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Treatment

Each person with pain is entirely unique: a treatment that works well for one individual may cause a negative reaction for someone else. People with pain often go through a long process of trial and error to identify what works best for them. While it’s easy to get frustrated when a treatment doesn’t work, don’t give up. Most likely, something else will help, you just have to keep looking.

Part of the process of finding an effective treatment plan is knowing what options are available to you. While an experienced clinician can be a helpful guide, it’s important to educate yourself on the various strategies and techniques for pain relief. Doctors have limited time and resources, and may not be aware of all of the possibilities. Resources like this one are a good start.

While you embark on your pain journey, remember that it is unlikely one therapy alone will eliminate your chronic pain. A multidisciplinary, multimodal approach to treatment is typically necessary. (Your pain is complex; your treatment plan should be too!)

For example, even if medication reduces your pain by only 20%, physical therapy by 20%, and injections by 10%—when combined, these treatments combined represent a 50% overall decrease in pain. So be sure to consider all different types of treatments along your pain journey, whether self-management techniques, medications, restorative therapies, mental health approaches, interventional procedures or surgeries.

Keep in mind, too, that researchers are always coming up with new developments in pain management. Don’t lose hope!

Treatment options

Here is a working list of treatment options for pain by category. To print out this list and bring it to your clinician to go over together, click here.

Self-management techniques
Restorative therapies
Complementary and alternative medicine
Medications
Mind-body approaches
Noninvasive interventions and procedures
Invasive interventions and procedures

Treatment tips

  • Start small. If you are able to, start with low-risk, noninvasive treatment options like physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy before moving to more serious interventions. While medications, injections and surgeries are vital components of pain management, they come with risks and side effects. Proceed cautiously.
  • Get a second opinion. Always get a second opinion on your options. This is especially true when undergoing invasive procedures. Again, these procedures come with certain risks and it’s important to fully understand them and alternative options before proceeding.
  • Multidisciplinary care is best. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain. Try to find a specialist who values multidisciplinary, multimodal care. You are unique and so is your pain; your treatment plan should be unique too.
  • Find a pain specialist. Get connected with a trained pain management specialist at a pain clinic or center. While clinicians in various specialties like neurology and orthopedics may be able to offer certain treatment options, it’s important to have someone on your care team who is an expert in pain itself.
  • Do your homework. Research clinical studies, which can help point you toward treatments that are effective and help you avoid spending time and money on treatments that aren’t. For those with common or rare pain conditions, connecting with a support group made up of people with the same health issue can also be a way to identify treatments that are most beneficial.
  • Don’t overlook your mental health. Many individuals with pain are so busy and overwhelmed trying to manage their physical health that they forget to take care of themselves emotionally. Chronic pain can affect your mood and stress levels, and likewise, your mood and stress levels can affect your chronic pain. Try to connect with a support group or counselor.
  • Be your own advocate. No one can advocate for yourself like you can. You know your body best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions for treatments to try.
  • Consider clinical trials. If you are having a difficult time finding a treatment that works, consider finding a clinical trial. These research projects often provide patients with access to cutting-edge therapies that are not available to the general public. In most cases, patients are compensated for their time and travel.
  • Specialized programs. Some academic medical centers and major hospitals, such as Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine, offer immersive pain management programs on an inpatient or outpatient basis. These programs can help give you a jumpstart on your pain management and provide you with a variety of resources for managing pain. Programs may last for a week, while others may be an entire month.