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Pain treatment: Mind-body therapies

Mind-body (or psychosocial) therapies consider that pain is more than just a physical sensation. Pain can impact your emotions and behaviors. Likewise, stress can make pain feel more severe. Think about how you felt the last time you experienced severe pain, and how your day and behavior was affected. This shows how both the brain and the body are involved in the experience of pain. These therapies recognize that the brain influences how the body feels pain, and vice versa.

  • Relaxation therapy. This kind of therapy teaches patients to relax themselves and reduce anxiety to alter their mental state. Meditation is a practice wherein people focus on something specific, like breathing, instead of thinking about their pain. It aims to produce a state of conscious relaxation. People who practice meditation can feel less anxious in stressful situations, including pain flare-ups. In guided imagery, patients learn to visualize a soothing, positive mental image which helps them stay calm and relax. This is based on the idea that positive thoughts promote pleasure and drive. Imagery helps to promote healing and ease depression, anxiety or sleeplessness.
  • Biofeedback. This technique teaches patients to be aware of their physical reaction to stress (their stress response). Physical responses, such as blood pressure and heart rate, are monitored. And patients can see how these increase with stress. They are then trained to gain some conscious or voluntary control over these responses. When they can lower their stress response, they can help reduce the intensity of pain they experience.
  • Behavioral modification. This form of conditioning aims to change habits and attitudes that develop from living with chronic pain (Use the glossary to learn about pain words). When pain is a part of daily life, many factors (family, friends, financial, social) can impact the experience of pain. Behavioral modification can help people sort through and manage the factors that influence their pain. They learn a step-by-step approach to change behaviors and attitudes.
  • Stress management. Stress and anxiety influence pain in many ways. The first step in gaining control over stress is to understand how you deal with it. There are many ways to start the process of managing stress.
    • Setting a structured daily schedule helps because controlling change as much as possible reduces anxiety.

    • Having regular exercise (like yoga, tai chi, dancing or walking) is an enjoyable and relatively easy way to relieve stress. Ask your doctor about what is best for you.

    • Gaining a positive outlook is a skill that can be learned. Practice positive self-talk, and concentrate on feeling good about yourself. Surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and valued, and avoid those who make you feel otherwise. Fill your life with meaningful activities that bring you joy and satisfaction.

    • Identify the coping technique that best suits your life. It can be meditation (as mentioned previously), prayer, aromatherapy or listening to music. Practice deep breathing whenever you feel stressed.
  • Hypnotherapy/hypnosis. Hypnosis may help to reduce the amount of pain you feel. Patients are guided to enter a state of mind in which they are more able to relax or concentrate, or are more responsive to suggestions. A hypnotherapist can help patients have better control over their pain, and can train them to practice self-hypnosis.

  • Counseling. Individual or group counseling focused on pain and related concerns can help patients and their family deal with their feelings. Counselors can teach useful coping skills and provide support and guidance.