March 31, 2016

We outline the treatments available for patients looking for relief.


Chronic pain can affect everyday life from work to play to even rest. That’s why finding a treatment plan that works best for each individual patient is so important.

Medication is an option, but Marc Huntoon, M.D., at the Vanderbilt Interventional Pain Center at One Hundred Oaks, points out that he and his colleagues work hard to combat the worsening problems of opioid addiction. A White House fact sheet recently reported that more Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes.

“We don’t believe that’s the answer, and unfortunately it’s led to many problems,” Huntoon says of the over-prescribing of opioid pain medications. “We want to give patients what they need to get better. We don’t want people to have more problems because of our treatments.”

Huntoon and colleagues turn to these five mechanisms for treating chronic pain:


  1. Physical modalities — Heat, ice, electrical stimulation and deep ultrasound are all non-invasive, safe ways to treat pain, Huntoon says.


  1. Medications — “We tend to use a lot of drugs that are classed as either antidepressants or anticonvulsants,” Huntoon says, “but they actually work very well for various pain syndromes.” He’s careful to explain that not all of these medications work well or the same to treat pain.


  1. Procedures — Various procedures like nerve blocks can provide relief, too. But, Huntoon adds that nerve blocks don’t last forever.


  1. Surgeries — Depending on the type of pain and the individual, destroying a nerve might be an option. Technology, like implantation of spinal cord stimulators, has also proven helpful.


  1. Mind over matter —This last category is one of the broadest because it encompasses many holistic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, mindfulness exercises (including yoga) and even acupuncture, which Huntoon refers to as a hybrid technique. “I don’t believe acupuncture should be applied willy nilly,” he says. Instead, Huntoon suggests that patients and their pain physicians work in tandem with an acupuncturist to incorporate the treatment as part of a broader plan.

The Vanderbilt Interventional Pain Center works closely with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine to help patients find a combination of methods to treat chronic pain that may include procedures, medications, physical modalities and mindfulness.