Don’t Let it Linger: Your Guide to Managing Chronic Pain
From stabbing sensations to dull nagging aches, morning stiffness to midnight insomnia and migraine headaches to throbbing feet, chronic pain doesn’t feel the same for everyone. But one thing people in pain have in common is frustration over how it interferes with the simplest tasks. Not to mention how it can completely wreck special occasions.
Pain management and treatment provides a ray of hope for returning to daily living. That can include playing sports, socializing, working better or simply getting a good night’s sleep.
Rest assured that if you’re in pain, you’re not alone. In fact, pain has been a fact of life throughout human development. Pain is often a distress call to the brain. It signals that something is wrong and needs to be changed so you can stay safe, healthy and alive.
Pain often results from an injury or illness, and often heals in a relatively straightforward way. But when it lingers and persists, it’s known as chronic pain. In a 2018 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 5 American adults, about 50 million people, suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain can affect our moods, too. It can show up as irritation, anxiousness and even depression.
The good news is that because pain is so pervasive and well-researched, there are many options for relief. These range from therapies that focus on the mind-body connection to more aggressive, targeted treatments.
However, because pain has so many root causes and symptoms, there is no single solution that will be the right fit for everyone. Pills, ointments, support groups, sleep aids, breathing techniques and even electrical stimulation are among the options. The ideal treatment plan may combine options, too. What’s best for you largely depends on the specific cause and nature of your pain. We’re here to provide you with the information you need to figure out the best treatment methods for your chronic pain.
In this guide, we review several common treatment methods to managing chronic pain, including:
- Physical therapy and occupational therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Lifestyle medicine
- Topical solutions
- Oral medications
- Injections, ultrasounds and electroceuticals
Physical therapy and occupational therapy
Physical therapists work to ease pain and help patients walk, move normally, exercise, or play sports. The goal of physical therapy is to reduce or eliminate pain through stretches and exercises to restore range of motion, reduce wear and tear and prevent further injury.
The very patients who benefit most from physical therapy often face the greatest challenges in getting to a therapist’s office, however. To help, many digital health companies offer exercise programs that can be followed at home, often with little or no equipment.
Occupational therapy, or OT, is also an option to improve patients’ ability to function independently and perform the movements needed for daily living. OT exercises are not meant to achieve recovery from a specific injury, but to maintain a healthy lifestyle full of activity, variety and movement.
Acupuncture is a centuries-old treatment from China that involves inserting fine needles into the skin at specific points called acupuncture points. The needle pricks stimulate the central nervous system, releasing chemicals that may encourage the natural healing process.
Acupuncture may work by triggering a wave of pain-relieving chemicals, called endorphins, that our bodies produce naturally. It may also target the area of the brain that regulates serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood. Experts debate whether acupuncture really works for chronic pain. One study showed that it relieved pain by 50 percent and could be worth a try.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Chronic pain often sends the mind body connection into a vicious cycle. Pain can affect mental health and mental health issues can amplify pain perception. Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, the Chief Medical Officer at Clearing, points out that chronic pain sufferers are three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety. They are also two times more likely to commit suicide when compared to non chronic pain suffers.
It’s a good idea for patients who have chronic pain to be screened for depression and anxiety. Since certain thought patterns can make pain worse, medical providers who help “retrain the brain” may be worth adding to your pain treatment team. It’s interesting to note that medications that target depression and anxiety can also be some of the most effective approaches for some chronic pain symptoms.
Certain health habits can even be used to effectively address inflammation, fatigue and pain. Managing your everyday routine with health and wellness outcomes in mind is known as “lifestyle medicine.”
Lifestyle medicine that targets the root causes of pain takes an overall approach to treatment. These root causes could be things like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and fibromyalgia. Treatment involves cultivating healthy habits such as exercising regularly, practicing yoga and meditation and eating a well-balanced diet. Sleep hygiene, cutting out high-risk behaviors such as drinking or smoking, investing in social connections and managing everyday stress is also important.
These habits can reduce inflammation while also lowering your pain. This can let you be more active, give you a mental health boost and help you avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
Creams, gels, sprays, ointments and patches are all varieties of topical solutions that can relieve pain. These products are formulated to soothe and alleviate conditions such as joint pain, back pain, arthritis pain and muscle soreness. They are often available over the counter.
“Most topical pain relief creams contain ingredients that work as “counter-irritants,” according to Cleveland Clinic. Basically, these ingredients distract your brain from the feeling of pain or soreness by introducing a different sensation to the same patch of skin where you felt pain in the first place.
Common elements include methyl salicylate, capsaicin, menthol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) ingredients like ibuprofen and diclofenac. A natural anti-inflammatory called arnica may be the main active ingredient in some “all-natural” creams and gels. It has been used for centuries as a natural botanical pain reliever and to treat swelling.
Lidocaine, a numbing agent, is also frequently included in pain relief creams and gels. Currently CBD has been gaining popularity as another popular ingredient for topical relief. As long as the product has no traces of THC, it won’t get you high or affect your judgment if you decide to try it. If you check the label, you should be able to tell if THC might be present.
Over the counter pain medications with anti-inflammatory NSAID ingredients or muscle relaxants can be a short-term solution for pain. Once the cause of your pain heals, the need for painkillers should subside. However, even common over the counter pain medications have the potential for overuse, leading to excessive dosing or even addiction.
If you’re tempted to try opioids, proceed with extreme caution. Opioids work by changing the way your body perceives pain. They do this by binding to opioid receptors in your body. This blocks the pain messages your spinal nerves send to your brain.
In other words, opioids numb you to make your symptoms more bearable. Opioids also stimulate your brain’s reward center. This means your body often associates opioids with feeling relaxed and pain-free, in almost a state of euphoria.
Over time, though, these associations become cravings that can result in a chemical dependence to the drug. This results in an addiction that is difficult to break, not to mention a cumulative global opioid crisis.
From 1999 to 2018, nearly 450,000 people died from opioid overdoses, many related to misusing prescription pain medication. This grim statistic prompted the CDC to state that opioids should not be routinely prescribed as first-line therapy to treat chronic pain. Bottom line: opioids often do more harm than good.
Injections, ultrasounds and electroceuticals
Advanced pain relief doesn’t have to entail surgery. In fact, new outpatient options are being developed all the time. For example, cortisone shots are a well-known treatment that counters inflammation and can be injected directly into a hurting joint. Most people know about cortisone shots for the hip, knee, or spine, but they may not be aware that injections can also work for hand or foot pain.
Electroceuticals are new medical procedures that harness electric stimulation and currents to achieve pain relief. These treatments include therapeutic ultrasound, during which sound waves increase blood flow, relieve muscle spasms and promote healing. It’s similar to an ultrasound given during pregnancy. The therapist applies gel to the skin and moves an ultrasound wand over the painful area.
Finally, a procedure called iontophoresis uses painless electrical currents to deliver medication to damaged tissue or to reduce muscle spasms and inflammation.
Combining options into customized treatments with Clearing
The most critical takeaway is that not everyone's pain is the same. Any of the above options in isolation may not be enough. There are pros and cons to each, so you’ll want to consider how each one fits your life and the kind of pain you have.
That’s why a customized treatment plan that combines multiple approaches is your best option in the fight against chronic pain. For instance, you may combine pain relievers with nutraceuticals, physical therapy exercises via our telehealth platform and natural CBD topical cream.
The team at Clearing is ready to create a comprehensive, custom treatment plan to address your pain and enhance your quality of life. Start your free trial today by clicking the button below.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.