Frequent headaches? Persistent pain in your back? While the discomfort may be ongoing, the answer isn’t necessarily to take over-the-counter or prescription medications.

“In the last 30 years, most of what doctors have asked patients to learn is how to take drugs,” says Dr. William Brose, CEO of the HELP Pain Medical Network and a pain management specialist with a focus on pain rehabilitation. “Now we’re coming back to them and saying, ‘We’re not sure that was such a great lesson.’”

Chronic pain affects 116 million Americans. Taking pain medicine on a regular basis can be detrimental, including addiction to painkillers and building up tolerance, making the drugs ineffective.

“We need to do a lot of work to help people understand why that pain is there and how to manage it.”

“It’s fabulous when we have a cure but for the most part, we don’t,” says Dr. Brose, an international expert in chronic pain and the Founder of the Stanford University Hospital Pain Service.

Educational interventions

The new approach? Getting away from a pain alleviation cure-oriented mentality and focusing instead on a more functionally oriented recovery mentality.

On a fundamental level, dealing with pain is different for every individual. “We need to do a lot of work to help people understand why that pain is there and how to manage it,” says Dr. Brose, emphasizing how educational interventions help people learn how their bodies work and teach them to get stronger.

Knee pain for example, might be treated not just by medicine, but also by strengthening the healthy tissues nearby to support the knee discomfort.

Telemedicine

One of the newest innovations in pain management is telemedicine, using communication technologies to treat patients at a distance. Through educational slideshows, narrated videos and real time consultations, patients learn to manage pain.

For example, instead of popping pills to alleviate a headache, Dr. Brose works with patients to be proactive about the pain. He suggests changing their diet and altering behaviors that could be headache triggers.