What Else Can You Do for Pain?

Sometimes it's necessary to take opioid medicine for pain, but your doctor will want you to take the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.

Luckily, there are other treatments for pain you can use in addition to your prescription medicine that can give you that boost of relief you’re looking for. 

You have several options. The challenge is to find the right combination of treatments for you.

Activate Your Body

You can try active therapy, which is based on the idea that the right kind of exercise can reduce discomfort and increase flexibility, strength, endurance, and function.

A few of these techniques combine movement with mindfulness. The thought is that by calming your mind, the body is less sensitive to pain.

The specific type of exercise or training that’ll be most effective for you depends on the source of your pain. Your doctor or physical therapist can help design the best program for you.

Functional training: These are exercises designed to help you to perform simple daily activities like lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, reaching, and bending. They include things like squats and lunges.

Tai chi: This low-impact exercise involves slow, fluid movements that are coordinated with deep breaths. It is thought to improve your mind-body connection.

Qi gong:  This practice of Chinese movement can help improve concentration, posture, balance, range of motion, and confidence.

Yoga: This ancient practice -- which combines physical postures and movement, breathing exercises, and meditation -- has been proven effective for certain pain conditions.

Train Your Brain

Pain is felt through your senses and your emotions. If you can calm and relax your brain, you can affect the way pain gets processed and you might feel better. You can interrupt the cycle with psychological and behavioral techniques.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This mind-over-matter approach is the best-studied and most effective psychological therapy for pain. It helps you get the skills to identify and change negative thoughts, which in turn decreases negative emotions. You aspire to get better control over your emotions so you can get a handle on your discomfort.

Mind-body interventions: These relaxation techniques can help you manage your pain. They include things like biofeedback, meditation, imagery, and hypnosis.

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Fear avoidance training: You might be afraid to move your body in a way that will cause pain or a re-injury. This is common for people with long-term pain. With therapy, you can overcome this fear and increase your activities.

Proper sleep: It can be hard to get the rest you need if you are in constant pain. If you don’t get enough, it can make the pain worse. So find out what will help you get the sleep you need. You can avoid naps, have a bedtime routine, or adjust the temperature in your bedroom to start.

Hands-On

Passive therapy is when you lie still while a person puts a device or their hands on you. The result is usually soothing, and you can be free of pain in the short-term, especially during a flare. 

Acupuncture: Thin, sterile, needles are inserted into your skin by a trained professional. Though it’s not completely understood how it works, it can help relieve some types of pain.

Manipulation and mobilization: Your chiropractor, osteopathic doctor, and physical therapist can make adjustments to your body to help relieve pain. They can manipulate your joints or spine to help specific areas that hurt. 

Electrical stimulation: You can try a therapy that uses pads placed on your skin to stimulate the nerves and muscles around the area of pain. This technique is known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or interferential current stimulation (ICS).

Massage: Therapists press, rub, and manipulate the muscles and soft tissues of the body. This can give you short-term pain relief.

Inject or Implant Some Relief

You doctor may try an injection or implant to help relieve some of your pain.

Steroid injections: These shots put medicine directly into the joints that hurt you. These help lower inflammation and can be very effective.

Trigger point injections: If your muscles or soft tissues have had long-term pain, this therapy may help relieve that pain in the short term.

Spinal cord stimulation: Your doctor implants a small device under your skin that generates mild electrical signals to an area near the spine, relieving pain.

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Medicine Combinations

Instead of taking a full dose of pure opioids, your doctor might try you on two or more kinds of medicine that work in different ways. This allows you to use less of each, and your side effects should be easier to manage. 

Aspirin, NSAIDs, acetaminophen, specific antidepressants, and anticonvulsants can be combined with opioids. Your doctor might also prescribe medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, depression, and muscle spasms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 24, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

ACPA Resource Guide To Chronic Pain Medication & Treatment 2015 Edition, American Chronic Pain Association, 2015.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Spine Center: “Back Pain Rehabilitation: Functional Restoration Program.”

Hospital for Special Surgery: “Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Pain.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Chronic Pain: In Depth.”

Chou, R. Journal of Pain, February 2009.

DeSantana, J. Current Rheumatology Reports, December 2008.

Electrotherapy on the Web: “Interferential Therapy.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Massage Therapy.”

Raffa, R. Journal of Pain, August 2010.

American Chronic Pain Association: “Prescription Medications for Chronic Pain.”

UpToDate: "Treatment of neck pain."

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