While medication can be helpful, there are other ways to manage your chronic pain. This article takes you through your other options to help you make an informed decision.
For many people, over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories can help to take the edge off their chronic pain. Doctors often prescribe a range of stronger medications for pain patients. However, pain medication doesn’t work for everybody, and many medications can have some unpleasant side effects and risks attached!
This treatment protocol on chronic pain management explains that opioids in particular reduce in effectiveness over time, can become addictive and that they, “have adverse effects that many patients cannot tolerate”.
There are many reasons patients may want to manage their pain without medication, and thankfully there are plenty of very effective options to choose from. You might be surprised to know that chronic pain can be reduced and even completely overcome without the use of medication!
Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE)
Learning about pain science enables you to understand what is happening within your body when something hurts. They say that knowledge is power and that really is the case. By understanding how your body creates pain, you understand that chronic pain can be overcome.
With the knowledge that chronic pain doesn’t equal damage, and that you can train your brain away from pain, you can move from feelings of hopelessness to empowerment.
Psychological therapies can have a big positive impact on reducing, and in some cases even eliminating, chronic pain symptoms. Once you understand the science behind pain as we previously discussed, you can understand how these therapies can make such a big difference! There are a variety of options to choose from so that you can find the type of therapy which suits you and your situation.
These therapies can be accessed through your doctor or specialist who may refer you to specific therapy sessions. You may also be referred to a pain clinic which may incorporate one or more of these methods
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a therapy that works on the basis that our thoughts and our bodies are connected. When we perceive pain in a negative way, for example feeling that there’s nothing we can do about it, our pain actually worsens. Our behavior changes in accordance with our thoughts. So, if we think in a maladaptive (unhelpful) way, then maladaptive behaviors follow which literally perpetuate our chronic pain.
CBT can help you to recognize those patterns and therefore change them, enabling you to replace those maladaptive thoughts with adaptive (helpful) thoughts and behaviors. These adaptive behaviors help you to manage your pain and reduce it!
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
While from the same school of thought as CBT, rather than trying to change negative thoughts, ACT focuses on accepting those thoughts. By accepting your thoughts as they run through your head, you can come to understand that they are just thoughts; they don’t need to equate to actions.
ACT can help you to accept your chronic pain and the negative thoughts you may have about it so that you find them less distressing. The therapy then teaches commitment to changing behaviors and acting in a positive way, so you can increase your functioning and reduce your chronic pain.
- Graded Exposure Therapy
Graded exposure therapy works by gradually introducing you to situations that are painful or that you fear. This gradual approach not only teaches you that you do not need to fear specific activities but also retrains your brain by teaching it that these situations do not require pain messages to be sent out.
- Graded Motor Imagery (GMI)
GMI uses visualized movements to harness the power of the brain’s neuroplasticity and retrain the brain away from pain. Neuroplasticity means that your brain is changeable and learns from your experiences and environment. Your brain can learn to continue producing chronic pain, but it can also relearn not to produce chronic pain!
Mindfulness is about learning to be present at the moment, not worrying about the future or the past. It’s a powerful tool for reducing stress which in turn reduces pain levels. Through relaxation, mindfulness can allow you to gain better control over your emotions and cope with your pain more effectively.
Mindfulness can be guided, often through mindfulness meditations, guided visualization, or breathing exercises. Mindfulness can also be incorporated into your everyday life in tasks such as going shopping or washing the dishes!
Biofeedback is a process of the patient taking control over their biological processes, such as controlling stress levels. This type of therapy typically involves heart rate monitors, for example, to make the patient aware of how their heart rate rises when they are stressed.
Once this awareness is gained, the medical professional teaches the patient how to calm their heart rate through relaxation. This article from the National Institutes of Health explains that biofeedback, “teaches you to be more aware of your body functions so you can learn to control them.” Stress and pain are deeply interlinked, and once you learn how to reduce stress responses in the body, so you can reduce your pain levels.
Biofeedback can also be used to identify and control other biological processes, including muscle tension which can contribute to chronic pain. As patients learn to recognize when their muscles are tense and how to relax them, their pain can be reduced.
Psychotherapy is a talking therapy that focuses on the patient talking about their feelings and experiences. The therapist is there to listen and gently guide you with the aim of you reaching conclusions and realizations on your own. This in turn leads to you figuring out how to resolve problems or tackle issues in your life.
Psychotherapy can aid you in reducing stress, engaging in more adaptive behaviors to tackle your pain, and dealing with any comorbid mental illnesses that often accompany chronic pain.
Passive physical therapies (meaning those within which the therapist does the majority of the work to manipulate and move your body) can be accessed through your doctor as a referral to a physical therapist. Physical therapists will often be part of pain management clinics, and you can also access them privately.
Active physical therapies (those which are guided but you do most of the work) can also be accessed online. You can find videos, courses, and exercises to be carried out at home. Our pain relief app (download links below) can also guide you through physical therapy sessions.
Physical therapy can involve a range of the following treatments and often incorporates psychological treatments to produce the best results for patients.
- Strengthening and flexibility exercises: Exercises that strengthen your muscles, reduce stiffness and increase flexibility can be helpful in reducing pain and increasing functioning.
- Therapeutic exercise: Many therapists use the graded, low-impact exercise to, “increase strength, aerobic capacity, balance, and flexibility; improve posture, and enhance general well-being.”
- Massage: Therapeutic massage can help to loosen tight muscles, reducing pain and increasing mobility.
- Hydrotherapy: Exercises are carried out within heated pools. The heat eases pain while the water takes the weight off your joints to make movement easier.
- Laser therapy: Lasers generate specific wavelengths of light which can promote healing within the body.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound machine produces targeted sound waves which can promote improved blood circulation, tackle inflammation, and reduce swelling and stiffness.
- Dry needling: Thin needles are used to target specific muscles to ease pain and relieve tension within the muscle.
- Kinesiology taping: A flexible tape is applied to specific areas of the body to support joints during movement. Kinesiology taping is also thought to reduce inflammation and interrupt pain messages to ease the pain.
Precision Pain Care and Rehabilitation has two convenient locations in Richmond Hill – Queens and New Hyde Park – Long Island. Call the Queens office at (718) 215-1888, or (516) 419-4480 for the Long Island office, to arrange an appointment with our Interventional Pain Management Specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Chacko.