What is Non-Pharmacological Pain Management?

Approximately 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain condition. While many of these individuals alleviate their pain with medications, others choose to pursue more natural options. Non-pharmacological options may be used independently or along with medications.

Some common non-pharmacological methods that directly impact the body include:

  • Heat – Heat helps relax muscles, alleviating pain and warding off spasms.

  • Ice – Using ice for about fifteen to twenty minutes can mildly restrict blood flow to the affected area, decreasing swelling and pain.

  • Massage Therapy – Massage helps to relax muscles and connective tissue, reducing pain in affected areas.

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – A small, portable device attaches to the skin to submit a mild electric current to the affected area. These signals help reduce pain.

  • Spinal Cord Stimulation – Using a simple procedure, an electrode is implanted near the patient’s spinal column. The electrode emits a safe, mild electrical signal to relax nerves and ease pain.

Some less common non-pharmacological treatments focus on the production of endorphins, the chemicals your brain produces when you are happy. Endorphins function as natural painkillers, making these relaxing, therapeutic methods extremely beneficial. These methods may include:

  • Acupuncture – Thin needles are used in specific spots on the body to help bring about a balance of the body’s natural energy. Acupuncture is believed to have excellent pain relieving qualities.

  • Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy uses oils, extracts, and scents from flowers, herbs and trees to relax the patient, relieve stress, and ease pain. These elements may be inhaled or used in massage, baths, body wraps, or facial treatments.

  • Biofeedback – This method helps the patient learn how his/her body responds to the stress caused by pain and how to handle that stress appropriately. A biofeedback machine may be used to help the patient know when his/her body is relaxed.

  • Guided imagery – This relaxation technique involves bringing specific images to mind to make pain feel less intense. The use of this technique may help train the patient’s body to change how it perceives and reacts to pain.

  • Laughter – This may help the patient let go of pain, stress, anger and trigger the production of endorphins and other “happy” chemicals in the brain.

  • Music – The right type of music can quickly lift anybody’s mood, which gets the brain to being releasing endorphins.

  • Self-hypnosis – The method helps divert the patient’s attention away from the pain, allowing the patient to focus on something positive.

Not every method will work the same way for every patient. The efficacy of each method can vary from person to person. Your doctor can help you determine which method may work best for you and whether or not you may need a pharmacological pain management regimen to go along.


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