Other therapies for pain
Physical, psychological or complementary methods can be used to help with pain. These methods draw your attention away from the pain and release muscle tension caused by pain. 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 about physical and psychological ways to manage pain. Ask if they will interfere with any cancer treatments or medicines.
Relaxation can reduce muscle tension, which can relieve pain or keep it from getting worse. Relaxation can also give you more energy, reduce fatigue, anxiety and stress and help with falling asleep. Relaxation often improves with practice.
There are many different relaxation techniques to help manage pain. One example is progressive muscle relaxation. This approach involves becoming aware of certain groups of muscles in the body and learning to tense and relax them. Another way to relax is to breathe in deeply and exhale while relaxing each part of the body (arms, legs, hands and feet).
Meditation can be done by sitting quietly and concentrating on breathing or on an object in front of you. It can help one to become aware of everyday thoughts and worries that may be causing stress. It is often useful to have someone experienced in meditation help with getting started.
Deep breathing helps the body to relax. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth helps draw attention away from pain, helps muscles relax and lowers anxiety. Try to make each breath last for a count of 5. It may help to imagine that you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake, blowing up a balloon or blowing bubbles.
Biofeedback uses monitoring devices to help learn how to consciously control certain body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating or muscle tension. Biofeedback is sometimes used to relieve pain and help someone relax. It can be used along with other methods of pain relief.
Mental imagery, or visualization, helps you bring happy, relaxed or pleasant pictures into the mind and use them to overcome some pain. Guided mental imagery involves closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a pleasant, safe place or time or doing a favourite activity.
Distraction is another way to help you draw attention away from pain by focusing on something fun or relaxing. Examples of distraction include reading a book, doing puzzles, playing a board game, watching a movie, listening to music or doing a hobby.
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.
Being touched by someone who cares can be comforting and soothing to anyone who is suffering pain. Touching to relieve pain can take many forms, including cuddling, patting, stroking and rubbing.
Massage is a form of touch therapy. Massage helps improve circulation, loosens tight muscles and promotes relaxation. 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.
Ask the healthcare team if massage is recommended as there may be some concern about deep massage near tumours causing risk of increased spread. Ask the healthcare team if seeing a registered massage therapist might be helpful for pain.
Heat, such as warm baths, warm water bottles and heating pads, may be used to treat achy 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.
Physical therapy uses exercises or other methods to help restore strength, increase movement and relieve pain. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist teaches a person how to save energy and reduce pain by spreading out their activities during the day. Wheelchairs, walkers or splints may reduce pain and make it easier to move. Physical therapy sometimes includes blocking pain signals with heat or cold.
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 is a series of slow, gentle movements that involves focusing on breathing and concentration. Doing tai chi can help you relax, improve movement and relieve pain.
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.
Physical activity reduces pain by strengthening muscles, moving joints and providing a distraction. Try to be as physically active as possible.
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.
Acupuncture or acupressure may help relieve pain. 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. During acupressure, the therapist uses fingers instead of needles. Only a trained acupuncturist can do acupuncture, but non-professionals can learn and do acupressure.
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.
Emotional support or counselling
Pain can cause many different emotions. Someone may feel angry that they are in pain, upset that their family has to see them in pain, anxious that their pain will not go away or worried that they can’t do the things they enjoy because of their pain. Pain can also lead to being depressed. Feeling angry, anxious or depressed can make pain seem worse.
It can be difficult to share feelings about pain, but talking about pain and emotions can often help to reduce pain. Find someone you feel comfortable talking with such as a friend, family member, counsellor, doctor, nurse or other health professional. A support group where people meet and share feelings about how they cope with cancer pain may also be helpful.
Research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about whether smoking marijuana helps with pain.
Marijuana remains an illegal substance in Canada, but temporary regulations provide some seriously ill people access to medical marijuana. Legal access to medical marijuana is given through certain doctors only after applying for and receiving special approval from Health Canada.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.