Breaking the Chains: A Guide to Chronic Pain Relief

Everyone is familiar with acute pain – pain that happens quickly as a result of an injury, but goes away fairly quickly. There is also chronic pain, the kind that comes like an unwelcome guest and stays on for weeks, months, sometimes even years. Chronic pain is a complex problem that affects different people for different reasons.

People who were in accidents are sometimes left with chronic pain from their injuries. Also, those with chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease tend to have chronic pain. Also, certain hereditary conditions, such as spina bifida or migraine headaches, can cause chronic pain.

Unlike acute pain that goes away after healing takes place, chronic pain can affect the sufferer’s life in several ways. One obvious way is interference with the person’s ability to work or engage in an enjoyable activity. Another way is emotional. Chronic pain can bring on feelings of depression or anxiety. This, in turn, can exacerbate the pain itself, starting a vicious circle.

Fortunately, there are treatments for chronic pain that can bring relief.

Nerve Blocks

A regional anesthetic medication, such as lidocaine, bupivacaine, or ropivacaine, is injected into a specific area to numb it. The effects last longer than oral medication.

Joint Injections

A corticosteroid is injected directly into a joint such as the knee, shoulder, elbow, or hand to reduce inflammation. Common uses are for osteoarthritis, gout, and inflamed tendons. Injections can be given every 3 months.

Clinical Therapy

The patient is evaluated in order to come up with a treatment plan and then monitored for progress. This helps the pain specialist to determine whether a particular treatment is working and if adjustments need to be made.

Radio-frequency Ablation

This method uses heat to destroy tissue – in this case, nerve tissue – to block pain signals to the brain. Radio waves go through a carefully placed needle. This is used on lower back, neck, or arthritic joints that don’t respond to other treatments.


Steroid injections deliver pain medication directly into inflamed spinal nerves to reduce pain.

Trigger Point Injections

Injections are given in areas called “trigger points” – sensitive spots that feel like knots or bands and cause pain in other areas. Used for migraines, back pain, fibromyalgia, and myofascial pain.

Facet Joint Injection

Steroid medication is injected directly into the facet joints – small joints that connect the vertebrae and allow spinal movement – to reduce inflammation and block pain signals reaching the brain. The steroid can be injected into the neck, upper back, or lower back for spinal pain.

Psychological Therapy

This treatment addresses the thoughts and feelings of patients living with chronic pain. The patient is taught coping skills, such as breathing exercises and meditation, to manage pain.

Spinal Cord Stimulator

A small device that resembles a pacemaker is surgically implanted in the patient and sends mild electrical currents into the spine to interrupt pain signals.

Peripheral Nerve Stimulator

This nonsurgical device sends out tiny electrical pulses to “reprogram” a nerve’s pain input to the brain.

Physical Therapy

Manual manipulation and therapeutic exercises are incorporated to reduce pain.