Special Report

9 Effective Pain Treatments That Aren't Opioids, According to Doctors

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6. Guided imagery

Guided imagery involves focusing the mind on pleasant and positive thoughts that can evoke strong positive emotions. It’s the equivalent of taking a mental vacation, or daydreaming, but in a very focused way, according to Koning. “It is primarily for stress reduction, but most chronic pain conditions can impose a significant level of stress, so it’s helpful in those cases as well.”

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7. Biofeedback

Biofeedback is learning to control what normally are involuntary functions. “It takes practice, and though some try to downplay it, it’s not at all a bogus treatment option,” Koning said. “It may be easier than you think.” One example is sitting down quietly and breathing deeply in and out for a minute. You’ll notice your heart rate will decrease, Koning noted.

Some studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback, which teach someone how to emotionally adjust to the pain and meditate to manipulate the body’s physical reaction to pain, can be effective in reducing pain levels if practiced regularly, according to Koning.

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8. Nutritional supplements

Natural herbs and spices like turmeric, cumin, and cayenne have shown to decrease inflammation when eaten regularly, and Koning recommends them all the time. “Magnesium, vitamin D, and B vitamins, and alpha-lipoic acid can be helpful in patients with restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, and insomnia,” Koning said. “Turmeric, cumin and glucosamine-chondroitin have been shown to help decrease pain related to degenerative joint disease.” Magnesium can also decrease migraine frequency, muscle spasms in patient with fibromyalgia, and chronic neck and back pain, he noted.

However, the problem with nutritional supplements is that it’s difficult to guarantee that you’re getting what you pay for, he added, because they are not subject to the same safety rules as drugs. Also, he noted, some supplements can be harmful when taking in excess. “It’s best to consult a physician about any supplements.”

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9. Stem cell-based therapy

Stem cells can self-renew and replicate into certain other types of cells such as muscle or nerve cells. Stem cell-based therapy, or regenerative stem cell therapy, involves getting cells from one’s own bone marrow tissue or fat and injecting it back into the area of the body that hurts, such as a knee, shoulder, joint, or tendon. The treatment can be used instead of surgery or after to treat tissue pain, according to Dr. Michael Phillips, a pain medicine specialist in Arlington, Texas.

While there are high hopes for the future of stem cell-based therapies, the treatment is currently not FDA approved and potentially dangerous. The FDA recently issued a warning about unapproved stem cell treatments. Some clinics advertise the use of stem cells in their therapies, but are using amniotic fluid with no stem cells. “They are not regulated well enough, which opens the door to a lot of scams,” Phillips said.

Even the safest procedures are not for everyone. For example, it is not appropriate for people undergoing chemotherapy or taking certain medications, Phillips noted.

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