There are five main approaches for treating and self-managing pain: These include physical, neurological, mental, spiritual, and “alternative” approaches.
Physical treatments for chronic pain can include applying heat or cold to the part that hurts, massage, exercise, and rest. Sensations of heat, cold, and touch travel on the same nerves as pain sensations, but they travel faster. A sensation of gentle touch, heat, or cold will therefore beat a pain signal to the next pain gate and block the pain from getting through. Certain substances including capsaicin (chili pepper extract) provide a sensation of heat when rubbed on the skin that may keep a pain gate blocked for hours.
Exercise is often one of the best treatments for pain. Responding to an entry on pain in the Diabetes Self-Management Blog, a Canadian man with Type 2 diabetes reported, “I have cured my back pain completely since starting weight-lifting exercises 18 months ago. I do horizontal and inclined bench presses. I started with 50 lbs and built to 150 lbs. The benches provide complete back support.”
Strengthening muscles eases pressure on the joints and tendons. It also gives you a greater sense of control, which really helps people deal with pain. Stretching to increase your flexibility can also be helpful for pain relief, when done as part of a regular exercise routine. Walking, sitting, and moving with good posture and balance can take pressure off tender muscles and nerves. You may want to consult a physical therapist to find exercises that are right for you.
Massage and other kinds of bodywork can greatly relieve pain. Bodywork can include acupressure, shiatsu, and various other types of therapeutic touching or manipulation of the body.
Certain drugs may also help to control pain. These include anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, indomethacin, and many others. While some of these are sold over the counter, they can have side effects, most notably gastrointestinal bleeding. A newer anti-inflammatory, celecoxib (Celebrex), may have fewer gastrointestinal side effects.
Many drugs can help calm down overactive pain nerves. These include antiseizure medicines such as gabapentin (brand name Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica). Since seizures are the most obvious case of oversensitive nerves, it makes sense that seizure drugs might help chronic pain. Lyrica seems to have fewer side effects than Neurontin and another drug, Topamax, which often cause mental fogginess.
Electrical stimulation can sometimes block pain signals from traveling up the nerves. The most commonly used system is called TENS, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. TENS works by sending electrical pulses across the surface of the skin into the nerves. The stimulating pulses help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. They also help stimulate your body to produce higher levels of its own natural painkillers, called endorphins.
Relaxation exercises, meditation, and prayer also help nerves calm down. So can doing relaxing things like spending time in nature, playing with a pet, or engaging in a hobby like knitting or painting.
Chronically high blood glucose levels are known to damage nerves, so keeping blood glucose levels close to the normal, nondiabetic range can greatly reduce neuropathic pain. (Sometimes, however, if nerve damage has caused numbness in the feet, legs, hands, or arms, improving blood glucose control can cause pain in these areas as the nerves start to heal and regain function. The pain is usually temporary.)