The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Pain Management
Nearly everyone experiences pain at one point or another in their lives. It can manifest in many ways, from headaches to back pain to muscle soreness, and can have a multitude of causes, like injury or surgery.
For some, this pain is temporary, but for many others, it lasts for an extended period and becomes chronic. According to WebMD, at least 100 million Americans, and more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from some kind of chronic pain. This type of pain is categorized as persisting for 3 to 6 months or longer, either as consistent pain or on a consistently recurring basis.
Both types of pain, but chronic especially, can negatively impact your day-to-day life and disrupt your sleep. It's necessary for you to be aware of the pain management options available to you, whether the pain is temporary or long-term so that you can feel as much relief as possible.
Hot and Cold Therapy
For some, pain can stem from damage to the muscles or joints. Hot and cold therapy can help relieve this pain by either increasing or decreasing blood flow in the affected area.
Heat therapy can relax the muscles by dilating the blood vessels and increasing blood flow. Out of the two, heat therapy is more likely to help with chronic muscle pain and joint pain caused by arthritis.
There are two types of heat therapy: dry heat and moist heat. While dry heat can be helpful, moist heat is found to work more quickly (2 hours compared to 8 hours of dry heat) and even have enhanced benefits. Dry heat may be more beneficial if you are looking to affect deep muscle tissue, as it can be safer to apply for more extended periods.
There are many different ways to receive heat therapy as well, including:
Heating devices, such as electrical heating pads, hot water bottles, and heat compresses or wraps. These can come in many sizes and designs to best accommodate the particular area of the body you may be treating.
Soaking the affected area in a tub of warm water, between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Capsicum cream, which causes a sensation of heat over the affected area.
Heat should be applied for 20 minutes, up to 3 times a day unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Avoid using heat therapy on external injuries such as open wounds, infections, or burns, or if the area is numb or inflamed. Be sure to avoid excessive heat and consult with your doctor for advice on how long and how often to use heat therapy.
Cold therapy can reduce inflammation and numb sore tissues by decreasing blood flow. This type of treatment can be most helpful in treating a joint or muscle that may be strained or swollen due to a recent injury and is best when applied within 48 hours of the injury. It can also help reduce migraine or headache pain.
Different ways to receive cold therapy include:
Cold compresses or ice packs applied to the affected area. Like heat compresses and wraps, these can come in many sizes and designs to best accommodate the particular area of the body you may be treating.
Soaking the affected area in a cold bath.
Massaging the affected area with an ice cube or ice pack for up to 5 minutes.
Avoid applying ice directly to the skin, on open wounds, or if you have a nerve disorder that affects blood flow. You will also want to avoid cold therapy if you think there is a chance of cramping in the affected area.
For some pain, such as osteoarthritis and muscle soreness, alternating cold and heat therapy can also be useful.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy, better known as TENS therapy, is the process of delivering low voltage electric currents to the affected area to reduce pain. Stimulating the nerves in this way releases endorphins to block the pain signals sent to the brain.
These currents are delivered via conductive patches that adhere to the skin called electrodes. They typically hook up to a portable TENS unit, which produces the electrical pulses, with wire connectors. Electrodes are also often reusable until the adhesive wears off. Cleaning your skin before use and keeping them in storage bags when not in use can make them last longer.
TENS therapy can treat many different types of pain, including both acute and chronic muscle pain, joint pain, and back and neck pain. For example, it is commonly used by those living with osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and tendinitis.
Most TENS devices allow you to adjust the current to a range of intensity levels. When receiving TENS therapy, you might experience a tingling or buzzing sensation, but it should never hurt. Be sure to set it to an intensity that is effective while still comfortable.
You should avoid using a TENS unit if you have any implanted device, such as a pacemaker or spinal cord stimulator. You also should not use TENS therapy on open wounds; on your head, face, or throat; or on both sides of your chest at once.
Ultrasound therapy is a form of pain management used by physical therapists that uses sound waves to penetrate tissue and promote healing. Typically, the therapist will apply ultrasound gel to the affected area or the head of the ultrasound probe and focus on a small area to allow the sound waves to penetrate the skin best. The treatment will last around 5 to 10 minutes.
There are two types of ultrasound therapy: thermal and mechanical
Thermal ultrasound therapy uses a consistent application of soundwaves to create a sensation of heat, which stimulates metabolism to encourage healing.
Mechanical ultrasound therapy uses pulses of sound waves, which can decrease inflammation and swelling.
If you have myofascial pain or a sprain that hasn't healed, you may benefit from thermal ultrasound therapy. On the other hand, carpal tunnel syndrome or other pain involving swelling or scar tissue may be better helped by mechanical ultrasound therapy.
Ultrasound therapy should only be conducted by a licensed professional, and they should be moving the ultrasound probe at all times to avoid burning the tissues. You should not receive ultrasound therapy over areas with broken skin, plastic implants, or malignant tumors or if you have a pacemaker
Acupuncture is an ancient form of physical therapy originating in China, where small needles are inserted into specific pressure points on the body. This treatment is believed to stimulate parts of the nervous system then and release neurotransmitters and pain-relieving chemicals to provide relief for a wide range of conditions.
