Chronic pain is a fact of life for many Americans, and it can significantly impact the quality of life that a person has. For some, chronic pain can be so severe and have such a large effect on one’s daily life that it can lead to depression (see: The Link Between Chronic Pain And Depression).In many cases, chronic pain cannot be cured, but it can be managed so that the pain is not the focus of daily life. Here are 10 ways to manage chronic pain to help those suffering from this condition.
Medication is usually the first line of defense for those with chronic pain. There are a wide variety of pain relievers available; some are over-the-counter, while others require a prescription. They range from opioid pain killers, which are habit forming and are only used when necessary, to COX2 inhibitors and salicylates. Even anti-seizure medications may be used depending on what type of chronic pain a person is dealing with. The type of pain a person experiences will determine what medications are recommended by the doctor.
Clinical hypnotherapy is a form of deep relaxation and selective concentration. According to the American Chronic Pain Association, there is strong evidence to support the use of hypnosis in managing chronic pain. Hypnosis is initially done with a qualified therapist, though, over time, those suffering from chronic pain can be taught to hypnotize themselves.
Relaxation training works similarly to hypnosis, with several different methods that can be used. The method that has received the most study and is most widely recommended is called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). A therapist works with patients to learn techniques that allow them to exert some control over the pain they are feeling by making them aware of physiological processes they ordinarily might not be aware of such as heart rate or muscle tension. This is particularly effective in the case of psychogenic pain.
Another technique used by therapists, biofeedback uses computers or other machines to give the person feedback about the progress they are making. It is particularly effective with headaches or pain related to the spine as the spine can cause muscle tension resulting in secondary pain from muscle fatigue. Over time, people can learn to use the techniques without the feedback from the computer.
Massage is a therapy that has been around for thousands of years and involves the manual manipulation of the skeletal muscles in order to relieve pain and encourage relaxation. A number of techniques can be used based upon the goal of the session, and some are more intense than others. All massages should be performed by a licensed massage therapist and sessions will last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours or more, depending upon the individual needs of the person.
Acupuncture has been a staple in ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The principle is that there are energy pathways within the body that can become blocked and cause problems, and the use of fine needles can help to relieve these blockages. While this may not be the actual physiological process, there is some evidence that acupuncture is effective at helping to manage chronic pain.
Homeopathy is the use of botanical medicine, such as flowers, herbs and roots, to cure health problems. This particular healing modality operates on the principle that "like cures like," which means that if the botanical will cause the problem, then in a low dosage it will also cause the body to cure it. While to some it may sound far-fetched, there is some evidence to suggest that it is effective, though researchers are still not sure how; further studies as to the effectiveness of treatment continues to provide mixed results. Some believe it is because homeopathy is such an individualized practice (each patient is prescribed different dosages and mixtures) that standardized testing is difficult. Researchers do believe that overall, homeopathy is safe, but you should still consult your physician before attempting to use it to manage chronic pain.
Aromatherapy uses the sense of smell and plant derived oils to promote healing and pain relief within the body. The sense of smell could be considered the most powerful of all the senses because it is the only sense that links directly to the brain, without having to go through the central nervous system. When it comes to chronic pain, there is evidence to suggest that aromatherapy is effective. Certain essential oils can be used in a variety of ways, from being burned in an oil burner to scent an area, to being used in massage oils or bath water to help enhance the parasympathetic responses to pain, helping to relieve chronic pain.
It may seem odd, but numerous research studies have proven that music can help relieve chronic pain. In fact music therapy is being used more and more in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice settings. Though most studies don't mention the type of music used, it seems that actively concentrating on the music is the key. The reason is that the same brain pathways that are responsible for processing the music are also responsible for processing pain signals.
A healthy lifestyle is a must for anyone who experiences chronic pain. The reason is that the body is better able to cope with pain when it has all the nutrients it needs and none of the things it doesn't, such as alcohol or cigarette smoke. Exercise is also key, not only to a healthy lifestyle, but also to managing chronic pain. Exercise helps keep bones, joints and muscles loose and strong as well as stimulating the body's natural pain relievers, endorphins.
When it comes to chronic pain, there is no "one size fits all" approach. Some of these treatments will be effective for some people, while others won't be. It's important to keep trying until something is found that does work, and remember that many of the techniques on this list can be combined. For instance, massage can be used if someone is on medication, and everyone should be living a healthy lifestyle to make their treatments more effective. This combination of techniques can prove to be the key to managing chronic pain for everyone.