Alternative Options for Managing Chronic Pain
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2022 | Last updated: December 2022
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) can cause significant pain in the body. This leads many people who live with the condition to seek out ways to manage their pain. While doctors may prescribe pain medicines, not everyone wants to take these drugs long-term. Some people do not like the side effects or risk of addiction with pain medicines. Fortunately, there are many alternative options to manage chronic pain.
What are some of the alternative approaches for managing pain?
No one solution works for everyone, but there are many different approaches and strategies for managing pain.
When you are in pain, it may seem like exercise is the last thing you want to do. However, limiting your activity can make pain worse. This is because muscles weaken from lack of exercise and can make joint problems worse. Activity has been shown to reduce pain, as well as prevent additional chronic pain. Gentle stretching and low-impact activities like walking or swimming can usually be done in a safe manner. If you have been inactive for a while or have restricted movement due to your PsA, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about therapeutic exercises.1,2
With biofeedback, you learn how to control your bodily functions, like heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Biofeedback can be helpful for reducing pain. It also provides you with ways to use your mind to influence your physical functioning. There are different biofeedback methods and devices available, including some for home use. Others are used in a physical therapy clinic or medical center.3
Mindfulness practices include a variety of meditation and relaxation strategies. The goal of these practices is to relax the body and allow the mind to observe what is happening in a detached, calm manner. Many mindfulness strategies begin with breathing exercises. With these exercises, you learn how focusing on and controlling how you inhale and exhale leads to more relaxation and less stress. Studies have found that mindfulness can improve pain and depression symptoms.4,5
Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the use of thin needles placed in specific areas of the body to balance the energy in the body, known as chi or qi. Acupuncture can have positive effects on many aspects of well-being, such as mood, anxiety, sleep problems, and pain. Not everyone experiences a benefit with acupuncture. However, it has been proven to be safe, well-tolerated, and effective for many who have chronic pain.6
The idea behind the anti-inflammatory diet is that some foods increase inflammation, while others reduce inflammation. Since chronic inflammation itself can cause pain in the body, taking steps to reduce the inflammation can reduce pain. Generally, foods that increase inflammation include dairy, sugars, and grains. Eating a variety of vegetables can help reduce inflammation.7
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to reduce and manage chronic pain. When you do not get enough sleep, it can make your body more sensitive to pain. Lack of sleep can also increase symptoms of depression, which can further compound pain symptoms. To increase your quality of sleep, experts recommend following good sleep hygiene practices, including:8
- Going to bed at the same time each day
- Avoiding long naps
- Not exercising at least 4 hours before bedtime
- Limiting liquids to reduce the chance of needing to urinate at night,
- Following bedtime rituals
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially late in the day
Heat and cold treatments are 2 of the simplest approaches for joint pain like that caused by PsA. Heat, whether from heating pads or warm baths, can increase circulation and soothe muscles and joints. Cold applications can ease acute pain by reducing swelling and numbing nerve endings.9
Who can I talk to about my pain?
Pain management specialists are doctors who have special training in treating all kinds of pain. This includes acute pain, chronic pain, and even pain due to cancer. Since treating pain often requires a combination of approaches, it can be helpful to talk to someone like a pain management specialist who understands the different options and can make suggestions for you. You may need a referral to a pain management specialist from your primary care doctor.10
Do you have any questions about PsA?