Explaining Your Pain

Beyond Drugs

Banishing pain, especially chronic pain, involves more than popping the latest pill. Russell Portenoy, M.D., chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, stresses that many pain specialists favor a multidisciplinary approach. The minimum approach includes drug therapy, a pain rehabilitation or physical therapy program, and psychological help. Incorporating other treatments, such as massage, biofeedback, or acupuncture, is not unusual.

Why seek psychological help? Not because the pain is all in your head. "Anybody with chronic pain is going to suffer changes that affect all aspects of life, including their psychological health, family life, sexual life, and social life," says Dr. Portenoy. "Psychological interventions may help coping skills and reduce the pain through the power of the mind."

Pain specialists now have access to drugless invasive techniques that jam brain signals. Portenoy says that there has been success with deep brain stimulation, which sends a low electric current through an electrode placed in the brain. Spinal cord stimulation, in which a thin wire goes into the spinal cord, also has been effective.

Even with new treatments, good communication remains all-important. A lot depends on the patient taking action. Be vigilant, whatever your level of pain, and get answers before pain worsens.

"In nursing school back in the 1980s, we were taught that a little pain never hurt anyone," says Pamela Bennett, R.N., who is a pain management nurse consultant in Derry, New Hampshire. "We're finding out scientifically that pain can be harmful. If we treat it early and aggressively, we can prevent many chronic pain conditions from developing."