Pain management: Therapies and coping mechanisms
Managing pain requires a multi-pronged, 360-degree approach. And that’s why having a pain toolkit of various therapies and pain relief strategies is one of the most valuable weapons in your arsenal. Here is a list of the most common therapies and coping strategies:
Pain Reprocessing Therapy
Pain Reprocessing Therapy, otherwise known as Somatic Tracking, combines positive affect induction, mindfulness, and safety reappraisal to downregulate pain. It teaches your brain that painful sensations are safe, encouraging you to explore them with lightness. When you’re able to pay attention to sensation knowing it isn’t indicative of structural damage, it frees you up to see it through a lens of detached curiosity. By this logic, you deprive pain of its one fuel source: fear.
Pain reprocessing therapy exercises
Try this short exercise next time you experience pain or distress. It should only take a few minutes.
Explore the sensation with interest and inquisitiveness, but do so without emotional reactivity – the same way you’d notice clouds floating in the sky or the sun setting.
Accept and acknowledge the sensation is happening, understanding it’s temporary and caused by the brain.
Tell yourself that since these are merely sensations, they can’t harm you.
Remind yourself that you don’t need to do anything; this sensation will pass.
Affirm to yourself that you’re okay and safe. There’s nothing wrong with your (head/chest/back/neck) because you’re strong and healthy.
How does pain reprocessing therapy work?
The goal of Pain Reprocessing Therapy isn’t to miraculously cure the pain. In actuality, the more you try to fight pain – and the more attention you give it – the more you reinforce it. Instead, the goal is to teach your brain that it’s safe, regardless of whether the pain improves or gets worse as you track it.
Neuroplastic pain is sensation + fear. Take the fear out of the equation and it’s just sensation.
Communicate messages of safety
When you’re in pain, your brain is often overwhelmed with messages of danger. You may have thoughts of hopelessness, fear, and despair. In these moments, it’s important to communicate safety to your brain.
Instead of this…
“I’m never going to get out of pain”
“This process isn’t going to work for me”
“This is temporary, I’m going to be okay”
“I’m safe, and my body is fine”
“Trust the process”
Many people living with pain are afraid of triggers. If you have back pain, for instance, walking might become a trigger for you. If you take a walk around the block and it goes well, you may have a little less fear afterwards. That’s a corrective experience. Once you have enough corrective experiences, your brain learns that whatever it was afraid of isn’t dangerous.
If, however, the experience goes badly, the brain can become even more afraid. This is called a setback. But that’s okay. Setbacks will happen. And they’re temporary. It’s just a case of collecting more corrective experiences. All pain sufferers will have setbacks. Setbacks are like bumps in the road to a pain-free life. They may slow you down. But as long as you stay on course, they can’t stop you.
The goal is to maximise corrective experiences and minimise setbacks. Don’t forget: every time you experience pain, it’s an opportunity to rewire your brain.
Fear is the fuel for pain. And when you stop adding fuel to the fire, it may not go out right away. But it will eventually. You just need to be patient.
Hypnosis for pain relief
The experience of pain triggers the autonomic nervous system, plunging the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Hypnotherapy works to calm a highly active nervous system. It induces a deep sense of relaxation, helping reduce stress, anxiety, and fear, which are often concomitant with pain.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is often recommended to people living with pain. It can help you recognise and acquire new skills to change negative behaviours and thoughts. In doing so, CBT may transform your awareness of pain and equip you with the skill set to manage symptoms, even if the pain level remains the same.
Pain support groups
Navigating the ups and downs of pain can be tremendously difficult. We hope, at least, it can bring you some comfort knowing that you’re not alone. And there’s plenty of support available to help you socially, emotionally, and physically.
If you live with chronic pain, you may be referred to a specialist pain clinic for advice on how to live a happier, healthier, fuller life. Have a chat with your GP if you’d like to receive support from a pain clinic.
Pain management programmes (PMP)
Pain management programmes are a form of group treatment that incorporates practice sessions and education
to help those with chronic pain. Again, ask your GP if
you’d like a referral.
PMP covers the following areas:
Understanding the psychological effects of persistent pain
How to relax the body and mind
How to do gentle exercise
How to manage everyday activities
How to improve your confidence to deal with chronic pain
Alternative pain therapies
Many people turn to alternative therapies to help manage pain. All of these methods have one thing in common: they invite you to relax and reprogram your pain-obsessed brain. Because less psychological stress means less physical pain.