These points, referred to as energy points or "qi" in Chinese medicine, differ depending on the part of the body being treated. For example, some pressure points for treating lower back pain include the feet and the back of the knees, while pressure points for treating migraines include the back of the shoulders and neck.
You may be wondering, "Does acupuncture actually work?" Many are skeptical, but acupuncture has become a well-researched treatment with positive results in many clinical trials.
For example, research done in 2012 reviewed the effects of acupuncture by giving a group of nearly 20,000 people with chronic pain, either an authentic acupuncture treatment, fake treatment, or no treatment. Those receiving the genuine treatment experienced significantly more relief than both those receiving the phony treatment or no treatment at all, allowing the researchers to conclude that acupuncture is more than a placebo and genuinely effective.
You may experience some soreness or bruising that will go away in a few days after treatment, but acupuncture is safe and should not be painful if performed accurately. If you decide to try acupuncture for your pain, be sure to receive the treatment from someone qualified and certified. Never try to perform acupuncture on yourself.
Orthopedic braces stabilize, align, and protect the muscles, joints, and bones in certain parts of the body. They're typically most helpful in alleviating pain when recovering from an injury, as they help to correctly position and restrict the movement of injured joints or muscles.
These braces are useful to treat injuries on a variety of body parts, including the ankles, legs, knees, collarbone, elbows, wrists, and arms. Back braces can also be used to promote proper posture and stabilize the abdomen and spine to relieve back pain and in cases of scoliosis.
Orthopedic braces are typically made of nylon and neoprene, which allows them to be flexible, supportive, and breathable. They fasten securely with Velcro and should be appropriately fitted for optimal performance. You should always consult your doctor for instructions on using an orthopedic brace to prevent further injury.
Kinesiology tape stabilizes and supports your muscles and joints to help with rehabilitation or enhance your body's performance. Typically made from a blend of cotton and nylon, the tape differs from athletic tape and orthopedic braces in its flexibility, which mimics the skin's elasticity and allows for a full range of motion. It also features a strong adhesive that is capable of staying on for three to five days, even through showers and physical activity.
Using kinesiology tape is theorized to have many more profound effects on the body. It is thought to reduce pain by compressing or decompressing the skin, which stimulates the release of enkephalin and inhibits the pain pathways in the affected part of the body. Kinesiology tape is also thought to create extra space beneath the skin and between joints, which reduces pressure and improves blood flow and lymphatic circulation. Athletes also believe that the tape improves their performance by re-training the muscles and joints to perform optimally.
Although these theories are not backed by conclusive scientific evidence, anecdotally, many have found kinesiology tape helps manage pain and enhance performance. It is also widely recommended by physical therapists. Your physical therapist can assess your condition and show you the proper ways of taping for your condition if they decide kinesiology taping is right for you.
Pain Relief Gel
Pain relief gel can be an easy and portable way to find some relief from minor aches, as well as arthritis, joint, and back pain. Most pain relief gels will include anti-inflammatory ingredients such as salicylates and counterirritants such as menthol or eucalyptus oil. Some may also contain ingredients that block pain receptors, like capsaicin.
Carex's Sub Zero pain relief gel, for example, includes menthol and an anti-inflammatory herbal blend called cat's claw. As with many pain relief gels, you can purchase this in large, gallon sizes, but also in smaller, on-the-go 5 mL, 3 oz., and 4 oz. sizes for convenience.
Pillows and Cushions
You may find it helpful to use a memory foam cushion to manage pain when sitting or sleeping. These cushions can relieve pressure on your joints and muscles and ease discomfort associated with arthritis and muscle strain. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes to best suit your individual needs.
For example, a knee pillow has an ergonomic design to fit comfortably between your knees and provide spinal alignment to reduce lower back and leg pain while lying down. On the other hand, a lumbar support pillow's shape promotes good posture and relieves lower back pain while sitting. These are just a few examples of the many available pillow and cushion options that can help reduce pressure and relieve your pain.
Although it may seem more straightforward than other methods of pain management, finding the right pillow or cushion can significantly improve your quality of sleep. It can also make long periods of sitting, like at work or while traveling, much more comfortable.
Relaxation and Mind-Body Techniques
Our minds and our thoughts can have a direct influence on the way that we physically feel. They affect our neurotransmitters, which not only tell us how to feel emotionally but also impact most of our body's functions. Because of this, relaxation and other mind-body techniques can help reduce and manage pain.
One relaxation technique that may be helpful is meditation. Spending a few moments a day focusing on your breathing and clearing your head can reduce stress and ease the tension that may be contributing to your pain.
You may also find visualization to be a useful tool to relieve tension and pain. WebMD recommends picturing your pain as a visual object, defining its size, shape, and color in your mind. Then, change that image into something smaller, peaceful, and more pleasant. You can also simply visualize something that relaxes you, like the details -- sights, smells, sounds -- of a tranquil place.
When practiced regularly, these relaxation techniques can significantly reduce the stress that may be making pain worse.
While no single pain management technique can soothe the pain entirely, finding relief can be accessible through a combination of these techniques. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what might work best for you.
About the Author
Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.
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