Alternative Pain Treatments: Part 2

Last week, we looked at alternative pain treatments including over-the-counter drugs and cannabis. This week, we’re exploring non-drug treatments and the role virtual reality has in pain management. If you have heard of other alternatives for treatment and want to add to this list, let us know, and we’ll add to our ongoing list of solutions.

Non-drug treatments

Though exercise, physical therapy, and yoga may sound extremely unappealing when dealing with chronic pain, these techniques have been found to help patients regain strength and actively manage their symptoms. Acupuncture and seeing a chiropractor could also be effective. Organizations such as the American College of Physicians, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend trying non-drug treatments first to deal with chronic pain.

According the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, psychological methods may also help lessen reliance on opioids for pain, and can help with addiction and other health issues. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can be combined with other medications, can help identify harmful thoughts and attitudes, and develop coping mechanisms. This can help people develop effective coping strategies for depression and anxiety, which are often interlinked with chronic pain symptoms and substance use.

Biofeedback therapy is a technique where people are taught to become aware and look for cues of discomfort within their bodies, often times with the assistance of technology. The idea is that once you become aware of stress, pain, and other body functions, you can adapt to symptoms through relaxation exercises. One study has shown biofeedback therapy reduced pain in up to 86% of patients dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Hypnotic therapy has also been shown to relieve pain without using medication. Some people have found that by undergoing hypnosis, they become aware of the source of their pain, and underlying issues that might be making it worse. By becoming aware of these issues, they can better manage it.

In Patterson, New Jersey, St. Joseph’s Hospital has instituted a program called ALTO, the Alternatives to Opiates Program. This is designed for patients who choose not to use opioids in managing their pain. Their variety of methods include using ultrasounds to find nerves that can be injected with a numbing agent to block the pain of fractures, acupuncture, and laughing gas (nitrous oxide).

In 2017, Ohio Medicaid covered acupuncture services if the treatment was done by a physician, and a new expansion allows Medicaid patients to receive acupuncture treatment by licensed non-physician acupuncturists.

Virtual Reality & Pain Management

These days, virtual reality is used in a number of industries–including hospitals. For instance, burn victims have to go through painful routine recovery procedures, known as debridement. At Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, a new technique of distracting burn patients from pain involves using an immersive video game called “SnowWorld”. Dr. Hunter Hoffman, a research scientist in medical engineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, developed SnowWorld. He states “Logic says that pain requires attention, and for some reason, going into the computer world takes a lot of attentional resources. Your mind can’t be focused on pain and something else at the same time.” Their research and brain scans show that VR can reduce the intensity of pain by 30% or more.

Next week, we will explore different practices used by law enforcement to curb substance use, including community education, treatment in prison, and supply control programs. 

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