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Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than 90 days. Unlike acute pain, which diminishes over a relatively short period, chronic pain must be actively managed. For some people, it may never be cured.

However, there are now more treatment options than ever before to help you find relief and increase your quality of life in the face of chronic pain.

When Living with Pain, Take a Healthy Lifestyle Approach

Couple with bikes on beachThe most effective approach to decreasing pain in the long term is to take a healthy lifestyle approach.

Start by recognizing that the human body is a set of interrelated systems, and make sure you are taking care of yourself. That means you should try to:

  • get a good night’s sleep,
  • exercise regularly,
  • eat healthy,
  • actively treat anxiety and depression,
  • and eliminate from your lifestyle any activity that increases your pain level.

Medical treatment such as prescription pain relievers have a place in the treatment of chronic pain, but always follow your doctor’s orders, and don’t rely on the medication to cure your pain in the long term. A PubMed study shows that “over half of persons receiving 90 days of continuous opioid therapy remain on opioids years later.”

The right choice for your treatment depends on how long your pain has lasted, how severe it is, and many other factors. Always consult a physician you trust.

Non-opioid Pain Relievers

Non-opioid pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil), are very effective at treating mild to moderate pain, and are often underutilized.

These drugs are available in drug stores at affordable prices across the country.

Keep in mind that even over-the-counter drugs may involve risks. Always consult with your doctor if you’re unsure.

Prescription Pain Relievers (Opioids)

In some cases, prescription pain relievers can be highly effective option for the treatment of chronic pain. A class of drugs called opioids, so named because they are derived from the narcotic opium, effectively block the body’s ability to transmit pain to your brain when you inject or consume them.

Some examples of prescription opioids include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

Since opioids have potential side effects that include drowsiness, nausea, shortness of breath, addiction, and potential overdose, always follow your doctor’s directions and use them with caution.

Alternative Treatments for Living with Pain

There are many other treatments, old and new, that may help reduce your chronic pain.

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles at strategic places in the body to stimulate muscles and nerves, and relieve pain. In one study of 18,000 participants concluded that acupuncture was reported to reduce pain by half. Originally a practice from Eastern medicine, acupuncture has gained traction and scientific credibility in the West in recent years, but scientific claims continue to be “mixed,” according to Brent A. Bauer, M.D. on the Mayo Clinic website.

Chiropractic therapy is a system of medicine that follows the idea that “the structure of the body, particularly the spine, affects the function of every part of the body” (Harvard Health Publications). Chiropractors rely on spinal manipulation or correction to relieve pain, but can include exercises to improve stability and strength, training on how to sit and stand correctly, and are frequently combined with heat, ice, and additional therapies to treat pain from multiple angles.

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is hands-on care. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine use their hands to diagnose and treat muscle pain, increase mobility, and promote healing.

Physical therapy focuses on prevention and management of existing physical impairments, injuries, and disabilities, including those that cause pain. Physical therapy may include: Manual therapies (like OMT), heat/ice packs, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, dry needling, movement-based activities, including stretching and range of motion exercises, specific strengthening exercises, low-impact aerobic conditioning, and much more.

Therapeutic massage involves the direct manipulation of the body to alleviate or reduce pain. This type of massage, sometimes called myofascial release or deep tissue massage, can be effective at reducing stress, anxiety, and muscle tension which can help reduce pain.

Biofeedback involves being hooked up to electrical sensors that allows you to quantify and measure your body’s functions such as heart rate, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, and more. By combining objective observation with deliberate practice, biofeedback is a pain relief tool that has the potential to teach anyone to control their body’s functions and, therefore, be more likely to avoid headaches, muscle pain caused by stress, and other natural causes of chronic pain.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) revolves around the idea that negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors cause and contribute to pain and an increased sensitivity to pain. Similar in format to talk therapy, the patient works with a therapist to identify problem areas and develop skills to improve their mental health, which then reflects into their physical well-being. CBT is often recommended in conjunction with one or more other therapies.

Meditation or mindfulness, when properly taught, produces great results for pain patients, and a life-long skill. The Atlantic reported that one Wake Forest University study “showed an approximately 40 percent reduction in pain intensity ratings during meditation when compared with non-meditation.”

As with everything, consult a doctor before pursuing any alternative pain management treatment. The importance of a multimodal, or holistic, approach cannot be overemphasized. All of these treatments for living with pain are usually recommended in conjunction with several others, depending on the pain patient’s status.


Next: Learn more about opioids »