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Complementary therapies for pain

Complementary therapies can be used to help with pain. These methods draw your attention away from the pain and release muscle tension caused by pain. They can help you relax. Some may work by releasing natural opioids within the body that can enhance the effects of pain medicine and medical therapies.

Talk to the healthcare team if you are thinking about using complementary therapies to manage pain. Ask if they will interfere with any cancer treatments or medicines.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an energy therapy that is part of traditional Chinese medicine. It uses very thin needles inserted through the skin at certain points to help restore the flow of energy in the body.

Find out more about acupuncture.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback uses monitoring devices to help you learn how to consciously control certain body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating or muscle tension.

Find out more about biofeedback.

Energy therapies

Energy therapies are based on the belief that there are energy fields that flow through and around your body.

Find out more about energy therapies.

Guided imagery and visualization

Guided imagery is the use of images that help you think of and reach a specific goal. Visualizing happy, relaxed or pleasant pictures may help you overcome some pain.

Find out more about guided imagery.

Heat or cold

Heat, such as warm baths, warm water bottles and heating pads, may be used to treat aches or persistent muscle pain. Heat can help reduce stiffness in joints, relax muscles, ease muscle spasms and increase blood supply to the area. Heat should not be used on areas of skin that have received radiation therapy.

Cold, such as running cold water over or applying ice to an area, can be used to treat muscle spasms or headaches.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a state of relaxed and focused attention in which you concentrate on a certain feeling, idea or suggestion. Hypnosis can be used to block the awareness of pain or to substitute another feeling for pain.

Find out more about hypnosis.

Marijuana and cannabinoids for medical purposes

Marijuana is an illegal substance in Canada. The Canadian government allows seriously ill people access to marijuana for medical reasons. This is commonly called medical marijuana.

Find out more about marijuana and cannabinoids for medical purposes.

Massage

Massage is a form of touch therapy. Depending on where your pain is, you may massage yourself or get help from a family member, friend or massage therapist. Massage can make you feel more comfortable and give you a sense of well-being. It can also be a soothing connection between you and a loved one. It may involve brief contact, such as holding hands or rubbing a shoulder, or it may involve longer contact.

Find out more about massage therapy.

Meditation

Meditation is the practice of concentrating or focusing your attention to increase mental awareness and calm your mind and body.

Find out more about meditation.

Music therapy

Music can help ease pain, lift your mood and work against depression. It can make you feel like moving and doing physical activities or it can help you relax and go to sleep. Music can also provide distraction from pain.

Find out more about music therapy.

Reiki

Reiki is an energy therapy that is part of a spiritual practice. It is also commonly called hands-on healing. It involves using the hands to transfer energy to promote healing and relieve pain. During a reiki session, the practitioner places hands on different parts of your body.

Tai chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, focused body movements, mediation and deep breathing.

Find out more about Tai chi.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive treatment that may reduce pain. TENS is believed to interrupt the pain signals sent to the brain. It may also work by promoting the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. TENS may help treat headaches, muscle aches or pains or nerve pain.

During TENS, wires and electrodes attached to a small battery-powered device are placed on the skin, usually on either side of the area where you feel pain. The electrodes carry electrical impulses to the nerves.

Yoga

Yoga involves stretches and poses with special focus given to breathing. It can be used to calm the nervous system and balance the body, mind and spirit.

Find out more about yoga.

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