Treating pain: Overview

Pain is part of life. But pain doesn't have to rule your life. Advances in medicine and technology have created a wide range of options for treating pain.

Medications are the most common form of treatment for both acute and chronic pain. When used appropriately, a medication can help reduce pain, and most individuals experience only limited, if any, side effects from the use of pain medications. Many people also find relief using non-medication options, such as physical therapy, acupuncture and dietary supplements.

Your lifestyle also can help or hurt your effort to deal with pain. What you eat, how much sleep and exercise you get, and how you manage stress all contribute to pain control.

Just as experiencing pain is deeply personal, the most effective way to treat it also varies from one individual to the next. Often a combination of approaches will work best.

Getting help for pain

When you have a minor injury or you experience everyday aches and pains, you probably don't go to your health care professional for treatment. You might try a variety of self-care measures at home, such as using ice or heat or taking an over-the-counter medication. But for more-serious types of pain or when you aren't sure what's causing your pain, that's when you should consult your health care professional.

If you believe you might benefit from more individualized care, then you may want to see a pain specialist. Or maybe your health care professional can recommend that you see a pain specialist. Physicians who specialize in the practice of pain medicine can help diagnose the cause of your pain — provided a cause can be found — as well as develop a plan for treating the pain.

Several types of physicians are certified to practice pain medicine:

  • Anesthesiologists minimize pain during and after surgery, and can also have specialty training in the treatment of chronic pain.
  • Neurologists diagnose and treat diseases of the nervous system.
  • Physiatrists are trained in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, a branch of medicine that deals with treating and preventing disease by physical means, including exercise, manipulation and massage.
  • Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental health disorders.

Many other types of health care providers, including complementary and alternative health care professionals, can offer treatment for pain. Some of these include:

  • Acupuncturists/Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners
  • Chiropractors
  • General internists
  • Massage therapists
  • Naturopaths
  • Nurse practitioners and nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Osteopaths
  • Physical therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Recreational therapists

Mind-body therapies, such as meditation, yoga and tai chi, can help in coping with pain. Although you can learn many mind-body practices from books and videos, beginners usually find it helpful to learn with an instructor. Many organizations, such as health clubs, hospitals and community education, as well as private practitioners, offer classes and instruction in these therapies.

Pain clinics and pain rehabilitation centers specialize in the treatment of chronic pain and can offer a variety of treatments and programs to help manage pain.

July 26, 2016