Chronic pain affects roughly 100 million Americans, and 1.5 billion people

Pixabay. Free for commercial use  No attribution required
Source: Pixabay. Free for commercial use No attribution required

worldwide. Pain is often invisible, in that one can have a chronic pain condition and appear “normal,” but have significant difficulty functioning physically and emotionally.

Although there are a number of conventional therapies that are typically recommended to chronic pain patients, including drugs, devices and procedures, often patients complain of inadequate relief. In addition, ongoing pain is linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression, poor sleep, and strained relationships.

The good news is that there are a number of complementary therapies that have been shown to help with pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Many are free or low cost, relatively easy to implement, and can improve coping with chronic pain. In addition, they can complement your existing pain management program, whether that is conventional, alternative, or integrative in nature.

The list below is by no means exhaustive, but includes 5 therapies shown to help foster greater ease and can be implemented right away, and with little effort.

Here are 5 simple, effective ways to help manage pain.

  1. Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of benefits, including helping people be more resilient even to laboratory-induced pain. It can help reduce perceived pain severity and improve pain coping. Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce distress in general, help prevent depression relapse, alleviate insomnia, and foster greater self-compassion.
  2. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. Both pain and depression have been linked to increased levels of inflammation in the body. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of mainly unrefined, primarily plant-based foods, and that includes good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, etc. can help address symptoms of pain and depression and is good for overall health. In addition, spices like ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper also have anti-inflammatory effects.
  3. Hypnosis can help you feel more comfortable. A growing body of research has found that hypnosis, which includes self-hypnosis, can help “turn down the volume” on chronic pain and reduce emotional distress, foster increased relaxation, and get better sleep. In fact, Mark Jensen and colleagues at the University of Washington have found that different types of hypnotic suggestions appear to target different brain structures, leading to decreased distress about pain, decreased pain severity, and can help you focus on developing a workable pain management plan. You can find a therapist certified in clinical hypnosis to work with, or begin by using one of the self-hypnosis audio programs available via iTunes, Google Play, and more.
  4. Probiotics in supplements and probiotic-rich foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir have been linked to a variety of mental health benefits. Among these are decreased social anxiety and depression symptoms, and better gastrointestinal health. The latter is good for everyone, but especially important for those suffering from painful GI disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and others.
  5. Music has been found to reduce pain severity and improve pain coping. It's also been shown to help reduce distress, increase feelings of well being, and help with sleep. The keys to making music therapeutic are to select music you like, listen attentively, and understand that the benefits will increase over the course of a given session of listening (after about ½ hour). Aim for two sessions daily.

These are just a few suggestions, but a good start. The key is that the above are things you can begin right away, are easy to implement, and have benefits beyond helping with pain.

Dr. Traci Stein is the author of the award-winning, “The Everything Guide to Integrative Pain Management.” She is also the creator of 9 (and counting) self-hypnosis, guided imagery, and meditation audio programs available on iTunes, Google Play, and at For more information, follow her on Twitter (@DrTraciStein), Facebook (, or listen to her podcasts on iTunes.


American Music Therapy Association:

Dobek, C. E., Beynon, M. E., Bosma, R., L., and Stroman, P. W. (2014). Music Modulation of Pain Perception and Pain-Related Activity in the Brain, Brain Stem, and Spinal Cord: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. The Journal of Pain, 15(10), 1057-1068.

Giannetti, E., Maglione, M., Alessandrella, A., Strisciuglio, C., De Giovanni, D., Campanozzi, A., Miele, E.,& Staiano, A. (2017). A Mixture of 3 Bifidobacteria Decreases Abdominal Pain and Improves the Quality of Life in Children With Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology,  51(1), e5–e10.

Grant, J.A., Courtemanche, J., Duerden, E. G., Duncan, G. H. (2010). Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in Zen meditators. Emotion, 10(1), 43-53.

Hilimire, M. R., DeVylder, J. E., & Forestell, C. (2015). Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model. Psychiatry Research, 228, 203–208.

Meghani, N., Tracy, M. F., Hadidi, N. N., & Lindquist, R. (2017).  Part I: The Effects of Music for the Symptom Management of Anxiety, Pain, and Insomnia in Critically Ill Patients: An Integrative Review of Current Literature. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 36(4), 234-243.

Ricker, M. A. & Haas, W. C. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory Diet in Clinical Practice: A Review. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 32(3), 318 – 325.

Tillisch, K., Labus, J., Kilpatrick, L., Jiang, Z., Stains, J., & Ebrat, B., et al. (2013). Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology, 144, 1394–1401.

Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., Gordon, N. S., McHaffie, J. G., Coghill, R. C. (2011). Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(14), 5540-5548.

You are reading

The Integrationist

In Pain? Five Simple, Effective Things You Can Do Right Now

Making these lifestyle changes can help with pain, sleep, mood and more.

Psychopaths, Sadists, and the Lure of Internet Aggression

What motivates these online chaos makers and why you should stop feeding them.

What's Gut Got to Do With It? Bacteria, Weight, & Health

How to keep your microbiome balanced, your weight in check, & feel better.