Chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life, from sleeping soundly at night to completing everyday tasks. If you have chronic pain, you may have tried multiple things to get rid of it, from traditional medications and therapies, to complementary ones like acupuncture or massage. But if none of those worked, have you considered cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, a treatment that could help you manage your pain, if not eliminate it completely?
As many as 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live with chronic pain. But living with chronic pain doesn’t mean they just hurt. A 2016 report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that chronic pain has strong links to habitual use of painkillers, depression and anxiety. Chronic pain can ruin someone’s life.
A team of researchers investigated if psychological treatment could have a positive effect on chronic pain. The patients they studied primarily had back pain, generalized inflammation, or pain with no other obvious cause. CBT helps people change how they see their pain and how they think about it. The therapy’s goal is for the patients to notice their negative thoughts about pain and reframe them, and then take action, pushing the patients to more positive coping strategies. Once mastered, CBT can help patients take concrete steps, like getting more exercise, which in turn, can help manage the pain as well.
When assessing the available treatments, the researchers found that patients treated with CBT had “slightly less pain and distress,” than other patients. And after comparing CBT to treatment with exercise or pain management educational programs, there was a smaller difference in favor of the CBT, but those patients still experienced less pain.
One of the advantages of CBT, other than it being medication-free, is that it can be done anywhere and at any time. And once someone learns the techniques and is comfortable using them, they no longer have to see a therapist if they don’t feel they need to. It’s like having a toolkit for your brain, easily accessible whenever you need it.
Unlike acute pain, which usually has a specific cause, chronic pain isn’t often identifiable. So, when doctors cannot find the source, they may offer medications as the only treatment option. These include muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, opioids or antidepressants. And while these drugs can work for many patients, they can also have side effects that can cause discomfort too. CBT has no side effects. Although the researchers did not find that CBT is a cure for chronic pain, it might be worth trying to help lessen or manage the pain.