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  Chronic pain: What are some of the non-drug treatments? 

Non-drug treatments for chronic pain can sometimes reduce the need for analgesics.  However, exercise is by far the most effective non-drug treatment for chronic pain.  Exercise keeps joints and connective tissue strong and limber, fights depression, improves sleep and increases endurance.  The greatest benefit that may be achieved is through a comfortable level of regular, consistent activity to assist with your chronic pain. 

Other non-drug treatments include hot and cold applications.  Cold packs may be applied for 10 to 20 minutes to the painful area and heat packs should be warm and not hot, and should not be used if swelling or inflammation is present.  Some doctors, recommend alternating heat and cold treatments because of the soothing effect.  You should always wrap the hot or cold packs with a towel or something else as a protective measure, and decrease the time of application if you experience much discomfort.  People with circulatory problems such as diabetes should be very careful when applying heat to the feet because of the possibility of injury. 

There are several other nontraditional therapies that may be considered. Nontraditional techniques are frequently offered at comprehensive pain centers, or in a variety of other settings.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found evidence for some level of effectiveness for the following techniques: 

Chiropractic manipulation: Manipulation is found to relieve back and neck pain, especially if it is performed soon after symptoms arise.  However, manipulation should not be used on people with cervical arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fractures, disc herniation, or osteoporosis because of the risk for possible injury. 

Relaxation techniques: Deep relaxation techniques such as meditation or guided imagery which reduce tension that amplifies pain, have been found to be helpful. 

Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS): Many patients have reported relief from TENS, although results are variable and studies have been found to be inconclusive.  This treatment involves brief pulses of electrical activity applied to the skin. 

Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese procedure has been found to be beneficial for arthritis, headache and low back pain, among other pain related conditions.  This procedure involves inserting fine needles into the skin at key points to relieve pain. 

Cognitive behavior therapy and group counseling: Therapy sessions to provide support and teach coping skills, have been found to be helpful to relieving anxiety and depression that frequently accompanies pain. 

Biofeedback: Although results have been mixed, biofeedback (using visual and auditory cues, patients have learned to influence their pain response) has been found to be somewhat appropriate for headaches and low back pain.

Information from The Johns Hopkins Medical Guide to Health After 50 

Additional Information and webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate                                      

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