What do you do when it hurts and it doesn’t stop hurting? One of the most difficult problems I found after I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis in 1989 was learning how to deal with the extreme muscle and joint pain that never went away. It sapped my strength and my energy and made it extremely difficult to perform my activities of daily living. Fortunately, after a few years, the medications began to reduce my pain. But even then, I still needed to find ways to help ease the discomfort, especially when the medications stopped working or caused side-effects that I couldn’t tolerate. I did benefit from certain types of pain medication, which helped me remain active. I also found other methods of pain management helpful as well. Below you’ll find a list of some types of non-drug methods of pain relief that many people with arthritis have found helpful. (Check with your doctor before trying any of these techniques. Your doctor will know what is safe for you.)
Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese practice of putting thin needles just below the skin along certain areas. Those who perform these techniques believe that these needles clear vital energy pathways through the body, which have become blocked causing pain. However, if you decide to try this type of pain management, doctors recommend that you make sure it is performed by a licensed professional who will make sure it is done correctly (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Dry Needling for Pain also includes the insertion of needles. However, these needles are much smaller than those used in acupuncture and they are being inserted into muscles only. One goal is to stimulate a trigger point in the muscle that can relax a tensed muscle band and thereby relieve the pain in
that area. This technique should be performed by a trained licensed physical therapist, who knows how and where to insert the needles into the muscle (Web MD, Sept. 7, 2018).
Hot and Cold Therapy can numb the pain and reduce swelling in tender areas of the body. To use cold therapy on a painful joint or muscle, wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and put on painful area for 20 minutes. Then wait at lest 40 minutes to repeat this cold treatment. Heat therapy can also help ease pain and relax stiff joints and muscles. I have used this method for years to help with both pain and stiffness and to increase circulation when needed. For heat therapy, you can use an electric heating pad. Be sure not to place directly on the skin and be sure to follow the pad’s directions for how long and how often to use it (Web MD, Sept. 12, 2018).
Listening to Music can be quite relaxing and helpful when I am in pain. You may find that music helps you, too. Scientists have found that listening to relaxing music releases a chemical in your brain that helps control pain in some people. In one study, just 20 minutes a day of listening to relaxing music gave some relief to people with arthritis (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you decrease your negative self-talk and change the way you react to your pain, which can, in turn, often decrease the amount of pain that you feel (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Massage therapy is one of the most enjoyable type of pain management I have tried myself. This type of therapy can often ease the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia. “When your soft tissue gets moved around during a massage, electrical and chemical signals are sent throughout your body. These reduce pain, boost your blood’s circulation, rev up your defense system against germs, and cut down feelings of stress.” (Web Md, Sept. 4, 2018.)
Yoga is a set of ancient Indian exercises, which combine breathing exercise, meditation, and body positions. Some people in pain find that regularly performing these exercises relieve much of their pain and stiffness and increase their flexibility. There is also some evidence that yoga can help manage the memory and emotional problems that often come with chronic pain (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise which was developed in China centuries ago. It blends slow, gentle movements, breathing, and focused attention to help people deal with stress and chronic pain and other types of health issues. It is now used in many hospitals, community centers, sports clubs and elsewhere throughout many countries, Researchers have found that it is effective in improving “balance, flexibility, stamina, blood pressure, general heart health, mental health and symptoms associated with stroke, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease.” (Arthitis Foundation, Sept. 14, 2018).
Guided Imagery is a technique that allows you to follow along as a therapist or narrator describes a calming set of mind pictures, packed with vivid sensory details to help you relax and take your focus off your pain. By listening to a guided imagery exercise, you can center your mind on peaceful and serene images that help you turn off the stress response in your mind and body. You can find a professional to show you how to do this or just purchase a CD with a guided-imagery exercise to try at home. This exercise can help both chronic pain and anxiety. (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Mini Mental Vacation is another type of imagery you can use to relieve your pain and stress. This exercise is self-guided. You don’t need a recording or a therapist to use this strategy. It’s one way of taking a quick trip to your favorite vacation spot without worrying about airline tickets or long, exhausting car rides. The idea behind this technique is for you to choose either a real place you have visited before or one you just make up in your mind. Either is fine, but it’s important for you to supply lots of sensory information when you create this place for yourself. What are the things you see around you when you arrive there? Is it a beach on the ocean? Or a forest with a bubbling brook? What sounds do you hear? What smells do you experience in this place? What does the ground feel like under your feet? Are there any breezes you can feel? The more details you put into this image, the more successful you will be. By taking this little self-created get-away for about 15 minutes every day, you can not only relieve some, if not all, of your pain and help you manage your stress; you can also renew your energy and prevent depression. (Web MD, Sept. 4, 2018).
Toolbox for Pain
These are just a sampling of pain management techniques you might try to help you reduce your pain without increasing your pain medication. It will be to your benefit to find your own set of strategies and to make them a part of your own pain management “tool box.” I have learned by personal experience that It’s best for me not to wait till I’m in a flare to find the right techniques that work for me. If you decide to try any of the tools listed above, or would prefer to find others of your own, try to find them when you are in milder pain. If they work then, chances are they will work to at least reduce, if not eliminate, the pain when it is more acute. There’s no time like the present to start supplying that tool box.
Web MD, Chronic Pain [Series], Alternative Treatments for Long-Term Pain. Sept. 4, 2018.
WebMD, Benefits of Massage for Chronic Pain and Relaxation. Sept. 7, 2018.
WebMD, Heat & Ice Therapy for Pain Management. Sept. 12, 2018
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