Sometimes, simple approaches work best for those with chronic pain: rest, stretching, a change in your exercise routine, new running shoes. Devices such as a heating pad for sore muscles or a wrist brace for arm pain associated with typing may work well.
However, many people with chronic pain have already tried and failed these simple options. If you do not find relief after making such simple adjustments, you may need to further investigate ways to treat your pain that do not involve drugs or surgery.
Revisiting the simple approaches that you have tried may produce better results under the guidance of a health-care professional. A physical therapist may be able to tailor a fitness program exclusive to you that includes stretching, as well as strengthening. For example, certain types of exercise (such as swimming instead of running) can reduce or even cure chronic back pain.
Examples of complementary or alternative therapies include acupuncture, chiropractic care, biofeedback, meditation and massage therapy. Although complementary or alternative therapy may relieve chronic pain in some situations, there are two important things to keep in mind:
Electrical stimulation may reduce pain. In electrical stimulation, a device (called a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator, or TENS unit) is applied to the skin to deliver an electrical current to a painful area. It is thought to trigger a response from the spinal cord that reduces pain signals. A similar effect probably occurs when you rub a painful area after an injury.
Both group therapy and one-on-one counseling can be important in managing chronic pain by helping to lift depression and anxiety that can accompany the pain. Group therapy offers a forum for people with chronic pain to support and encourage each other. And it allows a newcomer to see others with similar problems getting better and to hear about coping strategies that can help. In addition, many people with chronic pain find that family and friends may have difficulty fully understanding or sympathizing with their condition; in time, family and friends may become less supportive or may be unwilling to listen. Counseling, group therapy in particular, can provide a sympathetic ear and the comfort of shared experience.
Whether on your own or in a supervised setting (such as with a psychologist), relaxation can have a beneficial effect for people with chronic pain. For some, simply going on vacation and being relieved of daily responsibilities leads to a reduction in pain or improved coping.
For many people with chronic pain, the application of heat or cold to the painful area provides relief, although the reasons are not so clear. Examples of this include the use of ice for back pain and the use of a heating pad for neck pain.
Finally, time itself may be a treatment option for those with chronic pain, because even chronic pain may be self-limited that is, it can sometimes resolve on its own, even without treatment.