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Smarter Ways to Deal with Pain

Pain is a big deal to millions of Americans who suffer with it. The figures are staggering: over 80 percent of adults have lower back pain at some point in their lives, while about 31 million experience lower back pain at any given time. Americans experiencing pain from migraine is about 39 million. As for chronic pain, more than 4 million people say they experience this debilitating pain (15 or more days a month). Finding smarter ways to deal and cope with pain is not only a high priority for all of us who have it, but also for governmental agencies – like the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – who are searching for non-opioid pain relief methods, medications and therapies.

Changing to a Low-Carb Diet May Help Relieve Knee Osteoarthritis

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that a low-carbohydrate diet can help reduce some of the pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. Comparing a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet in study participants (aged 65 to 75 and suffering from osteoarthritis), researchers found the low-carb diet was more effective at reducing intensity of pain. Other study findings were that the low-carb diet both increased participants’ quality of life, and reduced serum levels of adipokine leptin and an oxidative stress marker. Researchers noted that many people take pain medications to help soften pain, which may require other drugs to offset the side effects those drugs cause. But a benefits of the low-carb diet include potentially reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes, as well as reductions in weight gain. The quality of diet and the types of food consumed has more to do with reduced pain than weight loss, said researchers of their findings.

Psychotherapeutic Interventions for Chronic Pain Improve Functioning and Quality of Life

A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine evaluated studies of non-drug treatments for chronic pain and described alternative treatment approaches and cited studies with substantial evidence favoring such treatments. Researchers found that evidence-based psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, and mindfulness-based programs) are safe and effective and improve both functioning and quality of life in those with chronic nonmalignant pain. Authors suggest these psychotherapeutic interventions may be used as adjunct or alternative to pharmacological chronic pain management.

Mindfulness May Help People Feel Less Pain

How is it that some people are less bothered by pain than others? Even those with the same medical condition resulting in pain, whether acute or chronic, can have different reactions to the same pain. In a follow-up study to one done in 2015 comparing mindfulness meditation and placebo pain reliever, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center sought to find out if a person’s innate (or natural) level of mindfulness was somehow associated with lower pain sensitivity and, if so, to determine the specific brain mechanisms involved. Participants (who had never meditated before) first took the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory to determine their baseline mindfulness levels. They then received mildly painful heat stimulation (120 degrees F) while undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Researchers found that mindful people were less caught up in the pain experience, and this was associated with their self-reports of lower pain. Noting that their earlier research showed that mindfulness can be increased with relatively short periods of training in mindfulness meditation, mindfulness could be an effective way for the millions of people who experience chronic pain to get pain relief.

Whole Body Swedish Massage Can Reduce Knee Pain

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Osteoarthritis limits movement and diminishes overall quality of life, yet few treatments are effective to provide pain relief. A new study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), reveals that whole body Swedish massage, administered weekly, significantly reduces knee pain and stiffness, and improved function. Swedish massage involves kneading, vibration and friction. Study participants had gains in physical function, timed 50-foot walk, and improved pain and stiffness after 8 weeks of regular weekly massage therapy. Researchers noted that the study size was small, and that results may not be generalizable to other groups.

Non-Opioid Bupivacaine Liposome Is Effective for Post-Operative Pain

First approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for the management of post-surgical pain, bupivacaine liposome (marketed as Exparel) is a non-opioid local analgesic that is long-acting. It is used for local post-surgical analgesia and for pain relief following surgeries of the shoulder. Surgeons inject the “packets” of Exparel and the medication slowly releases over a period of three days to provide pain relief. The medication may eliminate or decrease the need for opiate medications to control pain.

Music Therapy

Another alternative to opioid medications – and a smarter way to deal with pain – involves music therapy. A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that music therapy helped biopsy patients before, during, and after the procedure and is effective in relieving anxiety and pain associated with the biopsy procedure. Other research has similarly found that while in the hospital, in situations where they may otherwise be given opiate medications, patients were exposed to guitar playing and singing. This was deemed to be the patient-preferred mode. This novel form of music therapy is detected by the same brain area that processes pain. It distracts from pain while simultaneously relaxing the patient.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is a process that uses radio waves to disable a nerve so it’s unable to communicate pain to the brain. Doctors target a nerve that comes out of the singular vertebrate for the radiofrequency ablation. This technique may provide a level of pain relief for some time before repeating the process. A study reported in Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine found that, among patients treated with radiofrequency ablation, a common treatment modality for chronic axial spine pain in Ontario, Canada, significantly reduced healthcare utilization occurred in the 12 months following the procedure. Another important finding was that some patients who prior to the radiofrequency ablation procedure received opioids, did not require a postoperative opioid prescription, and eliminated opioid use.

Smarter Ways to Deal with Pain

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at [email protected].

APA Reference
Kane, S. (2019). Smarter Ways to Deal with Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Apr 2019 (Originally: 27 Apr 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Apr 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.