The entire primary care record of six patients attending a community-based education/exercise self-management program for chronic noncancer pain (YMCA Pain Exercise/Education Program [Y-PEP]) was reviewed. Medical visits, consultations and hospital admissions were coded as related or unrelated to their pain diagnoses. Mood disruption, financial concerns, conflicts with employers/insurers, analgesic doses, medication side effects and major life events were also recorded. The ‘chronic pain trajectory’ resembled a roller coaster with increased health care visits at the time of initial injuries and during ‘crises’ (reinjury, conflict with insurers/employers, failed back-to-work attempts and life events). Visits decreased when conflicts were resolved. Analgesic doses increased during ‘crises’ but did not fall after resolution. After attending Y-PEP, health care use fell for four of six patients and two returned to work. Primary care physicians need to recognize the functional limitations and psychosocial complications experienced by their chronic pain patients. A program such as Y-PEP may promote active self-management strategies resulting in lowered health care use.