Self-management is perhaps the most accessible, most affordable, and lowest-risk form of treatment for neuropathic pain.
And it’s widely used: 73% of people who took the U.S. Pain Foundation’s 2022 Chronic Pain Community Survey said that activity restriction or modification is a top strategy they employ to manage pain.
When asked about a number of treatment categories helpful in treating their chronic pain, survey respondents listed self-management as second only to prescription medications.
Tips for managing neuropathic pain at home
Zoe Blatchley has lived with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) for four decades, since she was 29. She also experiences neuropathic pain from tibial nerve dysfunction, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, lumbar radiculopathy, and osteoarthritis.
Self-management techniques have been key in treating her neuropathic pain. Blatchley offers the following tips, noting that what works for each individual will be different:
—Monitoring nutrition. Blatchley eats an anti-inflammatory diet, has tried eliminating certain foods, and does not drink caffeine.
—Salt water treatments. “I had brief access to a salt water therapy pool, which did the nerve pain a world of good after first feeling like knives in my leg,” she shares. The first-ever nerve pain relief she experienced was after wading in the Atlantic Ocean. She currently finds relief in Epsom salt soaks.
—Movement. Practicing qigong—a Chinese form of movement, breathing, and meditation—has improved her sleep and stamina, and helped ease allodynia, or extreme sensitivity to touch, in her arms and leg.
—Meditation, audio-guided visualizations, and mindfulness. “I highly recommend Toni Bernhard’s books,” Blatchley says. “They are not only excellent for helping to learn the practice of mindfulness; they also are full of the warm hugs and acknowledgment that only someone who understands and lives with chronic pain and illness can give.”
—Distraction, in whatever form it takes. Blatchley personally avoids stimulating video and computer games, as well as TV shows “that intentionally rev up one’s nervous system.” She adds, “Conversely, I seek out beauty and good humor.”
Reliance on self-management may indicate need for new forms of care
Blatchley’s experience mirrors that of many of the survey respondents, who found benefit not only from activity restriction but also from stress reduction techniques, meditation and mindfulness, diet and nutrition, sleep hygiene, exercise practice, and support groups.
“All the medical treatments available are going to do only so much good as long as we continue to work against them with our daily habits,” Blatchley says. “For me, for so many years, medical treatments and medications did not help, and at times made things worse. I kept looking for smaller changes I could make to try to whittle the pains down, little by little. Over time, those changes added up to make a bigger difference than I expected.”
“I kept looking for smaller changes I could make to try to whittle the pains down, little by little. Over time, those changes added up to make a bigger difference than I expected.” —Zoe Blatchley