- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Pain and cancer
- Managing pain with other methods
- Other ways to control pain
Other ways to control pain
Pain medicines are often used along with other therapies to ease the discomfort of pain. These may include exercise, physical therapy, talk therapy and a range of complementary therapies. These treatments are offered by allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, psychologists and exercise physiologists. Practitioners are usually part of your hospital multidisciplinary team (MDT), or your GP can refer you to private practitioners.
Physiotherapy and exercise techniques
An accredited physiotherapist or accredited exercise physiologist can develop a program to improve muscle strength and help you get back to some activities.
Specialised physiotherapy can help reprogram the brain to manage issues such as phantom limb pain after an amputation.
An occupational therapist can provide equipment and other devices to make you more comfortable. For example, special cushions for when you are sitting or lying down.
Professionals such as psychologists and counsellors can provide therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. These professionals help you understand how your thoughts and emotions affect your response to pain or identify any worries that are making the pain worse. They can help you build new coping skills and help you get back to your usual activities as much as possible.
A psychologist can teach you to use techniques such as desensitisation. This involves focusing on the pain and relaxing at the same time.
Desensitisation is sometimes used for neuropathic pain (e.g. numbness or tingling). Other ways to temporarily focus on something other than the pain include counting, drawing and reading.
Complementary therapies are designed to be used alongside conventional treatments. These therapies may help you cope better with pain and other side effects caused by cancer and its treatment. They may also increase your sense of control, decrease anxiety, and improve your quality of life.
Let your doctor know about any complementary therapies you are using or thinking about trying. Depending on the conventional treatment and pain medicines you are having, some complementary therapies may cause reactions or unwanted side effects. You should also tell the complementary therapist about your cancer diagnosis, as some therapies, such as massage, may need to be adjusted to avoid certain areas of the body.
For more on this, see Complementary therapies.
Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medical treatments. They are unlikely to be scientifically tested, may prevent successful treatment of cancer-related pain and can be harmful. Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies for cancer pain.
Complementary therapies used to manage pain
|acupuncture||uses fine, sterile needles placed under the skin into energy channels (called meridians) to stimulate energy flow|
|aromatherapy||uses essential oils extracted from plants for healing relaxation; mainly used during massage, but can also be added to baths, inhalations or vaporisers (oil burners)|
|creative therapies||help you express your feelings in creative ways (e.g. art therapy, music therapy, journal writing) and distract you from the pain|
|heat and cold||uses heat to relieve sore muscles, and cold to numb the pain|
|hypnotherapy||fosters a state of deep relaxation that is used to increase awareness of inner thoughts|
|massage||releases both muscular and emotional tension, and may increase your sense of wellbeing; it helps relieve muscle spasms and contractions, and joint stiffness; avoid massaging near the cancer|
|mindful meditation||focuses on the breath and calming the mind; it can help you change the way you think about experiences|
|reflexology||form of foot and hand massage that applies pressure to specific points (reflex points) on the feet or hands that are connected to different parts of the body|
|relaxation||uses slow breathing and muscle-loosening exercises to physically and emotionally calm the body; it can help you sleep, give you more energy, reduce your anxiety, and make other pain relief methods – such as medicine or a cold pack – work more effectively|
Podcast: Relaxation and Meditation
Dr Tim Hucker, Pain Medicine Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Keiron Bradley, Palliative Care Consultant, Bethesda Health Care, WA; A/Prof Anne Burke, Co-Director Psychology, Central Adelaide Local Health Network, President, Australian Pain Society, Statewide Chronic Pain Clinical Network, SA, School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, SA; Tumelo Dube, Accredited Pain Physiotherapist, Michael J Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicine, Palliative Medicine Specialist, Pain Management Research Institute, The University of Sydney, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Annette Lindley, Consumer; Prof Melanie Lovell, Palliative Care Specialist HammondCare, Sydney Medical School and The University of Technology Sydney, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Melanie Proper, Pain Management Specialist Nurse Practitioner, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison White, Palliative Medicine Specialist and Director of Hospice and Palliative Care Services, St John of God Health Care, WA.
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