Alternatives ways to manage chronic pain

There are many lifestyle and alternative treatments to medication for managing chronic pain.

A woman standing in a field at sunset.
Photo: Pixabay.

If you are a chronic pain sufferer looking for ways to manage your condition other than the use of medications, perhaps you should consider some alternative treatments. All pain starts in the brain, and the region of the brain where pain is felt is connected to the same pathways that regulate emotions. This connection suggests physical pain can become associated with emotional pain. Therefore, it may be possible to retrain your brain through non-pharmacological approaches. As always, it is important to consult with your health care provider before starting any new treatment. The following is a list of practices that have been shown to be effective in managing chronic pain. You may want to try incorporating one or two at a time to see if it is the right fit for you.

People with chronic pain used be told to stay off their feet, but now the general recommendation is to remain active and exercise. Physical activity should not be strenuous, though, and if you are experiencing pain, you should stop immediately. A good place to start is with a slow gentle exercise program like tai chi or yoga. Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that incorporates gentle exercise movements and deep breathing. To join one of our classes or to learn more about the health benefits of tai chi here.    

Attend a chronic pain self-management workshop. MSU Extension offers a free, six-week Chronic Pain PATH (Personal Action Towards Health) series for adults living with chronic pain and their family caregivers. The program provides information and techniques to help you cope with the challenges associated with chronic pain management.  Developing a personal action plan each week is a key component. The course explores variety of self-management tools such as communicating with healthcare professionals, managing medications and stress reduction. This type of program gives you the opportunity to meet people in similar situations and gain confidence to become an active self-manager.

Practice mindfulness/relaxation techniques. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment with intention. While you may think focusing on pain sensations themselves would make things worse, instead it provides a pathway to pain relief that is different than traditional interventions which try stop pain immediately. You can sign up for a variety of mindfulness classes through MSU Extension here.

Explore the wonders of nature. Being in nature can help ease pain by soothing the senses and providing a calming environment. A variety of health benefits can be obtained from just connecting with the earth. 

Develop a consistent sleep routine. Research indicts that poor sleep habits can lead to greater intensity of pain. Some general recommendations for good sleep hygiene include waking up and going to bed at the same time, daily exercise, and avoiding caffeinated beverages, alcohol and electronic devices several hours before bedtime. Listening to guided imagery can be a great way to fall asleep or get back to sleep.

While these non-traditional techniques will not necessarily eliminate your pain completely, they may help reduce it and in turn improve your overall wellbeing. By shifting your mindset to being open to new treatments, you can take back control of your life.

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