If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.

Non-Drug Chronic Pain Management

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is pain that occurs every day or on most days and lasts three or more months. This type of pain can affect a person’s daily work or life activities. While chronic pain may be caused by a specific injury or illness, it can also have an unknown cause. It can involve back pain, neck pain, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches or neurogenic pain (pain that comes from your nerves). The type of pain experienced could be described as aching, shooting, squeezing, stinging, throbbing, burning or stiffness.

Managing Chronic Pain

The U.S. Department of Defense uses a “Stepped Care” approach toward pain management. While your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage chronic pain symptoms, they may also recommend non-drug methods to help ease chronic pain. These methods can support any pain medications your doctor may have prescribed. Whether they recommend you use non-drug options by themselves or use them along with medications, it is important to follow your specific treatment plan exactly as your doctor prescribed.

Chronic Pain Management Examples
Manipulation Therapy or Techniques Physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture
Low Intensity Exercise Walking, yoga, swimming, cycling, muscle strengthening, stretching exercises, tai chi
Stress Management Psychotherapy, meditation, mindfulness
Healthy Sleep Habits Sleep environment, sleeping position, bedtime routine, consistent sleep schedule, reducing pressure on body
Healthy Diet Eating a diet with foods high in vitamins and minerals, drinking enough water

Manipulative techniques: Manipulative techniques aim to relieve pain and improve your range of motion and are usually done over multiple sessions. There are several kinds of manipulative therapies including physical, occupational and massage therapies along with chiropractic and acupuncture treatments.

  • Physical therapy can help strengthen and improve specific areas of the body to help decrease pain and improve mobility.
  • Occupational therapists work with you to improve your ability to do daily activities with reduced pain.
  • Massage therapy can help relax painful muscles, tendons or joints and may help improve sleep and lower stress.
  • Chiropractors can help with back and neck pain by using their hands to help realign joints in those areas.
  • Acupuncturists use very thin needles in strategic points of your body to help relieve pain.

Low intensity exercise: Low intensity exercises keep your heart rate at a steady pace and help build muscle strength and flexibility, reduce stiffness and inflammation and reduce pain sensitivity.

Stress management: Stress can make chronic pain worse and lead to depression, anxiety or difficulty sleeping. Learning to manage your stress can help you cope with chronic pain and reduce chronic pain flare ups. Seeing a psychotherapist to talk through stressors in your everyday life can help you better manage your stress. Participating in activities such as meditating and practicing mindfulness can also help you feel less stressed.

Healthy sleep habits: Healthy sleep habits can go a long way toward managing chronic pain. Setting up healthy sleeping habits such as having a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing nighttime routine before bed and having a dark, quiet sleeping environment can help you get a good night’s rest. Using a mattress or pillow designed to reduce pressure in areas you experience pain may help reduce pain symptoms while sleeping. Sleeping in a position to ease pain, such as sleeping on your back if you have lower back pain or on your side for neck pain, can also help.

Healthy diet: Chronic pain is often the result of chronic inflammation and there is evidence that your diet may contribute to that. Foods high in antioxidants (berries, broccoli, avocados, walnuts, dark chocolate) can help reduce this inflammation. A healthy diet can also help you lose or maintain a healthy weight which puts less pressure on your joints and decreases inflammation in those areas. Since dehydration can increase sensitivity to pain, drinking enough water each day can help better manage chronic pain.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.