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Ways to Reduce Chronic Pain Without Drugs


Posted on April 16, 2015 by Dr. Steve Grinstead

When you live with chronic pain like I do you will probably experience times when your pain levels flare up. Sometimes you can determine why and other times it comes as a complete surprise and you don’t really know why. No matter what the reason your pain flares up, you need to find safe effective ways to cope with the amplified symptoms which requires having a good plan in place. This plan is in addition to your base-line pain management plan—not a replacement of it. Please watch my Video Blog and then read the remainder of this post.

Below I’ll give you some simple tips for managing pain flare ups. But first I want to explain what I mean by a pain flare up. If you’re living with chronic pain it’s crucial to learn to learn how to manage your pain flare ups—Sometimes called recurrent acute pain. It is important to determine what your base line of pain is, based on a 1-10 pain scale. For some of you this may be levels 2-3, for others 4-5 and others may even be at 5-6. This is the level of pain you experience pretty much every day. Recurrent episodes are acute pain flare ups that might go as high as a level 7-8 (or higher) on that pain scale. These acute episodes are usually brief—anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so in most cases.

When you live with chronic pain there are times when your pain levels will flare up. Sometimes you can determine why, but other times it comes as a complete surprise. No matter why your pain flares up, you need to find safe effective ways to cope with the amplified symptoms. This requires having a good plan in place—those who fail to plan, plan to fail!

Below are several non-pharmacological (non-medication) interventions that other people have learned to implement in order to manage their pain flare ups. This is followed by a list of alternative interventions for you to choose from.

You may already be implementing some of the examples listed below. The important thing to remember is you can always improve your ability to intervene in a way that helps you regain effective pain management. Sometimes the intervention will be pain medication or medical procedures, but changing your medication protocols should only be done with your healthcare provider’s knowledge and permission.


When you are in a pain flare up your body’s automatic response often includes a reflexive tensing response. This problem leads to your being unable to relax the areas of your body where you feel the pain, which leads to increased muscle tension in these areas. You need to practice to consciously relax the affected muscles, enabling them to modulate your pain levels and bring the pain under your control without needing to increase your medication.

Increasing Activity/Fitness:

Many people who experience pain flare ups become very sedentary with strong avoidance tendencies for many types of activities. The two primary reasons for this are the pain itself, and your own predictions regarding the negative impact of the activity. Therefore, it is crucial to return to more normal levels of activities and slowly increase your stamina for physical activities. The goal is to extinguish conditioned avoidance patterns.

Coping With Uncomfortable Emotions:

When you are experiencing intense uncomfortable emotions—especially about being in pain—your pain levels can actually intensify. Your emotions become like an amplifier circuit that increases the “volume” of your pain. You need to practice specific methods of reducing this automatic process that occurs in the face of stressful triggers. You need to realize that you may not be able to eliminate these problematic emotional triggers, but you can learn different methods of reacting and managing your feelings.

External Focusing Or Avoidance By Distraction:

The more you focus on your pain, the more you actually intensify your experience of the pain. You need to learn how to shift and manipulate your focus of attention in a positive way, which will minimize your experience of the pain. This can be accomplished by changing how you think and feel about your pain. You can then find pleasant activities or tasks to take your focus off of your pain.

Other Self-Directed Interventions:

Try to imagine yourself in a future situation where you are experiencing a pain flare up and you want to intervene in a positive and proactive manner. Now using the steps above as your starting point, develop your own personalized step-by-step action plan. This plan should have at least four interventions. This is a situation where more is better. It is important that you write out this plan and have easy access to it in case you do have a pain flare up.

In my book Freedom from Suffering: A Journey of Hope I include an entire section on pain flare up planning using nonpharmacological interventions.
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