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Chronic Pain Relief: New Treatments

New advances in drugs and technology mean there are now better solutions for chronic pain relief.

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Spinal drug pumps. These are also called intrathecal pumps, because they send pain medication to the spinal cord. Local anesthetics, narcotics, and other painkillers can be delivered via these implanted pumps. With the push of a button, a painkiller is delivered to the site -- to block the nerve from sending a pain signal to the spinal cord.

"Often these are used with cancer patients, but also with patients who have tried pain medications but developed side effects," says Abdi. "The dosage is much, much less than an oral dose, so the side effects are less."

There's also a psychological benefit to the pumps, Gallagher says. "You can imagine if you're in agonizing pain after a major injury, and you're being transported to a hospital. If you have control over the pain, you can help prevent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the injury."

Surgery. While most severe pain is treated with medicine, surgery can also help in some cases. Removing a tumor can provide pain relief, as can shrinking a tumor using radiation therapy. In neurosurgery, pain nerves are cut to relieve pain.

Counseling to Cope Better With Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain is hard, and depression, anxiety, stress, and anger can make pain worse. These negative emotions reduce the body's natural painkillers and increase the body's sensitivity to pain.

When chronic pain sets in, your life shrinks to fit your pain. You're less active, don't exercise. "That perpetuates the pain cycle, because it makes the perception of pain worse," Chan explains. "Your health, work, and relationships all suffer. You can't sleep. You're depressed. When your sleep and mood are affected, it perpetuates the feeling of pain."

With counseling, patients can learn coping skills in dealing with chronic pain. They can also figure out solutions to life problems that are causing stress or depression -- and regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.

Patients who get psychological counseling are also more likely to follow through with their treatment program, says Abdi. "Therapy keeps people actively involved in their physical therapy. Also, we need to make sure we involve family members in psychotherapy. They need to know what the treatment involves, and understand what the patient is going through. Families need to know they are part of the solution."

Alternative Approaches to Chronic Pain Relief

Stress makes pain worse, so learning to relax is a goal for patients. "If you're upset about something, your pain will go up several points on the pain scale," Gallagher explains. "Stress control techniques are very helpful for all types of pain."

Biofeedback, for example, helps people learn to train their minds to control body functions such as muscle tension, breathing, and heart rate -- all of which helps reduce anxiety and stress reactions. Studies have shown that biofeedback reduces frequency and duration of headaches, and works as well as many medications in providing chronic pain relief.

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