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6 Ways to Combat Pain without Using Meds

By Gay Falkowski

Treating MS-related pain isn’t always as simple as taking a pill. Though pain medications can provide some relief, a comprehensive treatment of pain addresses the biological basis of pain (nerve damage in MS), as well as psychosocial factors such as how you react emotionally to pain and how you think about or deal with pain. Many complementary and alternative medicine options are available to people seeking nonmedication treatments or those wanting to supplement medication with health and wellness techniques. While research in this area continues, many people with MS have shared their positive experiences using the following CAM practices to combat pain.
 
1) Relaxation
 
A natural response to pain is the repeated and prolonged tensing of muscles, which tends to worsen pain. Research has shown that one of the best ways to counteract the tensing effects of pain and stress is to practice various forms of relaxation. Deep breathing, baths, music, and meditation are some of the relaxation strategies to consider. You may try practicing some on your own, while other methods require professional instruction. People vary in their ability to relax, so you should experiment with relaxation techniques to find what works best. Pair them with other coping strategies for maximum benefit.
 
2) Self-hypnosis
 
Like relaxation training, self-hypnosis allows the mind to manage pain by altering the experience of pain. This may include distracting from pain, focusing on more pleasant sensations, or even experiencing pain as decreasing or going away. People using self-hypnosis always remain in control. Training in self-hypnosis should be done with a professional experienced in its use for pain. It can often be learned in only a few sessions and should be practiced regularly to maintain benefits. Like medications, self-hypnosis training rarely, if ever, eliminates pain completely; nor does it benefit everyone who tries it. However, there appears to be a subgroup of individuals, including those with MS, who report substantial decreases in pain severity following self-hypnosis treatment and who are able to maintain this improvement over time.
 
3) Cognitive behavioral therapy
 
Numerous studies indicate that the way people think can have a big effect on how much pain they experience, how they deal with pain, and how much pain interferes with their lives and functioning. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves teaching people how to change their pain-related thoughts and behaviors in order to reduce pain and its associated suffering. In CBT, individuals are taught to examine the thoughts they have about pain, determine whether these thoughts are helpful or unhelpful, and replace any unhelpful thoughts with helpful, reassuring ones. CBT often also includes teaching other pain management techniques such as relaxation training, distraction techniques, or activity scheduling. It typically involves either group or individual treatment by a professional with expertise in CBT, and optimally, pain.
 
4) Exercise
 
Regular exercise is often helpful in managing pain. Potential goals for exercise may include increasing aerobic fitness, flexibility, strength and/or skills in performing physical activities. Many people with multiple sclerosis report that exercises such as yoga, T’ai Chi, walking, swimming or water aerobics are helpful in managing pain. If you are new to – or getting back into – exercise, first check with your healthcare provider. For those who have not exercised in a long time and/or who have physical impairments, a few visits with a physical therapist may be helpful in setting up a safe exercise program with a focus on pain relief.
 
5) Biofeedback
 
Biofeedback helps you train your mind to manage pain. A specialist connects you to electric sensors that give you readouts on your temperature, breathing rate, and brainwaves. As you relax, you receive signals letting you know of the positive changes. Thanks to biofeedback, the connection between your brain and your body becomes a two-way street. You suddenly become aware of your ability to enhance your blood flow and release tension, actions that once seemed beyond your control. And after 10 or 12 sessions, this ability becomes so ingrained that you can call on it whenever you need pain relief.
 
6) Acupuncture
 
A large part of Chinese medicine, acupuncture is based on the theory that energy, called chi, flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians. Illness (which may include pain) occurs when something blocks or unbalances your chi. Acupuncture is a way to unblock or influence chi and help it flow back into balance. After an on interview and exam, a group of acupuncture points will be selected for your treatment. Each treatment is aimed at relieving your existing condition as well as addressing the root causes that led you to your current state. Acupuncture is safe and often painless. The needles used are made from extremely fine gauge, flexible surgical stainless steel. Unlike hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles slide through the skin without cutting. Only sterile, one-time-use needles are used. Treatment progresses as you progress and it changes based on your individual response.