Each patient living with pain is entirely unique. A treatment that works well for one patient may cause a negative reaction for someone else. Working with a trusted clinician, people with pain often go through a 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, it’s important to not give up; something else will work.
Although one treatment alone may not eliminate chronic pain, by combining multiple treatments that provide even some degree of relief, an individual with chronic pain may be able to decrease their pain significantly. For example, even if medication reduces pain by only 20%, physical therapy by 20%, and injections by 10%, when combined, these treatments represent a 50% decrease in pain. Keep in mind, too, that researchers are always coming up with new developments in pain management. Don’t lose hope!
Here is a working list of treatment options for pain by category. To print out this list and bring it to your clinician, click here. You can also view an in-depth list of complementary medicine options, with descriptions of each therapy, here.
Noninvasive strategies and techniques
- Acupuncture or dry needling
- Art, music, or dance therapy
- Floatation therapy
- Mind-body techniques
- Relaxation techniques, including visualization or body scanning
- Biofeedback or neurofeedback
- Group therapy
- General counseling
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Reiki, craniosacral therapy or other energy work
Learn more about complementary options on our dedicated page.
- Vitamins and herbal supplements
- Over-the-counter medications
- Prescription medications
- N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Opioid therapy
- Muscle relaxants
- Topical agents (e.g. lidocaine, capsaicin, and ketamine)
Invasive procedures or surgeries
- Injections or blocks
- Trigger point injections
- Nerve, facet & medial branch blocks
- Epidural injections
- Neurolysis or ablative techniques
- Chemical sympathectomy
- Cryoneurolysis or cryoablation
- Thermal intradiscal procedures (e.g. intervertebral disc annuloplasty or IDET and transdiscal biaculoplasty)
- Radiofrequency ablation/lesioning (also known as rhizotomy)
- Regenerative therapies
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy
- Stem cell therapy
- Implanted pain device (e.g. spinal cord stimulator)
- Intrathecal pain pump
- Spinal cord stimulator implant or Peripheral Nerve Field Stimulation (PNFS)
- Find a pain doctor. 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. Try the Academy of Integrative Pain Management directory to find a specialist who values a multidisciplinary approach to pain.
- Start small. If you are able to do so, start with low-risk, noninvasive treatment options before moving to more serious interventions. While medications, injections and surgeries are vital components of pain management, they all come with risks and side effects. Treatment options like physical therapy, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, diet modifications, mobility devices, and other low-risk options are a great place to start.
- Get a second opinion. Always get a second opinion when undergoing major, invasive procedures. Again, these procedures come with certain risks and it’s important to fully understand them and alternative options before proceeding.
- Do your homework. With certain pain conditions, especially more common ones, there are often clinical studies that can point you toward treatments proven to be effective and help you avoid spending time and money on treatments that don’t work. 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.
- 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.