Pain is, for most people, an intermittent interruption, but, for those who endure chronic pain, it can be an unrelenting disruption that interferes with even the most mundane activities. Unlike acute pain that is intended to alert you to a physiological problem, chronic pain has no organic value—it is a biological malfunction. Furthermore, chronic pain actually re-wires the brain, making it more difficult to manage.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report that estimated 50 million Americans are living with chronic pain. Almost 20 million live with severe chronic pain that interferes with work or life activities. If this estimate is accurate, then almost one in five Americans is struggling with a major health problem that requires effective treatment.
Pain Management Treatments Worth Trying
This is why so many people are eager to find a pain management treatment that is successful for them. Chronic pain affects everyone differently, but most of the following therapies have proven effective for a wide population of people, so they may provide at least some pain relief for you. Before you start any new pain management treatment, consult your physician to avoid any health risks.
- Physical exercise—chronic pain has the unfortunate effect of immobilizing you. If you are suffering from lower back pain or a migraine, one of the last things you want to do is expend energy running or biking. However, exercise provides many benefits. In the short term, physical activity produces endorphins, natural pain killers that relieve pain and boost mood. It also helps you sleep more easily and restfully. Over the long time, exercise also helps relax tense muscles that may produce secondary pain symptoms. Many fitness programs that emphasize movement or stretching also specifically mitigate certain pain conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia. Discuss with your doctor any exercise program prior to starting it to prevent additional injury.
- Physical therapy—although physical therapy may include exercises, there are some key differences. First of all, you will be under the supervision of a medical professional so there should be less risk of injury. Their expertise should also help you focus on specific pain management treatments that are most likely to reduce pain. Secondly, a physical therapist can also offer access to treatments unavailable to the general public like acupressure, ultrasound or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Finally, scheduled physical therapy sessions means that you are more likely to adhere to a rehabilitation program that produces benefits.
- Therapeutic massage—many people think that a massage is merely a relaxing indulgence, but a massage administered by a qualified medical professional can produce significant pain relief. One of the types of massage that is gaining more support in the medical community is acupressure which applies gentle rubbing or pressure to key points on the body. Not only does this relax muscles and promote the production of endorphins, but it also helps increase circulation, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach damaged tissue. Ultimately, enhanced circulation accelerates the healing process. More than one session is usually required to achieve optimal benefits.
- Mindful meditation—one of the most insidious effects of chronic pain is how it re-wires the brain. Studies show that chronic pain sufferers can lose up to 11 percent of their gray matter, primarily in the prefrontal cortex. This region regulates emotions, and this loss of regulation allows anxiety and fear to predominate thought processes. Stress and fear act to intensify pain feelings. Mindful meditation helps minimize this secondary processing of pain symptoms. Long time practitioners of mindfulness can virtually neutralize pain symptoms entirely.
- Pain relief medications—almost everyone who encounters pain wants immediate relief which most people equate with medications. Intense pain may compel you to ask your doctor for more potent drugs like opioids, but new research suggests this may not help as much as you think. Not only do opioids make some people more sensitive to pain, but they also interfere with sleep which also amplifies pain symptoms. More physicians are recommending that chronic pain patients take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen which have been shown to be as potent for some patients as opioids.
- Yoga—for centuries, people who have practiced this form of spiritual exercise have been able to mitigate many physical ailments including pain. This pain management treatment combines stretching, gentle exercise, and breath control to improve bodily function and produce pain relief. There are even yoga programs specifically focused on managing chronic pain.
- Biofeedback—this pain management treatment used a feedback prompt like a light or graph to alert you when your heart rate or blood pressure are rising. Patients learn to control their physiological responses to pain. This minimizes secondary processes like stress or sleeplessness that amplify pain symptoms.
- Heating or cooling—applying hot or cold packs to painful areas can provide immediate relief and promote recovery. If you apply ice to the skin, be sure to limit exposure to 20 minutes or less, otherwise you may damage tissue. You should also alternate with heat which increases blood circulation and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to injured tissue.
- Electrotherapy—a pain management treatment that is earning more support from medical professionals is electrotherapy which involves applying a low-level current to the nervous system. This mild current can disrupt pain signals from reaching the brain, offering at least some pain relief to certain patients. In the past electrotherapy devices were only available through medical professionals, but newly marketed consumer products like Quell offer a reasonably affordable option.
- Nutritious diet—many people forget to manage what they eat and this can detriment their ongoing struggle with pain. A healthy diet that emphasizes nutrition and pain-fighting foods should be a central component of your pain management strategy. In general, foods like omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric can help you resist pain, but there are specific foods that may help limit certain pain conditions. Furthermore, remember to watch your calorie count, as excess weight can exacerbate pain.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.