When you feel pain, do you automatically reach for the medicine bottle? While a vast number of pain medicines are in common use, many Americans are turning to other therapies to help ease pain.
The Institute of Medicine estimates that 116 million adults experience chronic pain each year, costing the nation over $630 billion annually in medical treatment and lost productivity. Many people are looking for alternatives to painkillers either because they dislike taking medication or because headlines about widespread opiate abuse have underlined the dangers associated with painkillers.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied the many ways people remedy pain without resorting to medicines or surgery. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the number of Americans using such complementary and alternate pain therapies exceeds 35 percent and continues to grow.
Non-drug therapies don’t carry the risk of side effects that often accompany medicines. Many drug-free therapies are simple, inexpensive techniques people can do at home. Here are some pain-relief techniques that can be included in an overall wellness plan:
Massage therapy. Massage is one of the most common therapies for relieving pain and stress. It offers a wide range of techniques and applications. Pick a state-licensed massage therapist who can determine the best technique for addressing your pain problem.
Yoga. Yoga helps ease pain and stress because it increases flexibility and strength while promoting relaxation. Before beginning a yoga class, let your instructor know what your pain issues are. He or she can then direct your poses without causing furthering injury.
Mind-body relaxation techniques. Stress is often at the center of chronic pain. Learning relaxation techniques can be a great way to manage both the stress and the pain it causes. Common relaxation therapies include meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive visualization, music and art therapy.
Acupuncture. The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture is increasingly used to relieve chronic pain. In acupuncture, extremely thin needles are inserted at specific points in the body in an effort to stimulate one’s natural painkillers and balance energy in the body.
Tai chi. These slow, low-impact exercises are good for improving balance, flexibility and muscle strength, and they lessen mental stress, too. Studies have shown that tai chi eases pain caused by arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches and other conditions.
If you are interested in additional non-drug pain therapies, ask your physician about biofeedback, hypnosis, chiropractic physical therapy and occupational therapy. Some pain can be effectively relieved by simply using ice and heat packs.
Remember, if you try a new pain-relief therapy, keep safety in mind. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Call your doctor if any new pain develops and lasts longer than a few days. Call 911 for any severe pain, especially chest pain.
To learn more
The Department of Health and Human Services with the Institute of Medicine conducted a study of pain as a public health problem.
Talk to your health care provider about dealing with pain. You can find a Providence provider in our directory.
Providence also offers pain programs and classes. Click here to learn more or to find support in your area.