Chronic pain treatments are as varied as its causes. There are numerous approaches available, ranging from over-the-counter and prescription drugs to mind/body techniques and acupuncture. However, when it comes to treating chronic pain, no single technique can guarantee complete pain relief. A combination of treatment options may provide relief.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy (TENS)
TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a pain-relieving technique that employs electrical stimulation. Low-voltage electrical current is delivered through electrodes placed on the skin near the source of pain during the procedure. The electricity from the electrodes stimulates nerves in the affected area, sending signals to the brain that “scramble” normal pain signals. TENS is a non-painful therapy that may be effective in masking pain caused by diabetic neuropathy. TENS, on the other hand, is ineffective and should not be used to treat chronic low back pain.
Physiotheraphy relieves pain by utilizing specialized techniques that improve movement and function that have been hampered by an injury or disability. A physical therapist may use TENS to aid treatment in addition to stretching, strengthening, and pain-relieving techniques.
- Bioelectric Therapy is a type of electrotherapy
Bioelectric therapy relieves pain by preventing pain messages from reaching the brain. Bioelectric therapy also stimulates the body to produce chemicals known as endorphins (endorphins are also released by exercise) that reduce or eliminate painful sensations by preventing pain messages from reaching the brain.
Back pain, muscle pain, headaches and migraines, arthritis, TMJ disorder, diabetic neuropathy, and scleroderma are just a few of the chronic and acute pain conditions that can be treated with bioelectric therapy.
Bioelectric therapy is effective in providing temporary pain relief, but it should only be used as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. When combined with traditional pain relievers, bioelectric treatment may allow pain patients to reduce their dose of some pain relievers by up to 50%.
Although resting for short periods of time can help relieve pain, over-resting can worsen pain and put you at risk of injury when you try to move again. Regular exercise has been shown in studies to reduce pain in the long run by improving muscle tone, strength, and flexibility. Endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, may also be released as a result of exercise. Some exercises are easier to perform for chronic pain patients than others; try swimming, biking, walking, rowing, and yoga.
- Psychological Therapy
When you are in pain, you may experience emotions such as rage, sadness, hopelessness, and/or despair. Pain can alter your personality, disrupt your sleep, and cause problems at work and in your relationships. Depression and anxiety, as well as a lack of sleep and feelings of stress, can all exacerbate pain. Psychological Therapy offers non-drug methods for treating pain directly by reducing high levels of physiological stress, which frequently aggravates pain. Psychological treatment also helps to improve the indirect consequences of pain by teaching you how to deal with the numerous issues that come with it.
Education is an important part of psychological pain treatment, as it teaches patients how to manage a difficult problem.
Many people have found pain relief in mind-body therapies, acupuncture, and some nutritional supplements over the last decade. Others relieve pain with massage, chiropractic and osteopathic (bone) manipulation therapies, therapeutic touch, certain herbal therapies, and dietary approaches. However, there is little, if any, scientific evidence to support these pain relief therapies.
Therapies of the Mind and Body
Mind-body therapies are treatments that aim to improve the mind’s ability to influence the functions and symptoms of the body. Mind-body therapies employ a variety of techniques, including relaxation techniques, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and hypnosis. Relaxation techniques can help relieve the discomfort associated with chronic pain.
Another effective pain-relieving technique is visualization. Try the following activity: Close your eyes and try to conjure up a mental image of the pain, giving it shape, color, size, and movement. Now, gradually replace this image with a more harmonious, pleasing – and smaller – image.
Another approach is to keep a diary of your pain episodes as well as the factors that caused and corrected them. Examine your diary on a regular basis to identify potential areas for improvement. Strive to see pain as a part of life, rather than the sum total of it.
Electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback may help you learn to control your pain by alerting you to the ways in which muscle tension is contributing to it. Through refocusing techniques, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis may help you block or transform pain. Glove anesthesia is a self-hypnosis strategy that involves going into a trance, placing a hand over the painful area, imagining that the hand is relaxed, heavy, and numb, and picturing these sensations as replacing other, painful feelings in the affected area.
