Chronic Pain Treatments


Medication alone is sometimes simply not enough to reduce certain kinds of pain to a level the patient finds tolerable. In those cases the patient can often find relief from other types of treatment, either alone or in combination with medications. Current treatments include:


Injection Treatments involve injecting a local anesthetic such as Novocain around a pain site — nerve roots, muscles, joints, and so on. The injection reduces the swelling, irritation, muscle spasms and signals from damaged nerves that can cause pain.


Nerve Blocks are related to injection treatments. In this case a cluster of nerves associated with a specific organ or region of the body, known as a plexus or ganglion, is blocked from passing on pain signals with an injection of local anesthetic.


Physical Therapy can take any number of forms — individually-specialized exercise programs designed to improve flexibility, range of motion, and other aspects of bodily function while relieving pain; aquatic therapy such as whirlpools and water aerobics, in which immersion in warm water helps relieve inflammation and protect the body against painful jarring; deep tissue massage, which can release painfully bound-up muscles as well as interfere with the pain signals from those muscles; and many other techniques besides.


Electrical Stimulation, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS for short, relieves pain by gently stimulating nerve fibers through the skin with a low-level electrical current. A typical TENS unit consists of a small, battery-operated device to which are attached reusable flat electrode pads; these pads are stuck to the skin of the affected body part with temporary adhesive, and the unit turned on to a level of stimulation prescribed by a physician or physical therapist.


Acupuncture is a technique from traditional Chinese medicine, in which extremely thin needles are carefully inserted through the skin at key points on the body to relieve pain and other physical symptoms. While acupuncture is based on a significantly different understanding of human physiology than that of Western medicine, its results have been verified by a number of Western scientific studies, marking it a worthwhile technique to consider when dealing with pain.


Psychological Support can be vital to a chronic pain patient dealing with the emotional effects of long-term pain, and can often help lessen some of the physical effects as well and even decrease the pain itself. Psychological support can take a number of forms, including one-on-one counseling with a professional, peer support groups, plus training in more specialized therapies such as relaxation and biofeedback techniques.


Surgery to relieve pain is sometimes recommended in cases of severe pain that has not responded to other methods. Such operations involve physically severing one or more key nerve fibers in the path between the pain origin and the brain. As this is an extreme and irreversible measure, it is usually a technique of last resort. This is not to be confused with surgery to repair damage caused by an underlying chronic health condition, such as hip-replacement surgery to relieve the damage done in severe osteoarthritis, in which case the patient often experiences a complete resolution of the pain along with a much better-functioning artificial joint.