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Pain Management: Treatment Overview

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Psychological Treatment

When you are in pain, you may have feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and/or despair. Pain can alter your personality, disrupt your sleep, and interfere with your work and relationships. In turn, depression and anxiety, lack of sleep, and feelings of stress can all make pain worse. Psychological treatment provides safe, nondrug methods that can treat your pain directly by reducing high levels of physiological stress that often aggravate pain. Psychological treatment also helps improve the indirect consequences of pain by helping you learn how to cope with the many problems associated with pain.

A large part of psychological treatment for pain is education, helping patients acquire skills to manage a very difficult problem.

Alternative Therapies

In the past decade, many people have found relief for their pain in mind-body therapies, acupuncture, and some nutritional supplements. Others use massage, chiropractic and osteopathic (bone) manipulation therapies, therapeutic touch, certain herbal therapies, and dietary approaches to alleviate pain. However, there is little if any scientific evidence supporting these therapies for pain relief.

Mind-Body Therapies

Mind-body therapies are treatments that are meant to help the mind's ability to affect the functions and symptoms of the body. Mind-body therapies use various approaches including relaxation techniques, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and hypnosis. Relaxation techniques can help alleviate discomfort related to chronic pain.

Visualization may be another worthwhile pain-controlling technique. Try the following exercise: Close your eyes and try to call up a visual image of the pain, giving it shape, color, size, motion. Now try slowly altering this image, replacing it with a more harmonious, pleasing -- and smaller -- image.

Another approach is to keep a diary of your pain episodes and the causative and corrective factors surrounding them. Review your diary regularly to explore avenues of possible change. Strive to view pain as part of life, not all of it.

Electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback may alert you to the ways in which muscle tension is contributing to your pain and help you learn to control it. Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis may help you block or transform pain through refocusing techniques. One self-hypnosis strategy, known as glove anesthesia, involves putting yourself in a trance, placing a hand over the painful area, imagining that the hand is relaxed, heavy, and numb, and envisioning these sensations as replacing other, painful feelings in the affected area.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga have been shown to reduce stress-related pain when they are practiced regularly. The gentle stretching of yoga is particularly good for strengthening muscles without putting additional strain on the body.

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