Regular practice of relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga has been shown to reduce stress-related pain. Yoga’s gentle stretching is especially beneficial for strengthening muscles without putting additional strain on the body.
Acupuncture (Dry Needling)
Acupuncture is thought to reduce pain by increasing the release of endorphins, which are pain-blocking chemicals. Many acupoints are located near nerves. When these nerves are stimulated, they cause a dull ache or a feeling of fullness in the muscle. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), resulting in the release of endorphins, which block the delivery of pain messages to the brain.
Many pain-related conditions, including headache, low back pain, menstrual cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis (especially of the knee), and myofascial pain, may benefit from acupuncture as an adjunctive treatment. Acupuncture may also be an acceptable alternative to or a component of a comprehensive pain management program.
Massage and Chiropractic Care
The most common nonsurgical treatment for back pain is chiropractic care. Some trials found that people who received chiropractic manipulations improved. However, the majority of clinical trials have failed to provide compelling evidence that the treatment is effective in treating chronic back and neck pain. More research is being conducted to determine the efficacy of chiropractic care for pain management.
Massage is increasingly being used by people who are in pain, primarily to manage chronic back and neck problems. Massage can alleviate stress and tension by increasing blood flow. This treatment can also help to reduce the presence of substances that can cause and sustain pain. According to the available data, massage therapy, like chiropractic manipulations, holds a lot of promise for treating back pain. However, due to the limitations of available studies, it is not possible to draw final conclusions about the effectiveness of massage to treat pain.
Reiki and Therapeutic Touch Healing
Therapeutic touch and Reiki healing are thought to aid in the activation of an individual’s self-healing processes, thereby reducing pain. Although these ostensibly “energy-based” techniques do not necessitate actual physical contact, they do necessitate close physical proximity between practitioner and patient.
Several reviews have been conducted in recent years to assess the efficacy of these healing approaches in relieving pain and anxiety and improving health. Although several studies found beneficial effects with no significant negative side effects, the limitations of some of these studies make drawing definitive conclusions difficult. More research is needed before these approaches to pain management can be recommended.
Supplements for Nutrition
Dietary supplements, such as fish oils and SAMe, may also be beneficial, though more research is needed.
It has been difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of herbs, though there are a few that have some evidence supporting their use, such as white willow bark, devil’s claw, cat’s claw, ginger, and turmeric. If you decide to use herbal remedies to relieve your pain, inform your doctor: Some herbs may interact with medications you are taking for pain or other conditions, causing harm to your health.
Dietary Approaches to Pain Relief
Some people believe that reducing inflammation by changing their dietary fat intake and/or eating plant foods containing anti-inflammatory agents can help relieve pain.
Although a mostly raw vegetarian diet was found to be beneficial for some people with fibromyalgia, this study lacked methodological rigor. A low-fat vegetarian diet was associated with decreased pain intensity and duration in one study of women with premenstrual symptoms. Weight loss achieved through a combination of dietary changes and increased physical activity has been shown to be beneficial for people with osteoarthritis.
Still, more research is needed to determine the efficacy of dietary changes as a pain treatment.
Pain Clinics are another option
Many people who suffer from chronic pain can gain some control over it by attempting many of the above treatments on their own. However, for some, no matter what treatment method they try, they continue to suffer from incapacitating pain. Pain clinics, which are special care centers devoted solely to the treatment of intractable pain, may be the answer for them. Some pain clinics are affiliated with hospitals, while others are privately owned; in either case, both inpatient and outpatient care is usually available.
In general, pain clinics take a multidisciplinary approach, involving physicians, psychologists, and physical therapists. The patient should also participate actively in their own treatment. In many cases, the goal is not only to relieve pain, but also to teach the chronic sufferer how to cope with pain and function in spite of it.
Various studies have shown that visiting a pain clinic can reduce pain by up to 50% for chronic pain sufferers, and most people learn to cope better and can resume normal activities.