Non-invasive pain relief techniques do not use incisions into the body or remove tissue. Many are easy to do and have proven effective for a variety of conditions.

Advantages of Non-Invasive Pain Relief Techniques

While medication is considered a non-invasive therapy, there are a wide variety of effective techniques for pain relief without medication. A growing body of evidence shows that these practices, often called complementary therapies, can play a pivotal role in alleviating and managing both short and long term pain.

One main advantage is that these strategies have little to no risk of unpleasant side effects, unlike many medications. They also do not carry risk of harmful addiction or withdrawal, so patients can typically start or stop using these techniques at any time. There is also a very low threshold for effectiveness and most patients see benefits very quickly.

By their very nature, many of these techniques are more cost effective, more adaptable, and easier on the body than invasive procedures. Some of these therapies require the help of a healthcare practitioner, but others can be easily done at home or on-the-go with minimal equipment, after some initial guidance from an expert.

Working with the Body

Physical and occupational therapy is often the first complementary technique recommended by pain management specialists. Patients work with a licensed physical or occupational therapist and their assistants, who create a customized set of exercises that target problem areas and increase overall strength and flexibility.

Occupational therapy, in particular, focuses on helping patients become better able to perform daily tasks like climbing stairs or loading the dishwasher. This can also include strategizing ways to adapt your environment to help you live daily life more easily.

Massage is another common treatment that aims to reduce tension in muscles and increase flexibility. It also stimulates blood flow around the body, reducing swelling and stiffness.

Similarly, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) increases blood flow and encourages muscles to relax by transmitting a very low electric current through patches placed on the skin. Patients may feel a buzzing or vibrating sensation, but the current can be adjusted if this causes discomfort. TENS is often done before or after physical therapy sessions to prevent soreness or stiffness. TENS machines are also available for use at home.

Other common physical treatments include applications of heat or cold and low impact exercises such as swimming, walking, or cycling.

Working with the Mind-Body Connection

Many patients and practitioners have found great success with treatments that improve the connection between body and mind or focus on the mental and emotional effects of chronic pain.

Perhaps the most well known is mental health counseling, which often involves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy that “helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” CBT can be very helpful in managing day-to-day challenges while also helping prevent or control flares of chronic conditions.

Various relaxation and mindfulness techniques can also play an important role in minimizing short and long term pain. Meditation, for example, is very easy to practice on your own and will provide benefits from just a few minutes of practice a day.

Biofeedback, meanwhile, is a more recent therapy wherein patients monitor their heart rate and breathing through machines while working through relaxation or mindfulness techniques. Thus patients can learn how to be aware of and work with their body’s response to stress and pain.

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting the tips of small needles into the skin at various points on the body. (Since the needles only puncture the top few layers of skin, there should be very little discomfort.) The goal of acupuncture is to realign the flow of energy around the body and thus promote healing and overall health. Since patients have to remain still for some time (usually 20 minutes to an hour), many people also practice meditation or mindfulness during their sessions.

Finally, yoga and tai chi are both forms of exercise that “incorporate breath control, meditation, and gentle movements to stretch and strengthen muscles”. These combine the benefits of both physical exercise and mental health therapies, and can provide effective exercise even for patients whose movements are very limited.

As always, be sure to keep in regular communication with your healthcare team about what treatments they recommend, which you’d like to try, and how to assess the results of those treatments.

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