. She is currently at 8. She will reassess her pain and ability to run in 3 months' time. She will track her pain rating each day to determine her progress.


Step 3. Brainstorm solutions

“Brainstorming” is when you come up with possible solutions to address a problem.

Here are some possible solutions for Julia’s problem:

  • Complete exercise therapy 3 to 4 times a week

  • Continue walking while she works her way back to running

  • Explore other hobbies that bring her joy. Julia also enjoys cooking, music, and going to local parks. 


Be sure to consider any challenges related to your solutions. 

Going back to Julia, she may be challenged by: 

  •  A very busy schedule that limits her from doing exercise therapy as often as she would like

  • The weather is not ideal for walks


Step 4. Decide on a solution

Now that you have “brainstormed” different solutions, how do you decide which one to try first? 

  • For your top three solutions, make a “pros and cons” list.

  • Think back to any challenges you considered in Step 3.

  • Ask yourself: Will this solution achieve the goal? 

Example of Pros and Cons List

Solution: Continue walking while working her way back to running.

Pros: Cons:

-Enhance physical fitness -Finding time in busy schedule

-Increased time outdoors -Feeling like walking is a too slow paced

-Decrease stress -Needing extra time to complete a long walk


Step 5.  Try out the solution

You weighed the pros and cons of a few solutions. Now it’s time to choose and try the solution that you think will work best. In the example above, finding time is on the cons list. You might shorten your walk or do something else during your walk to make it feel more manageable. Don't be afraid to adjust your original list. 


Final solution: Julia decides to start going on walks instead of runs, 3-4 times a week for the next 3 months. To account for her busy schedule, Julia plans on using this time to also walk her dog. 


Reflect on the solution. Did it work? If the answer is “no,” why didn’t it work? If it did not work, you could try to adjust the solution or try the next solution on your list.

For example, Julia was unable to walk outside due to rain all week. She remembered her friend has a treadmill at home. Julia reached out to her friend to see if she can use her treadmill for the week. She also uses this time to try one of her other solutions, exploring other hobbies.


Now that you have an understanding of the process of problem-solving, you can follow these steps when a problem arises. Your coach is also available to assist you with this.