Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can cause significant pain in the body, leading many people who live with the condition to seek out ways to manage their pain. While doctors may prescribe pain medications, not everyone wants to take these prescriptions long-term, and some people don’t like the side effects or risk of addiction with pain medications. Fortunately, there are many alternative options to manage chronic pain.
What are some of the alternative approaches for managing pain?
No one solution works for everyone, but there are many different approaches and strategies for managing pain.
Exercise – When you’re in pain, it may seem like exercise is the last thing you want to do, but limiting your activity can make pain worse, as muscles weaken from lack of exercise and can compound joint problems. Activity has actually been shown to reduce pain, as well as prevent additional chronic pain. Gentle stretching and low-impact activities like walking or swimming can generally be done in a safe manner. If you’ve been inactive for a while or have restricted movement due to IBD, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about therapeutic exercises.1,2
Biofeedback – With biofeedback, you learn how to control your bodily functions, like heartrate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Biofeedback can be helpful for reducing pain, and it provides you with techniques to use your mind to influence your physical functioning. There are different biofeedback methods and devices available, including some for home use. Others are used in a physical therapy clinic or medical center.3
Mindfulness practices – Mindfulness practices include a variety of meditation and relaxation strategies that aim to relax the body and allow the mind to observe what is happening in a detached, calm manner. Many mindfulness strategies begin with breathing exercises, in which the individual learns how focusing on and controlling the inhalation and exhalation of the breath leads to more relaxation and less stress. Studies have found that mindfulness can improve pain and depression symptoms.4,5
Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine and involves the use of thin needles placed in specific areas on the body to balance the energy in the body, known as chi or qi. Acupuncture can have positive effects on many aspects of wellbeing, such as mood, anxiety, sleep problems, and pain. Not everyone experiences a benefit with acupuncture, but it has been shown to be safe, well-tolerated, and effective for many who suffer with chronic pain.6
Anti-inflammatory diet – The idea behind the anti-inflammatory diet is that some foods increase inflammation in the diet, while others reduce inflammation. Since chronic inflammation itself can cause pain in the body, taking steps to reduce the inflammation can reduce pain. Generally, foods that increase inflammation include dairy, sugars, and grains, while eating a variety of vegetables can help reduce inflammation.7
Sleep – Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to reduce and manage chronic pain. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can make your body more sensitive to pain, as well as increasing symptoms of depression, which can further compound pain symptoms. To increase your quality of sleep, experts recommend following good sleep hygiene practices, including going to bed at the same time each day, avoiding long naps, not exercising at least four hours before bedtime, limiting liquids to reduce the chance of needing to urinate at night, following bedtime rituals, and avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol (especially late in the day).8
Heat/Cold – The application of heat and cold treatments are two of the simplest approaches for joint pain. Heat, whether from heating pads or warm baths, can increase circulation and soothe muscles and joints, while cold applications can ease acute pain by reducing swelling and numbing nerve endings.9
Who can I talk to about my pain?
Pain management specialists are physicians who have special training in treating all kinds of pain, including acute pain, chronic pain, and even pain due to cancer. Since many types of pain require a combination of approaches, it can be helpful to consult with someone like a pain management specialist who understands the different options and can suggest a multidisciplinary approach. You may need a referral to a pain management specialist from your primary doctor.10
Exercise for pain relief, Harvard Medical School. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-secret-to-joint-pain-relief-exercise. Accessed 9/22/17.
American College of Rheumatology. Available at https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Living-Well-with-Rheumatic-Disease/Exercise-and-Arthritis. Accessed 9/22/17.
Mayo Clinic. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/home/ovc-20169724. Accessed 9/22/17.
The Chronicle, June 2011. American Chronic Pain Association. Available at https://theacpa.org/uploads/chronicle_june2011_ONLINE_052911.pdf. Accessed 9/22/17.
Hilton L, Hempel S, Ewing BA, et al. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2017;51(2):199-213. doi:10.1007/s12160-016-9844-2.
Acupuncture for chronic pain, Harvard Medical School. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/acupuncture-is-worth-a-try-for-chronic-pain-201304016042. Accessed 9/22/17.
Anti-inflammatory diet, Cleveland Clinic. Available at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/11/anti-inflammatory-diet-can-relieve-pain-age/. Accessed 9/22/17.
Pain management and the role of sleep, The Rheumatologist. Available at http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/pain-management-and-the-role-of-sleep/. Accessed 9/22/17.
Arthritis Foundation. Available at http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/heat-cold-pain-relief.php. Accessed 9/22/17.
American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. Available at https://www.asra.com/page/44/the-specialty-of-chronic-pain-management. Accessed 9/22/17.