Beliefnet - More than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. For people who suffer from mild to moderate chronic pain, pain medication may offer short-term relief, but many people find they can gain long-term control over their pain through heat or cold application, music, relaxation, exercise, and a positive attitude.
"For the vast majority of people who have chronic pain, there just aren't any pharmacologic or physical interventions that can totally eliminate the pain," says University of Washington (Seattle) pain management expert Dennis C. Turk, PhD.
"Pain is a chronic condition, just like hypertension or diabetes," Dr. Turk explains. "When you have a chronic condition, you need to do more things for yourself. It's going to last a long time. It's best to help yourself and learn to self-manage and control your pain."
In addition to traditional pain relievers, nondrug methods of pain relief may help you gain that control. Some techniques—such as imagery and the use of hot and cold—relax the muscles, help you sleep, and distract you from symptoms. Others, such as music, movies, and recorded comedy routines, take your mind off your physical complaints, as does losing yourself in a good book.
While some remedies require little expertise or help from others, some may require instruction from a professional. Dr. Ronald Glick, director of the University of Pittsburgh Pain Evaluation and Treatment Center, recommends that patients seek advice from a chronic pain specialist who can coordinate all aspects of management, including physical therapies and psychological techniques.
While these pain relief techniques help many people with chronic pain, they are not cures for pain.
Heat and Cold
"The most important thing about heat and cold is that it gives a sense of control," Dr. Turk says. "They are things you can do yourself to help relieve the pain, which can immediately reduce the emotional stress."
"Heat and cold can be quite helpful for people with musculoskeletal conditions," says Dr. Turk. "Something as simple as a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel can be a useful self-management technique that relieves muscle tension in the back, neck, and shoulders."
Most of us are familiar with holding an ice pack on a twisted ankle or lying on a heating pad for a sore back, but hot and cold treatments can be used in other ways. Moist heat, which is often more effective than dry heat, can be applied with a warm towel or a soak in the tub. An elastic bandage can hold an ice pack in place. A small paper cup filled with water and kept in the freezer becomes an excellent tool for localized cold massage, while iced washcloths can cover a larger area.
Apply heat or cold therapy for periods not to exceed 15 minutes, and allow the area to return to normal body temperature before reapplying the therapy. Some people obtain added relief by alternating heat and ice. Others use heat before exercising and ice after.
Always place a towel between the cold or heat and the skin. Never lie directly on a heating pad, and if it feels too warm, take it off. Don't combine heat with pain relieving salves, such as mentholated ointments and aspirin creams.
The "relaxation response," a term coined by Herbert Benson, MD, of the Mind-Body Medical Institute in Boston, is an array of beneficial physiologic effects associated with focused relaxation, some of which may mitigate the perception of pain. For best results, make relaxation a part of your daily routine.