Treatments to Relieve Chronic Pain

Pain that won’t go away is more than frustrating. It can be harmful to your health and well-being. It can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, eating right and exercising. It can affect your mood and work and can keep you from spending time with your friends and family. If you’re one of 100 million Americans with long-term pain, also called chronic pain, you know how debilitating and frustrating it can be.

Every year, millions of prescriptions are written for pain medications — many of them powerful opioids that can cause addiction and other side effects. But there are many other treatments available for pain instead of opioids.


Opioids are strong pain medications. They can help if you have severe short-term (acute) pain — like pain after surgery or for a broken bone. They can also help you manage pain if you have an illness like cancer. If you have cancer, you should speak to a doctor who specializes in pain medicine, such as a physician anesthesiologist, about which opioid or alternative treatment is best for you.

Opioids are powerful drugs, but they are usually not the best way to treat long-term (chronic) pain, such as arthritis, low back pain, or frequent headaches. If you take opioids for a long time to manage your chronic pain, you may be at risk of addiction. Before taking opioids for chronic pain, you should talk to your doctor about other options. Here’s why:

Opioids have serious side effects and risks.

Over time, your body gets used to opioids and they may stop providing pain relief as well. To get the same relief, you may need to take more and more. Higher doses can cause serious side effects, including:

  • Breathing problems and a slow heart rate, which can be deadly
  • Confusion and mental disturbances, like moodiness or outbursts of temper
  • Constipation

Opioids can be very addictive.

Up to one in four people who take opioids long-term become addicted. Worst of all, in 2017, data showed that 115 Americans die from an overdose of opioid painkillers every day, and hundreds more go to the emergency room.

Other pain treatments may work better and have fewer risks than opioids.

Talk to your doctor about trying these treatments before opioids:

  • Over-the-counter medicines:
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic)
    • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and generic)
    • Naproxen (Aleve and generic)
  • Non-drug treatments:
    • Exercise, physical and/or massage therapy
    • Counseling
    • Acupuncture
    • “Cold” therapy, known as cryotherapy
  • Interventional therapies:
    • Steroid injections
    • Radiofrequency ablation (using heat to target certain nerves)
    • Neuromodulation (nerve stimulation)
  • Other prescription drugs (ask about risks and side effects):
    • Anti-seizure drugs

Most insurance companies and Medicare will cover these treatments, but you can verify with your provider.

What should you do if your doctor prescribes opioids?

Talk to your doctor about side effects, risks, and addiction — and make sure that you watch for them too. Things to look out for include unusual moodiness or outbursts of temper, cravings and unusual risk-taking. Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor and make sure you store and dispose of your opioids carefully:

  • Take your opioids exactly as your doctor prescribes and never share them with anyone else.
  • Store your medications in a place where children or others cannot access them.
  • Dispose of your expired, unwanted, and unused medications safely. The best way to do this is through local “take back” or “mail back” programs and medication drop boxes (located at police stations, Drug Enforcement Agency collection sites or pharmacies).

Understanding Anxiety Chest Pain


Feeling worried, fearful, or nervous from time to time is quite normal for most people. These are typical reactions to atypical moments in everyday life.

Some people experience anxiety frequently. Symptoms can move beyond feelings of concern or worry to other physical reactions. Occasionally, these symptoms are mistakenly associated with other conditions.

As an example, chest pain is sometimes a symptom of anxiety. Often the result of a panic attack or heightened reaction, chest pain is a concern because of the possible connection to heart attacks and other heart conditions.

If you experience frequent anxiety, learning to understand your chest pain can help you find symptom relief and identify when you need additional medical help.

What anxiety chest pain feels like

Anxiety symptoms are rarely the same from person to person. Some days, symptoms aren’t even the same for the same person. Anxiety presents itself in a variety of ways, and that makes detecting or understanding symptoms difficult.

Chest pain associated with anxiety feels different for each person. Some people may experience chest pain on a gradual basis. For others, the pain may be sudden and unexpected. Anxiety chest pain can be described as:

  • sharp, shooting pain
  • persistent chest aching
  • an unusual muscle twitch or spasm in your chest
  • burning, numbness, or a dull ache
  • stabbing pressure
  • chest tension or tightness

If you don’t have a history of chest pain with anxiety, you may be alarmed. Many people assume they’re having a heart attack and go to the hospital’s emergency department for treatment.

Read more about the warning signs of a heart attack »

In one studyTrusted Source, researchers found that anxiety disorder was prevalent among people with nonspecific chest pain (NSCP). NSCP is described as atypical chest pain with other symptoms that aren’t the result of a cardiac event.

If you visit a hospital emergency room and the doctors don’t find a specific cause for your chest pain, consider consulting with your doctor about other possible causes, including anxiety.

Anxiety chest pain vs. heart attack chest pain

Chest pain can be a warning sign for a heart attack. Here are some tips to help you determine if your chest pain is caused by anxiety or a heart attack:

Symptom Heart attack Anxiety
chest pain brought on by exertion
chest pain while at rest
increased heart rate
chest pain that accompanies anxiety
constant chest pain
sharp, stabbing chest pain that only lasts 5–10 seconds
shortness of breath
radiating pain that travels from your chest to other areas, like your arms or jaw

If you suspect you may be having a heart attack, call your local emergency services. They can evaluate you and determine whether you’re having a cardiac event or if there’s another reason for your chest pain.

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