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Non-invasive pain management techniques

Chronic pain can significantly impact a person's quality of life. It can make it difficult to work, sleep, and participate in activities you enjoy. Fortunately, there are a variety of natural pain management techniques that can help you find relief.

What is Non-Invasive Pain Management?

Non-invasive pain management techniques do not involve surgery or injections. These pain treatment methods aim to reduce pain, improve function, and promote healing. They can be used alone or in combination with other pain management treatments. Non-invasive pain management techniques include both non-pharmacological treatment and treatment with medications. Your pain specialist will likely advise you to start treatment with both. Later on, he or she might add minimally invasive treatments, such as joint injections and nerve blocks.

The following techniques are useful in treating both acute (sudden) and chronic (long-lasting) pain. While these techniques can be used alone, they provide better results when combined with several other treatments. Ask your pain specialist for further advice.

Massage for Pain Management

Massage may seem like a fun, easy way to reduce soreness and fatigue. However, it can also be a pain management option.

Massage has multiple benefits:

  • Improved blood flow to the muscles, ligaments, and bones
  • Increase in dopamine, serotonin, and other body chemicals that fight depression
  • A decrease in stress hormones

This treatment is used for:

  • Swollen limbs – lymphedema (after breast cancer surgery)
  • Muscle conditions (fibromyalgia, muscle spasm)
  • Sports injuries (tendinitis, plantar fasciitis)
  • Whiplash

Read more: Therapeutic Massage for Back Pain: What to Expect and How it Helps

Physical Therapy (PT)

PT offers you a guided recovery after serious injuries like stroke, trauma, or surgery. Often, doctors send patients to PT for a gentle and controlled approach to recovery.

Techniques used in Physical Therapy:

  • Joint and soft tissue work
  • Ultrasound healing
  • Taping/braces
  • Electrical stimulation (TENS)

Physical Therapy is used for:

  • Fibromyalgia (widespread muscle pain and fatigue)
  • Swelling in the limbs as a result of cancer
  • Pelvic pain
  • Urinary incontinence

Chiropractic Treatment

This is a treatment that adjusts the spine (or other joints) by using controlled, rapid force. The goal is to increase the range of motion in a body area that has been injured. Your chiropractor should have a detailed medical history and the necessary X-rays, before starting treatment.

This treatment is used for:

  • Chronic low-back pain
  • Muscle and bone pain in the neck or shoulders
  • Headaches
  • Hand or foot problems

Hot/Cold Treatment for Managing Pain

Applying heat and cold to your painful area offers a double advantage. Heat relaxes the muscles, while cold reduces swelling. You can easily use this natural pain therapy in the comfort of your own home.

This treatment helps with:

  • Herniated disc pain and overlying muscle soreness
  • Arthritis

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

This is a treatment that uses electrical current to reduce some types of pain. It involves a device that sends current through skin patches to the painful area. The sensation can feel like a soothing “electric” sensation or a slight muscle twitch.

This treatment helps people with:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Neuropathic pain (a type of chronic pain)
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS – arm/leg pain, swelling, skin changes, and stiffness)


As part of this ancient Chinese practice, needles are placed through the skin to key points in the body. This is believed to balance energy flow and promote healing. According to Western medicine, this technique may stimulate nerves and tissues and release chemicals that fight pain.

This treatment is used for:

  • Nausea and vomiting (after chemotherapy or surgery)
  • Headaches
  • Neck or low back pain
  • Osteoarthritis

Read more: Acupuncture Therapy for Chronic Pain

Calming Techniques

Calming techniques include meditation, breathing exercises, music therapy, and biofeedback. They work by helping turn your focus away from the pain.

Your reaction to pain is much like your reaction to meeting a bear. You have a “flight or fight” response. First, your body releases adrenaline, a substance that quickly increases blood flow to the heart and muscles. Then, your body shifts to high gear for action. Finally, you become exhausted.

Calming techniques help with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems

Read more: How to Get Better Sleep When You're in Pain

Exercise for Pain Management

When you are having pain, a gentler exercise might help you strengthen and stretch.

Here are some exercises that help:

  • Water exercises remove the strain on your joints. They burn up to 500 calories per hour and can help with weight loss in people who have arthritis.
  • Tai chi is a Chinese practice that combines relaxation with deep breathing and gentle movements. Studies have found that it improves function in people with knee osteoarthritis.
  • Yoga offers great freedom for people with different levels of function. There are gentle classes like Restorative yoga and more advanced classes like Ashtanga yoga.

Read more: Yoga for Upper Back Pain: Five Poses to Relieve a Stiff, Sore Back

Exercise helps patients with:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Low back pain

Medication for Pain Management

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can be effective for mild to moderate pain. Prescription pain medications may also be helpful for some people.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol): This medication works by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals involved in pain and inflammation. It's generally safe for most adults but can cause liver damage at high doses.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation and pain. They can be more effective than acetaminophen for pain with an inflammatory component, such as arthritis or muscle strains. However, NSAIDs can irritate the stomach and increase the risk of bleeding, especially for older adults or those taking blood thinners.

Read more: Finding the Right Balance in Potent Pain Medication Therapy

Pain Management Goals

A good pain management plan focuses on the source of pain and not just masking the symptoms. Sometimes, the source of pain cannot be undone. Therefore, it helps to add a number of these techniques to your daily routine.

While trying new techniques, keep these goals in mind:

  • Reducing pain intensity
  • Improving function and mobility
  • Preventing pain from worsening
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Improving overall quality of life

The best non-invasive pain management options for you will depend on the cause and severity of your pain, as well as your overall health and preferences. It is important to talk to your doctor about your pain and to discuss all of your treatment options.

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