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Managing chronic pain with complementary and alternative remedies

As well as using over-the-counter and prescription pain medication, some people find complementary or alternative therapies can help reduce the symptoms of pain. These include mind-body therapies, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic techniques, therapeutic touch, certain herbal remedies, diet and nutrition.

The evidence for various techniques having a benefit may not always be strong, and these shouldn’t replace any prescription medication.

If you have chronic pain, seek medical advice before trying a new complementary approach to managing pain.

Some treatments, like acupuncture, may be available on the NHS in some areas, but most will need to be paid for privately.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) regulates some complementary therapies to help protect patient safety.

Mind-body therapies for chronic pain

Mind-body therapies are meant to enhance the mind's ability to affect the functions and physical symptoms of the body. Mind-body therapies use various approaches, including relaxation techniques, meditation, guided imagery and hypnosis. Some research shows relaxation techniques can help alleviate discomfort related to chronic pain. The American Psychological Association cites one analysis: "A rigorous 2006 meta-analysis of 22 randomised studies published between 1982 and 2003, of people with non-cancerous chronic low-back pain, confirmed the beneficial value of psychological interventions."

Visualisation is used by some as a pain-control technique. Try the following exercise: Close your eyes and try to summon up a visual image of the pain, giving it shape, colour, size and motion. Now try slowly altering this image, replacing it with a more harmonious, pleasing - and smaller - image.

Another approach is to keep a diary of your pain episodes and the causative and corrective factors associated with them. Review your diary regularly to explore avenues of possible change. Strive to view pain as part of your life, not all of it.

Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis are also used by some in an attempt to block or transform pain through refocusing techniques. However, hypnotherapy is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy (counselling), rather than a treatment in itself. Referring to hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome pain, The British Medical Journal says: "We don't know whether hypnotherapy can help. Most of the studies weren't done very well, or didn't look at very many people. This makes it hard to know if the results are reliable." Hypnotherapy is not routinely available on the NHS.

One self-hypnosis strategy, known as glove anaesthesia, involves putting yourself in a trance, placing a hand over the painful area, imagining the hand is relaxed, heavy and numb, then envisaging these sensations replacing other, painful feelings in the affected area.

Some doctors recommend relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga to reduce stress-related pain, saying the gentle stretching of yoga is particularly good for strengthening muscles without putting additional strain on your body. However, not everyone agrees. However, if your back problems are related other problems such as a ruptured disc, yoga could irritate the injury and cause more pain.

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