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Alternative Pain Management

Posted Oct 17 2008 7:28am
If you're like me, you may be very concerned about taking prescribed pain management drugs because of the of side-effects they can cause. Long term use of over-the-counter analgesics and anti-inflammatories can also cause health problems like digestive disorders and liver damage.

You may want to consider asking your doctor about alternative methods for pain management. I have listed many of these of methods below, along with very brief descriptions and links to more information. This should only be considered a starting point. You will find many more choices and a lot more information if you are willing to do a little research.

A TENS unit is a device that transmits electrical pulses across the surface of the skin and along nerve strands preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. (TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.) This also helps to stimulate  endorphin production.  You will need a prescription from a doctor in able to rent or purchase a TENS unit.. For more information on TENS units, you can visit

There are at least 80 different types of massage ranging from gentle and relaxing to active and intense. Massage help relieve pain by decreasing muscle tension, improving blood flow, relieving pressure on nerves, and restoring normal joint movement. Massage may also cause the body to release endorphins, and boost the immune system. Keep in mind that massage may be expensive, is generally not covered by insurance, and requires a time commitment. For more information, start by visiting

Myofacia Release

Myofascia release is a type of massage specifically for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia, muscle and bone. The fascia is a seamless web of connective tissue that covers and connects the muscles, organs, and skeletal structures, located between the skin and the underlying structure of muscle and bone. For more information, please click HERE.

Craniosacral Therapy
A CST practitioner uses his or her hands to evaluate the craniosacral system by gently feeling various locations of the body to test for the ease of motion and rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid pulsing around the brain and spinal cord. Soft-touch techniques are then used to release restrictions in any tissues influencing the craniosacral system.  For more information, please visit the Upledger Institute.

Researchers don't fully understand how acupuncture works.The modern scientific theory is that inserting the acupuncture needles stimulates nerves, muscles and connective tissue to release natural endorphins in the body. The needles are hair-thin, sterile and disposable. Most people feel little pain at their insertion. After they are inserted, the needles may be stimulated by twirling them or connecting them to a mild electrical current. They are withdrawn within seconds, or may be kept in place for a half-hour or so. Click HERE for an article about acupuncture on Mayo Clinic's website.

Biofeedback is a technique in which people learn to control body activities such as their heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. The activities are measured with electrodes and displayed on a monitor providing feedback to help the participant gain control over them. Click HERE to read the article Biofeedback: Using your mind to improve your health on Mayo Clinic's website.

Movement Therapies
Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle movement practices that have been used for centuries in China for health, religious practice and self-defense. As a form of exercise and relaxation they have been used to improve balance and stability, reduce pain and stress, improve cardiovascular health, and promote mental and emotional calm and balance.

Yoga is an ancient system developed in India that addresses the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the individual. There are many different forms of yoga practice, each of which emphasizes different skills and goals. Hatha yoga is the most well known approach in the United States and is used here mainly as a form of exercise and stress management

Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system centered on movement, aiming to expand and refine the use of the self through awareness. The Feldenkrais Method is applied in two forms by practitioners. During Awareness Through Movement lessons,  the teacher verbally directs students through movement sequences. During Functional Integration lessons, the practitioner uses their hands to guide the movement of the student. Visit for more information.

Energy Work
Energy work is based on the idea that the body consists of energy fields that can be manipulated through various techniques in order to promote wellness.  Practitioners believe that keeping the body's energy in a balanced state is the key to maintaining health so they seek to stimulate, unblock or disperse it.  

Examples of energy work include: Shiatsu, which uses the thumbs, hands, forearms, knees and feet to apply pressure to the body; Therapeutic Touch , where practitioners assess the client's energy field, clear it, then transfer their energy to the client; Reiki, where hands are placed on areas of energy called chakras in order to balance energy; and Reflexology, where pressure is applied to the foot in order to improve circulation and relieve pain.

Guided Imagery
Guided Imagery is a technique that involves using the imagination and mental images to promote relaxation, changes in attitude or behavior, and encourages physical healing. To read an interesting overview from WebMD, please click HERE.

Hypnosis & Self Hypnosis
Hypnosis involves using suggestions made while an individual is in an altered state that can lead to changes in behavior or — in the case of pain — altered physical sensations. Self-hypnosis involves inducing an altered state of consciousness — and thus controlling pain sensation — by yourself. Click HERE to read the article The Role of Hypnosis for Pain Management on the American Pain Foundation website.

Relaxation Breathing
Relaxation Breathing simply involves taking a breath in through your nose as you count to four, holding it as you count to seven, and breathing out through your mouth while you count to eight. Click
HERE to get instructions for another breathing exercise.

Cognitive-Behavorial Therapy 
Cognitive-behavorial therapy focuses on your mental health and conditions such as stress and depression, which can accompany chronic pain and make it worse. It is important to be healthy emotionally as well as physically, to recover from chronic pain. For more information, start by clicking HERE.

How do I know if I should use Alternative Pain Management?
WebMD has a "Decision Point" tool that may help you decide whether or not to use complimentary (alternative) medicine. You can find it by clicking HERE.

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On a personal note: I have tried most of the methods listed here and found the following to be most helpful for my head, neck and shoulder pain: TENS unit, Massage, Myofacia Release, Relaxation Breathing and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. However, I believe that what works beautifully for me, may not work for you and vice versa! I encourage you to do your own research and be sure to consult your doctor before starting any therapy.

If you have any questions about my experience with these methods, or would like to share your comments about alternative pain management, please write to me at
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