The American Chronic Pain Association likens a person with chronic pain to a car with four flat tires. Medication can pump up one tire, but in order to get the car back on the road, a more comprehensive treatment plan is necessary. In addition to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, people with chronic pain (defined as pain that lasts more than six months) need a range of treatments and services, including physical therapy, biofeedback, nutritional counseling, and support groups. Unfortunately, the cost of a comprehensive treatment plan can be high. We consulted medical practitioners and individuals who have dealt with chronic pain to find the best free and inexpensive resources.
In Chronic Pain? 10 Ways to Feel Better for Less
The American Pain Society supports pain research, advocates on behalf of those in pain, helps set standards for clinics, and educates practitioners. The APS has a good resources page with links to many organizations that help people in pain. Some groups are geared toward people with specific conditions, such as Cancer Care or the Arthritis Foundation; others such as the American Chronic Pain Association are more general.
Barbara Stafford, a certified medical support clinical hypnotherapist, told Cheapism about a client who had suffered for 16 years from fibromyalgia, which can cause pain throughout the body. Doctors said she'd never be off pills or without pain, but now she no longer takes pain medication thanks to self-hypnosis techniques. Stafford says potential patients should look for a hypnotherapist whose treatment includes self-hypnosis and always check a practitioner's credentials. The American Council of Hypnotist Examiners and the International Board of Hypnotherapy are two respected accrediting organizations.
Many cities have clinics that provide medical help for free or on a sliding scale based on income. Most clinics offer a variety of basic services including primary care, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, and some focus specifically on pain management.
A non-profit in British Columbia, Canada, PainBC provides free access to services at its facilities, and its online resources are available to anyone around the world. PainBC regularly hosts webinars, produces the Pain Waves podcast, and runs a Facebook-based support group with more than 5,000 members. Its free "Pain Toolbox" download recommends useful books, websites, supplements, and more.
Dr. David Clark, president of the Psychophysiological Disorders Association, told Cheapism there's often a psychological component of chronic pain, which can be just as severe and long-lasting as the physical effects if not treated properly. He recommends several online resources that have free and inexpensive products to help people address these problems, including Dr. Howard Schubiner's Mind Body Program, the Stress Illness Recovery Practitioners Association in the U.K., and his own Psychophysiological Disorders Association.
A woman from Brooklyn, New York, wrote to tell us that she eliminated her chronic pain by practicing the exercises described in the book Pain Free, by Pete Egoscue. Before starting the exercises, her left knee and right arm had been in so much pain she found it hard to sleep. There are dozens of other pain-relief books available online and at local libraries.
Made possible by grants from the National Institutes of Health, PainAction helps people self-manage chronic pain. The site is organized into sections addressing back, migraine, cancer, neuropathic, and arthritis pain. In addition, there is a feature offering lessons, news, and tools based on an individualized pain profile you create online.
Leslie Davenport, a licensed psychotherapist, has created pain reduction programs involving guided imagery, a technique that uses mental images to soothe the body. Davenport shares free audio programs and worksheets on her website. We also heard from RoByn Thompson, an artist from New Jersey, who has used guided imagery meditations posted on YouTube to help manage chronic pain related to a spinal injury.
It may not be the first resource that comes to mind, but when Michelle Brammer, a mother of two with a full-time office job, started experiencing continuous lower-back pain, she looked to Pinterest for relief. She has incorporated the stretches and exercises she found into her regular schedule and the pain is subsiding. Two pins she recommends are "3 Stretches to Keep Your Back Happy" and "Desk-Job Relief."
Sometimes sharing your experience with others can make all the difference. There are many ways to find local support groups, but one of the best online resources is Meetup. A recent search found 326 chronic pain Meetup groups with nearly 20,000 members in more than 200 cities around the world. Attendance is usually free, although there is a small fee if you want to start a group of your own.