A form of ‘touch therapy’, massage can relieve both tension and stress. In one study, researchers found levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, diminished by 31 per cent during the massage. By reducing stress – a known pain trigger – massage may be an effective tool to help manage symptoms.
Massage for headache and neck pain
Gently pull your shoulders away from your ears.
Find the base of your skull and place the middle fingers of each hand in the centre with your fingertips touching.
Apply some gentle pressure and move your fingers downwards or outwards – whatever feels best.
If you want more relief, move your fingers around in small, circular motions. Find any tense spots and focus your attention there.
Yoga for pain relief
The ancient practice of yoga combines dynamic movement, conscious breathing, and meditation to calm the nervous system and balance the body and mind. The emphasis on mindfulness in yoga is particularly key. Research has shown that mindfulness may alter the perception of pain and its associated negative emotional impact. Different poses can help with different areas of pain in the body, here are a couple of suggested positions;
Yoga Poses for back pain:
A gentle flow between cat and cow poses creates warmth in the body, helps with spinal movement. With the benefit of stretching and toning back and abdominal muscles.
How to do the pose
For cow pose begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Adjust your knees hip width apart and point the hands forward, keeping your gaze to the floor. Inhale and lower your belly to the floor to gently concave the back while keeping your arms straight. Lift your chin and look straight ahead. As you exhale draw your abdomen back into the spine and round your back towards the ceiling, this pose resembles a cat stretching its back. Lower the crown of your head to the floor and tuck your chin under. Inhale back into cow pose and repeat the flow five times. Finish the practice by sitting back on to your heels.
Yoga for knee pain:
Strengthening the knees and releasing tightness in the hips are helpful ways to tackle knee pain. So, while this suggestion might seem counter intuitive, the long-term goal is to develop knee strength, which should, in time, dial down discomfort. Be sure to do a little warm-up first and ease gently into the movement.
How to do the pose
Lie on your back with the soles of your feet on the mat, hip-width apart, knees pointing upwards. Rest your arms by your side with your palms facing down flat on the mat. Shuffle your heels towards your fingertips. On an inhale, press the tops of your feet into the mat and slowly lift your hips, but only as far as it feels comfortable. On the exhale, slowly bring your hips to the mat. Repeat 3 times.
Yoga for neck pain:
Side neck stretch pose
Neck pain is common thanks to postural behaviours when using digital devices and focusing on screens. If you suffer with neck pain there may already be movements that you do intuitively to alleviate discomfort. This stretch is simple, but effective, and can be modified for a deeper stretch.
How to do the pose
Sit on the mat with your legs crossed at the ankles with your arms by your side. On an inhale, lift your right arm straight up above your head. On the exhale, arch your right arm over the top of your head and rest the palm of your right hand on the left side of your head. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, allow the weight of your hand to stretch the left side of your neck, while your right ear moves closer to your right shoulder. For a deeper stretch, move your left fingertips away from you on the floor, or lift them slightly off the floor and away from you. Repeat on the other side.
Acupuncture for pain
A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is widely used to manage pain. The insertion of very thin needles is believed to stimulate muscles, connective tissues, and nerves, which may help reduce pain.
How does acupuncture work to relieve pain?
Acupuncture points are thought to stimulate the nervous system. In essence, each acupuncture needle causes microscopic damage at the insertion site, which is small enough to not cause discomfort, but enough of a signal to let the body know it needs to respond. This reaction encompasses immune system activation, increased circulation to the region, wound healing, and pain regulation. However, results for the effectiveness of acupuncture are very mixed - some people report drastic changes in their experience of pain while others report no change at all.
Meditation is one of the most effective tools to manage pain. Science suggests a regular meditation practice may retrain the brain to help you better deal with pain. In a 2018 study, researchers found that a long-term meditation practice changed the cortical thickness in some areas of the brain, which can make you less pain-sensitive.1 You don’t need to chant ‘Om’ or sit cross-legged to meditate; simply close your eyes and quietly concentrate on your thoughts without passing any judgement – just as you would notice leaves floating downstream.
Find out more about Pain
Our pharmacy health library provides a comprehensive section on pain, comprising articles that cover various pain conditions, treatment options and practical recommendations fort self-care and support.
St. Marie R et al.. Neurological evidence of a mind-body connection: Mindfulness and pain control. Psychiatry, 13(4), 205.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.