Let’s be honest, when you’re in pain all you want to do is stop the pain! This is why we have so many drugs dedicated to interfering with pain. Yet long-term pain management is not as easy as taking a few pills.
Most medications are prescribed for dealing with pain for the short-term (like headaches, muscle pain, arthritis, back aches and before we have a tooth pulled.) For those suffering extreme ongoing pain, we may need a medication program to help live somewhat normal lives.
Usually, medication is not recommended for the long-term treatment of pain. This is why we want to focus on other effective ways to deal with pain management for the long-term.
Common ways people deal with pain
A 2003 survey conducted for the American Pain Foundation showed how many people deal with pain.
- Among the major adjustments that chronic pain sufferers have made are such serious steps as taking disability leave from work (20%), changing jobs altogether (17%), getting help with activities of daily living (13%) and moving to a home that is easier to manage (13%).
- Most pain sufferers (63%) have seen their family doctor for help.
- Forty percent made an appointment with a specialist, such as an orthopedist.
- Twenty-five percent have visited a chiropractor or a doctor that specializes in pain management.
- While 43% of pain sufferers have been to only one type of doctor for their pain, a large proportion (38%) have consulted more than one practitioner in the medical community.
- Treatments for pain have yielded mixed results. Although 58% of those who took prescription medication say that doing so was very fairly effective for their pain, only 41% of those who took over-the-counter
Looking over this list, I realized I tried every one of these ideas. I left work, changed jobs, moved homes, saw a doctor, went to specialists, tired medications et al. However in the end, I found the best short term solution for pain was medication i.e. muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory and pain killers. The best long term solution is staying active i.e. stretching, exercise, walking, sports etc.
A great article on pain management is found by author Judy Foreman, in USA Today, 2014. The title is Chronic pain: Millions suffer, missing non-drug options, and it has some great insights. Here’s some direct quotes
Despite the prevalence of chronic pain, many people, including many physicians, are unaware of the growing number of non-narcotic treatments, backed up by considerable research.
Chief among these is exercise. To be sure, many people with chronic pain are terrified that if they move, they will damage themselves further, a problem technically called kinesiophobia — fear of movement. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“To date, there is no scientific evidence that activity and exercises are harmful, or that pain-inducing activity must be avoided,” says James Rainville, a spine and rehabilitation specialist at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston.
Exercise is as close as there is to a magic bullet for pain. Even “aggressive” exercise, says Rainville, often does not raise the risk of more back problems in people with chronic low back pain, studies have shown.
In fact, he says, people with low back pain should get out and “exercise, run, ski and play sports as they desire.”
When people in pain get up the courage to exercise, they are often pleasantly surprised: In a 2008 survey of more than 14,000 subscribers to Consumer Reports, the top-rated measure to help relieve back pain was exercise.
Exercise is also a powerful way to prevent chronic pain. Among young and middle-aged people, the prevalence of chronic pain was 10% to 12% lower for exercisers, a 2011 Norwegian study of 46,533 adults found. The advantage becomes even more striking for older people. For women aged 65 and over, the prevalence of chronic pain was 21% to 38% lower among exercisers; for men, exercisers had a significant, though slightly smaller, advantage.
Other non-drug treatments are also gaining the endorsement of mainstream medicine…
Acupuncture was once dismissed as little more than a placebo, But more recent studies suggest otherwise. A 2010 study in mice (which, presumably, are not subject to the placebo effect), showed that acupuncture stimulates adenosine, a powerful pain reliever made naturally in the body.
A 2009 study that used brain scans showed that people getting real, but not sham, acupuncture had changes in nerve pathways running downward from the brain to the rest of the body, an important way in which the nervous system can control pain.
And a 2012 study from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York on nearly 18,000 patients found that for many types of chronic pain, real acupuncture was better than both sham or no acupuncture…
Other approaches, including massage, cognitive-behavior therapy, meditation, biofeedback and, in some studies, chiropractic manipulation, all can be helpful in relieving chronic pain. At the same time, some approaches have not been supported by research, including studies on magnet therapy…. (Judy Foreman is the author of the new book, “A Nation In Pain – Healing Our Biggest Health Problem,” out this week from Oxford University Press.)
Mental Exercises for long term pain management
Another interesting article for long-term pain management, 11 chronic pain control techniques from spine-health.com, has some interesting tips for pain management. Here are a few that may be of help:
As the name implies, this chronic pain technique involves mentally separating the painful body part from the rest of the body, or imagining the body and mind as separate, with the chronic pain distant from one’s mind….
This technique involves dividing the sensation (pain, burning, pins and needles) into separate parts. For example, if the leg pain or back pain feels hot to you, focus just on the sensation of the heat and not on the hurting.
Building on the mental anesthesia concept, this technique involves imagining an injection of a strong pain killer, such as morphine, into the painful area. Alternatively, you can imagine your brain producing massive amount of endorphin, the natural pain relieving substance of the body, and having them flow to the painful parts of your body.
Use your mind’s eye to protect yourself forward or backward in time to when you are pain-free or experiencing much less pain. Then instruct yourself to act “as if” this image were true.
Focus your attention on a pleasant place that you could imagine going – the beach, mountains, etc. – where you feel carefree, safe and relaxed.
Silent counting is a good way to deal with painful episodes. You might count breaths, count holes in an acoustic ceiling, count floor tiles, or simply conjure up mental images and count them.
Move chronic back pain from one area of your body to another, where the pain is easier to cope with. For example, mentally move your chronic back pain slowly into your hand, or even out of your hand into the air.
For those who have never experienced acute, ongoing and long-term pain these ideas may sound absurd. However, my personal experience has shown that a strong mind is both a great offense and defense. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do to stop pain completely, but there is many things our minds are capable of.
Once we put our mind to it.
Closing thoughts and Useful links
It’s amazing how much pain we can endure and overcome, if we are willing to use everything at our disposal.
Using muscle relaxers and pain killers are great when the pain is excruciating. However they can be come addictive and cloud our judgement.
Going to rehabilitation directly after injury is also a great way to overcome pain and regain our old lifestyle.
However, I have to say the best long-term pain management strategy is to design a simple exercise and stretching regiment, and mixing it with proper eating habits, rest and mental strengthening techniques. Doing these all together will most likely be the best way to deal with the long-term effects of pain.