What You Need to Know About Pain Management Treatments

Quincy AdamChronic Pain Treatments

What You Need to Know About Pain Management Treatments

Pain management treatment is a complex process because there is often a need to treat both the physical and psychological aspects of pain. There are many types of chronic pain, and many different ways to treat them. The first step is making a visit to your doctor to discuss your pain and identify its source.

Your doctor may recommend a wide range of treatment options depending on the source, location, and severity of your pain.

Treatment Options for the Most Common Types of Chronic Pain

Depending on the source of your chronic pain, your doctor may begin with the least invasive treatment options, like rest and minor lifestyle changes. One of the challenges in treating pain is that two people who have the same type of pain may not respond to the same treatment. It’s a process. No matter which pain management options you plan to pursue, remember that it is vital to speak with your doctor before making any decision that could affect your health.

Physical Therapy – When you break a bone or tear soft tissue, physical therapy is often part of the healing process. It may also be an option for the management of chronic pain. By working with your doctor and physical therapist, you can learn exercises to strengthen the affected area while minimizing risk of re-injury.

Some of the techniques used in physical therapy outside of the exercise component include:

  • Electrical stimulation (TENS): Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is therapy that uses a low electrical current to lessen pain. The therapist will use a battery powered machine that produces a low-voltage current via electrodes placed on the area of pain or at a pressure point. Patients will experience tingling as the electrodes stimulate nerves in the affected area that send signals to the brain that can block pain signals. TENS therapy may also help the body produce natural painkillers (or endorphins) which may also block pain perception.
  •  Heat and cold therapy: Heat or cold therapy stimulates your body’s healing forces. Heat dilates blood vessels, stimulates circulation, relaxes muscles and can alter the sensation of pain. Cold therapy helps reduce swelling that’s already present or prevents swelling at injury sites by causing vessels to constrict. Your physical therapist will evaluate your condition and use the type of therapy indicated for your particular condition.
  •  Massage therapy: Many physical therapists employ massage therapy alone or in combination with other modalities to decrease pain, increase circulation and decrease muscle spasm. Massage therapy can include techniques such as gentle effleurage (gliding over tissue), kneading manipulation of the muscle (petrissage) or deep tissue and/or trigger point massage to decrease muscle tension and elongate muscle fascia.
  •  Manual manipulation: Mechanically moving joints stretches the surrounding muscles, ligaments and the joint capsule. It is often used by trained physical therapists to “break” adhesions or realign scar tissue that causes joints to “freeze,” a painful condition that severely decreases range of motion. Manual therapy can reduce pain and increase mobility, and can also activate the body’s natural pain inhibitors.

Psychological Therapy – The psychological aspect of chronic pain is very real, and addressing it may be an important part of the pain management process.

Psychological therapy – also known as talk therapy – may allow you to explore and address the mental element of your pain. Other types of psychological therapy can include stress management and breathing techniques training.

Exercise/Lifestyle Changes – Making some small changes to your daily routine, based on your doctor’s instructions, may provide some relief and promote healing. These include exercise, diet and not smoking.

  •  Exercise: Your doctor may suggest an exercise plan, similar to physical therapy, to help you manage pain. A sedentary lifestyle, for example, can lead to muscle weakness, poor posture and weight gain, which can contribute to back and joint pain. Your doctor may recommend regular physical activity to help nourish spinal discs, soft tissue and ligaments, which can reduce existing back pain and prevent future problems.
  • Diet can also play a role in pain management. While no single food can completely mitigate chronic pain, consuming whole grains, certain types of fish and oils, and plenty of fresh vegetables (such as those found in the Mediterranean diet), and avoiding inflammation-causing foods can help ease symptoms.
  • Smoking has also been linked to chronic back pain because it interferes with a brain circuit associated with pain.1 Eliminating smoking may help reduce risk for or overall chronic pain.

Medication – The medication available for pain management varies widely, from over-the-counter pain relievers to very strong prescription narcotics. If you are experiencing neuropathic (nerve) pain, your doctor may suggest a different class of medication. It’s important to understand the side-effects of any medication you’re considering, in addition to the potential benefits.

Surgery – If less invasive options don’t work, your doctor may suggest surgery to manage your pain. Having surgery is a serious decision, and not every type of chronic pain can be addressed with a surgical procedure. Certain types of back pain, joint pain, and acute injury may require surgery.

Alternative Healing – While alternative treatments like acupuncture have not proven to address the physical causes of pain, they may help you manage the mental aspect. Alternative techniques like meditation may also provide some useful coping tools for dealing with flare ups of chronic pain.

Treating chronic pain is often like putting together a complicated jigsaw puzzle, where every piece matters. The mind-body connection is a popular topic in pain management, and you can see how many treatment options incorporate both elements. Speak with your doctor to learn more about the best pain management tools for your needs, and develop a plan that works for you.


1 Smoking increases risk of pain chronification through shared corticostriatal circuitry, Bogdan Petre, et al., Human Brain Mapping, doi: 10.1002/hbm.22656, published online 12 October 2014, abstract.