ways to cope with chronic pain beyond pills
Living With Chronic Pain

Beyond Pills

Chronic pain is debilitating. Like that slow, constant, never ending drip from the faucet, it can seep into every aspect of our lives. Too often we look to the medicine cabinet or prescription pad for answers. Those may help, but their impact is temporary and the side effects can be catastrophic. That’s why it’s so important to have a slew of options available to decrease and mange the pain. Ones that are always available without the possible consequences. For most of us, pain overwhelms and decides the choices in our lives. This has to stop. Feeling empowered is the key. Understanding we have the control, not pain. 

Here are a few ways to do just that:

1. Biofeedback: This intervention teaches new ways to consciously control heart rate and responses to stimuli on a screen. Hooked up by electrodes to a screen individuals can see how their efforts impact different responses in real time. By watching the changes as they occur on a screen it can teach pain patients how to manage their own pain levels and take back control. Read more here.

2. Eastern Medicine: This encompasses both herbal treatments as well as acupressure and acupuncture. They are based on the concept of life energy which flows through “meridians” in the body. Acupressure can be done by anyone. Here physical pressure is applied to acupuncture points with the aim of clearing blockages in these meridians. Acupuncture, on the other hand, uses tiny needles, placed in specific points along the body, to help alleviate chronic pain. They are both effective forms of stimulation used to help relax the muscles.

3. Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a gentle way to reduce the pain that comes with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA) or fibromyalgia. Studies show that more than 75% of people with arthritis and related diseases experience significant pain relief using hypnosis. Far from the parlor trick of years past, today’s practitioners are using hypnosis to give patients an additional tool to help manage their pain. Hypnosis isn’t about convincing you that you don’t feel pain; it’s about helping you manage the fear and anxiety you feel related to that pain. It relaxes you, and redirects your attention from something that triggers negative emotions to something that will activate positive emotions, such as being at the beach. 

4. Cold and Heat: Cold and heat are effective therapies against chronic pain in various parts of the body. Cold helps reduce inflammation and heat can alleviate spasms in muscles. Heat boosts nourishing blood flow to areas of the body in pain due to inflammation, allowing muscles to relax. Apply a heating pad or wrap can help pecific spots but relaxing in a hot bath can soothe the entire body. Cold therapy slows blood flow to a painful joint, swelling is reduced and nerves aren’t able to send messages of pain as quickly. Ice, a cold wrap or pack can ease a flaring, painful joint.

5.  Meditation: One method of reducing pain is incorporating various relaxation exercises into everyday life. This includes learning to breathe to lower blood pressure and practicing meditation techniques. Meditation can help reduce the “fight-or-flight” response to pain. Even just regulating your breathing a few minutes a day by counting to five when breathing in, holding for the count of five, breathing out to the count of five, holding there to the count of five. . .can be incredibly effective. There are also smartphone apps that act as simple guides.

6. Massage: A growing body of research shows massage therapy can be an effective part of pain relief and management by providing the necessary release to muscle spasms and improving circulation. Acupressure can even be incorporated when needed. Some insurances will even cover sessions for patients with certain diagnoses. There’s no question most of us feel our aching muscles and joints feel after a massage session, even if it’s just on a specific area like the back and neck.

7. Topicals: I’m a huge advocate of topical analgesics in treating pain conditions. From individual agents or combinations gels, patches or creams can be incredibly effective. Often I’ll use a compounding facility to make up a combination of what I believe will help an individual’s specific issues. It could be a medicine like Motrin (NSAID), muscle relaxants, lidocaine (a numbing agent), and gabapentin. Even those who can’t take pill forms of these medications due to anti coagulants use or renal concerns may be able to use these since far less is absorbed through the skin. Ask your provider if they’d work for you.

8. TENS: By electrically stimulating the area where the pain is localized, you can actually help alleviate it. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, is the electrical stimulation technique most often used in pain management. A small device attached to the skin sends electrical impulses to the painful area, stimulates the nerves, and as a result, reduces painful musculoskeletal conditions.

9. Exercise: This may be the last thing on your mind when you’re in pain. But gentle activity can actually help you recover. Exercise in the form of walking, biking or swimming loosens stiff muscles and improves blood flow, both of which speed your body’s natural healing process. It can also be an excellent way to build up the muscles around damaged tissue and vertebrae. Other forms of exercises that slow and smooth movements while focusing on breathing and relaxation techniques such as yoga and Tai Chi can also help.

10. Physical therapy: Unlike medication, physical therapy can actually help treat the underlying source of the pain, whether it’s arthritis or another condition, and help improve chronic pain symptoms over time. It teaches how to gently move and stretch muscles and work joints to strengthen them, which increases blood flow, reduces spasms and alleviates pain. One study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that doing home exercises taught by physical therapists was more helpful for neck pain than drugs. Even one session can teach valuable techniques to managing pain on your own.

11.  Stress management: Anxiety, stress, and depression can aggravate chronic pain, so it’s important not to ignore your emotional side. As I’ve stated in past posts, there is a strong connection in the brain between stress and pain. Finding healthy ways to cope is imperative in helping to gain peace of mind and control of symptoms. We’ve discussed a multitude of ways to get active, decrease stressors and work through the pain.  

12. Music therapy: Listening to tunes can help. Research has shown it actually reduced opioid requirements and lessened postoperative pain. Investigators looked at the effect of music on acute, chronic, or cancer pain intensity as well as pain relief and analgesic requirements. Some studies found that participants exposed to music had a 70% higher likelihood of having pain relief than unexposed participants. Other studies found that participants required less opioid medication two hours after surgery, as well as 24 hours post surgery. It can also help with muscle relaxation and bring calming joy.

You don’t have to suffer with chronic pain or rely on a bottle of pills for the rest of your life. Not when there are so many pain management options available. Talk to your provider today.







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