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Side Effects

Non-medical Ways to Manage Pain

A few non-medical methods may be used to ease cancer pain along with pain medicines. This is sometimes called complementary or integrative therapy. Some people find they can take a lower dose of pain medicine when they also use non-medical treatments. But it's important to talk with your cancer care team to know if these could be good options for you.

Try using a non-medical method along with your regular pain medicines. For instance, you might use a relaxation technique (to decrease tension, reduce anxiety, and manage pain) at the same time you take medicine.

  • When you are rested and alert, you can use a method that demands more attention and energy. When tired, you may need to use a method that requires less effort. For example, try distraction when you’re rested and alert; use hot or cold packs when you’re tired.
  • Try different methods to learn which ones work best for you. Keep a record of what makes you feel better and what doesn’t help.

Acupuncture, acupressure, and reflexology

Acupuncture may be used to control cancer pain. Very thin needles are put into the skin at certain points and at various depths and angles. Each point is thought to control the feeling of pain in a different part of the body.

Acupressure and reflexology involve applying pressure on the body to certain areas over or near your pain.

  • Acupressure – The whole body
  • Reflexology – The feet, hands, ears, and face

Precaution: If you are getting chemotherapy, talk to your cancer care team before starting acupuncture.


Biofeedback uses special machines that give instant feedback on certain body functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. Biofeedback is sometimes used to help people learn to relax and cope with pain.

Cold or heat packs

Heat in the form of gel packs, electric heating pads, or hot baths might help relax sore muscles. Heat may decrease joint stiffness and help you relax.

Cold in the form of gel packs or ice bags that are sealed in plastic and stay soft and flexible even when frozen. Cold packs work to decrease swelling in places on your body where you are hurting. It can help reduce the feeling of pain by partly numbing the painful area.

You can also switch back and forth between heat and cold for added relief in some cases.


Distraction means focusing on something other than the pain. People often use this method without realizing it when they watch TV or listen to music to take their minds off a worry.

Emotional support and counseling

Pain can make you feel worried, depressed, or easily discouraged. You may want to think about trying a support group where people with cancer meet and share their feelings. Support groups can be face-to-face meetings, or you can meet in a group online. For information about support groups in your community and online, ask your cancer care team or call us at 1-800-227-2345.


Hypnosis allows for better focus while you are awake but calm and still. In this state, people might become more relaxed. It is guided by people who are trained in hypnotherapy (hypnosis) that allows you to be more open to ideas to make changes that are helpful in your emotions, perceptions, sensations, memories, thoughts, or behaviors.

Imagery or virtual reality imagery

Imagery is using your imagination to create mental pictures or situations. It is thought that imagery may decrease pain through a combination of relaxation and distraction. Watching relaxing virtual reality imagery or pictures through goggles that are connected to a computer might help to relieve pain.


Massage therapy is touch and movement using a slow, steady, circular motion, over or near the area of pain with just a bare hand or with any substance that feels good, such as powder, warm oil, or hand lotion.


Relaxation helps relieve pain and/or keeps it from getting worse by relaxing your muscles. It can help you fall asleep, give you more energy, make you less tired, reduce anxiety, and help other pain-relief methods work better.


Yoga helps you focus on breathing, physical posture, and meditation. There are many forms of yoga used to provide comfort.

Learn more

To learn more about complementary or integrative therapy or find someone who specializes in them:

The following video is brought to you by Healing Works Foundation.

A Meditation to Help Ease Pain

Help focus your mind away from pain through breathing exercises, calm music, and positive messages. Listen to messages to help ease pain and give you strength. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Revised: March 29, 2024

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