Chronic pain can be terrible, but its treatment can be fatal if done wrong — reports suggest the death of legendary musician Prince in 2016 was from a prescription pain medication overdose. The American Chronic Pain Association likens a patient with chronic pain to a car with four flat tires: Medication can pump up one tire, but to get the car back on the road, a more comprehensive treatment plan is necessary.
In addition to over-the-counter or prescription drugs, patients 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. Because the cost of a comprehensive treatment plan can be exorbitant, we consulted medical practitioners and patients who have dealt with chronic pain to find some of the best free and inexpensive resources.
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 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, said she had a client who suffered for 16 years from fibromyalgia, which can cause pain throughout the body. Doctors said she would never be off pills or without pain, but Stafford says that self-hypnosis techniques have enabled her to no longer take pain medication. Interested patients should look for a hypnotherapist whose treatment includes self-hypnosis, Stafford says, 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 nonprofit in British Columbia, 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 7,500 members. Its free "Pain Toolbox" download recommends useful books, websites, supplements, and more.
Dr. David Clark, president of the Psychophysiological Disorders Association, said there is 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 Cheapism 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 users create online.
Leslie Davenport, a licensed psychotherapist, creates 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. RoByn Thompson, an artist from New Jersey, 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 incorporated stretches and exercises she found into her regular schedule and noticed the pain subsided. She recommends two pins: "3 Stretches to Keep Your Back Happy" and "Desk-Job Relief."
Sometimes sharing an 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 411 chronic pain Meetup groups with more than 48,500 members in cities around the world. Attendance is usually free, although there is a small fee to start or maintain a group.