By: Robert G. Bell
A 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that most American adults experience some level of pain, from acute to chronic, and from relatively minor to more severe. The NHIS survey found that an estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2%) had pain every day for the preceding 3 months and nearly 40 million adults (17.6%) experience severe levels of pain. That’s a lot of pain. And we are taking a lot of medication for this pain. Is there a way to effectively alleviate pain through non-pharmaceutical therapies? You bet there is!
Some nonpharmaceutical pain treatments include:
- Ice and heat
- Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS)
- Meditation and relaxation
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle changes
Although ice is typically used to treat acute injuries such as an ankle sprain, ice can also provide relief for chronic pain as well. Ice works by decreasing the blood flow to the injured area temporarily, reducing the swelling and inflammation that accompanies most injuries. The cold numbing effect on the skin also has a topical analgesic effect. Heat increases blood flow to the injured area, relaxes the muscles, loosens the joints, and is particularly helpful in the treatment of arthritis.
Massage is an ancient practice that uses touch to heal injuries, reduce stress, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. There are many types of therapeutic massages such as the Swedish massage, Shiatsu, acupressure, and Qigong. Chiropractic manipulation is another option that works well with massage.
Acupuncture describes procedures involving the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques including penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) involves placing electrodes on the skin over the pain site to create a small electrical current that stimulates the nerve fibers and can result in pain relief.
Physical therapy (or physiotherapy) is an excellent option when you have chronic pain or an injury. Physical therapy is the treatment of disease, injury, or disability by physical and mechanical means, such as the use of massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat, and electrical stimulation. The aim of physical therapy is to rehabilitate the injury, relieve the associated pain, and promote mobility, function, and quality of life through diagnosis and physical intervention. In addition to performing pain-relieving modalities such as manipulation, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation, physical therapists can provide personalized exercise programs designed to improve strength and movement that will also reduce your pain.
In addition to the above nonpharmaceutical therapies, lifestyle changes such as improvements in diet, sleep, and exercise will contribute to your wellbeing and help alleviate pain. However, many times these nonpharmaceutical therapies need to be supplemented with pharmacotherapies such as anti- inflammatory medication and analgesics, which will be the topics of further blogs on pain. Not to mention the one on purple rain.
Robert G. Bell, Ph.D., is president and owner of Drug and Biotechnology Development LLC, a consultancy to the pharmaceutical industry and academia for biological, drug, and device development.