Pain is your body’s alarm system warning you something is wrong. How should you respond?

There are two types of pain.

Acute pain – a common response to an injury or medical condition. It begins suddenly and is usually short-lived.

Chronic pain – continues beyond the normal time frame expected for recovery and may be the result of illness, injury or surgery. Chronic pain is generally defined as lasting longer than three months.

How successfully you manage pain can have a significant impact on your ability to function daily.

There are many methods we can use to attempt to manage pain and they don’t all involve medication.

Physical therapies

Hot and cold packs – heat helps to relax muscles and dilate blood vessels as well as promote healing from injury. While the cold helps to reduce blood flow and inflammation that causes pain.

Massage –often used in conjunction with other treatments, soft-tissue manipulation assists with relaxation, increases flexibility, improves posture and circulation and reduces inflammation.

Physical therapy – this may include low-impact aerobics, strengthening and stretching exercises.

Acupuncture – evidence suggests this can provide short-term pain relief for lower back, neck, knee and osteoarthritis.

Mind-body techniques

Yoga – helps to relax, strengthen and increase flexibility. It can be done in class with an instructor or at home following online videos.

Tai Chi –  exercise focussing on slow, continuous body movement complimented with breathing and relaxation techniques. It can improve the strength and stability of joints for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, lower back pain and osteoporosis.

Cognitive behaviour therapy –  a treatment approach that helps patients recognize negative thoughts and behaviour patterns along with developing new strategies to cope with pain. It aims to reduce anxiety and improve quality of life.

Relaxation techniques

These can help ease muscle tension and spasms as well as releasing endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers.

These methods include:

Deep breathing techniques – slow and relaxed breathing methods to reduce tension.

Progressive muscle relaxation – a method involving tensing and relaxing every muscle group in the body for 10 seconds. Concentrate on breathing and avoid muscles that are particularly sore.

Calming down – close your eyes and imagine something serene and peaceful for five whole minutes.

Relaxing – Put some time aside to really unwind. Take a warm bath, listen to some calming music, curl up with a good book or find some other calming activity you really enjoy.

Drug therapies

There are lots of medications to manage pain and they all work differently while not all types will be suitable for everyone.

Opioids – drugs such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone are generally used for severe pain and only for a short period as they are addictive. These are not suitable for chronic pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – available in capsules, tablets, creams and gels, they may reduce inflammation and pain. But they may affect the stomach and cardiovascular system of some people.

Anti-depressants – This treatment can be used in low doses to treat nerve pain but may take 2-4 weeks for patients to feel the benefits. It also carries potential side effects of dizziness, headaches and fatigue.

Beta-blockers – slow the heart rate and adrenaline. It is often prescribed in low doses to treat chronic pain but not always suitable for everyone.

Call your doctor

While managing pain without drugs is often preferable, the reality is a combination of many therapies including drugs may be needed to be most effective.

Many of these pain management techniques aim to teach people methods to better deal with their pain.

Before beginning any new pain medications, it is essential to speak with your doctor to ensure they are not counter-productive and will not interact negatively with other medications that are being taken.

Ultimately, the best solution is to work closely with your doctor to come up with the right pain management strategy for your situation.

To book an appointment to discuss your pain management, start here.