Alternative Treatments for Pain
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Published on August 27, 2018

woman getting physical therapy

Alternative Treatments for Pain

When pain from a chronic illness or past injury continues to gnaw at your life, your first instinct is to visit your primary care provider. Relief may come in the form of a powerful pill. Unfortunately, some patients rely on these pills too heavily and it becomes an addiction.

Other options are available, and some might provide a better long-term solution for pain.

“Our overall goal with these various options is for those with acute pain to become pain-free faster, and those with chronic pain to have less pain,” said Jason Tjeerdsma, DPT, Physical Therapist at Avera Therapy.

Alternatives to pain control are many; behavioral health and physical therapy are just two medical disciplines that offer options.

Psychological Options

Behavioral Health Counselor Lana Smith, LAC, LMFT, MA, QMHP, of Avera Medical Group, says you have more power over your pain than you may first realize.

“While you might initially write these off, I encourage everyone to approach these psychological options with an open mind,” said Smith. “The key is practice so that you strengthen the connections in your brain, allowing your brain to handle the pain differently.”

Curious about how the mind alleviates discomfort? The following are a few strategies to start implementing daily:

  • Progressive relaxation – Tighten your muscles from head to toe, hold, and then slowly relax each area of your body.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing – Also called deep breathing, you bring your entire focus on slowly filling your lungs with air, and then slowly exhaling.
  • Hand temperature control – Hand thermometers measure the temperature of the skin. By raising your hand temperature through relaxation, the better the blood flow — especially to areas of pain and injury.
  • Quiet the mind – Instead of focusing on your pain, listen to music, concentrate on your breathing or explore guided imagery.

Smith specializes in therapist biofeedback in which electrodes are attached to your body and read your biometrics. Relayed back to a computer, the results offer information useful for building awareness of physiological pain present in the body as well as inspiring methods for managing this pain.

“When patients haven’t relieved their pain after a few months of working with a doctor, that’s when we tend to see people,” said Smith. “Often, they’re depressed and discouraged; the pain is interfering with their roles and the activities they love. Family may also not understand why their loved one can’t just ‘get over it.’”

Avera Behavioral Health offers a support group for those with chronic pain. This weekly meeting allows attendees to voice grievances, share victories and learn more about discomfort and the many methods available to control it.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy isn’t just for rehabilitating after a hip replacement or sports injury. Your body has natural healing properties. In fact, harnessing the power of your mind and combining it with natural movement or procedures could lessen pain dramatically, or eliminate it completely.

The following skilled therapeutic options aim to bring relief over the course of the recommended number of sessions:

  • Electrical stimulation – Muscle spasms produced by tiny bursts of electricity help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain.
  • Soft tissue mobilization – A therapist gently moves, presses or stretches the involved area (skin, muscles, tendons, etc.) to increase flexibility.
  • Ultrasound therapy – High-frequency sound waves deliver vibrations that increase blood flow and reduce pain and swelling.
  • Exercise – If you have simple pain, you may not feel like working out. Gentle exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone that promotes blood flow and healing.
  • Dry needling – A very fine needle penetrates the skin and stimulates underlying trigger points to cause a micro-trauma — bringing blood to the area and reintroducing the healing response for chronic injuries.

A brand-new offering at Avera, dry needling focuses on your body’s natural healing process. No medicine of any kind is injected; the needle causes a small irritation under the skin’s surface, encouraging blood to heal the injection site.

“Over the course of the last few decades, health care has been heavily focused on solving problems through pills and surgery,” said Tjeerdsma. “Today, people are deciding to take control of their health, solving problems with more natural approaches.”

Temporary Fixes

The previous mentioned techniques have the potential to help over the long run. However, over-the-counter products can offer temporary relief, but aren’t necessarily a "cure."

Anesthetic ointments, such as Biofreeze® or Icy Hot®, wear off only after a few hours of application. Same can be said about pill pain relievers, including Tylenol® or ibuprofen. Wrapping or braces may provide extra stability to an injured wrist or ankle, but only to a degree.

“Over-the-counter products are just symptom modifiers in most cases,” said Tjeerdsma. “You need to rewire how your brain receives and interprets signal pains from the body in regards to chronic pain, and that could be done through therapeutic exercises, non-invasive treatment or psychological practice.”

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