In the 1960's researchers became aware of inhibitory neurons in the spinal cord that control pain perception. They found that if a topical irritant (such as the menthol in Bengay) was applied next to an acute pain, the pain was "blocked" by this competing sensation. More recently, research has shown that areas of the brain can also inhibit pain. Put simply, various sensation and emotional pathways compete for attention in the brain and can help resolve chronic pain.
Before taking strong medications, people should try to control pain through these methods. For example, exercise can create both sensations as well as emotional states that often compete with pain.
My own experience shows this is true. I've had achy knees for years. But I've also noticed that hiking mountains can often resolve the pain. Is it the fresh air in the mountains that takes my mind off the pain in the knees? Somehow the excitement of outdoor sports helps my emotional state to the point where chronic pain goes away. I believe outdoor sports with plenty of sunlight has a powerful effect on moods that block pain. Even simple gardening can have a huge impact on pain problems. Go plant some tulips!
I use a combination of physiological and psychological methods to treat this real problem; this is individually tailored. Through conversation and analysis we can find the method that works for you.