Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Non-medical treatments for pain

Non-medical treatments may be used along with pain medicine, though they can also be used alone for mild pain or discomfort. Some people find they can take a lower dose of pain medicine when they also use non-medical treatments. These methods include things like relaxation, biofeedback, imagery, distraction, hypnosis, skin stimulation, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, exercise or physical therapy, and emotional support and counseling.

We give you some basic tips here, but you may need the help of health professionals – social workers, physical therapists, psychologists, nurses, or others – to learn to use these techniques. Family and friends can also help. To find someone who specializes in these techniques or learn more about them:

  • Talk with your doctor or nurse.
  • Contact a local hospice, cancer treatment center, or pain clinic.
  • Visit your local bookstores or library.

You can also contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse to learn more about these techniques. (See the “To learn more about cancer pain” section for contact information.)

Pain may be a sign that the cancer has spread, an infection has started, or there are problems caused by the cancer treatment. Because of this, you should report any new pain problems to your cancer care team before trying any medical or non-medical treatments to relieve the pain on your own.

Some general guidelines for managing pain with non-medical methods include:

  • Try using a non-medical method along with your regular pain medicines. For instance, you might use a relaxation technique (to lessen tension, reduce anxiety, and manage pain) at the same time you take medicine.
  • Know yourself and what you can do. Often when people are rested and alert, they can use a method that demands more attention and energy. When tired, people may need to use a method that requires less effort. For example, try distraction when you are rested and alert; use hot or cold packs when you’re tired.
  • Try different methods to learn which ones work for you. Be open-minded, and keep a record of what makes you feel better and what doesn’t help.

Last Medical Review: 07/15/2015
Last Revised: 07/15/2015