What Options Do I Have Before Considering Surgery for Pain?

Oct 13, 2023
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You have (or will likely) experience pain at some point in your life—it’s a universal experience. It could be due to a muscle strain, a broken bone, or a medical condition like osteoarthritis.

What Options Do I Have Before Considering Surgery for Pain?

You have (or will likely) experience pain at some point in your life—it’s a universal experience. It could be due to a muscle strain, a broken bone, or a medical condition like osteoarthritis. 

Regardless of the cause, pain can be disruptive and debilitating. It can impact your physical abilities, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.

Some pain lasts for a short time and goes away. However, some pain does not go away. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than three months or beyond the standard healing time. 

Chronic pain is a common problem. As many as 20.4% of adults suffer from chronic pain, with over 7% experiencing chronic pain that hinders or significantly limits daily activities. 

You’re the best judge of your pain. So, when you feel you can’t take it anymore, consider options for managing pain. While you have plenty of options, going under the knife shouldn’t be your first stop. Before considering surgery for pain, here are some options you could try.

Pain medication

You might want to tough it out when you're in pain, hoping it will go away. However, if it does not, you need to manage the pain, and pain medication is a good start. It’s easier to control pain while it's still mild.

Pain drugs act through a variety of physiological mechanisms to provide relief.

There are various types of pain medication—some you can buy over the counter, while you need a doctor’s prescription and supervision to access others.

Here are the most common types of pain medication you should consider;

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These are non-opioid analgesics often used for mild to moderate chronic pain. 

NSAIDs are available over-the-counter and include naproxen, ibuprofen, and meloxicam. You can use these medications for arthritis, strains, muscle pain, sprains, menstrual cramps, or back and neck injuries.

NSAIDs work by stopping particular enzymes (cyclooxygenase-COX) in your body from being released due to tissue damage. 

Generally, NSAIDs are safe but could potentially cause side effects, especially if you take more than the recommended dosage and over a long period.


This is usually the first line of treatment for mild to moderate pain. The drug is often prescribed for osteoarthritis and back pain. However, you can take acetaminophen if you have a headache, mild injuries, or a condition that affects your bones and muscles.

Acetaminophen doesn’t relieve inflammation; it only relieves pain. 

Generally, acetaminophen is safer (even for kids) and doesn’t cause stomach problems as other pain medicines do. It is sold under various brands, including Paracetamol, Tylenol, and Panadol.

However, do not take more than 3 grams of acetaminophen in a single day because it can harm your liver. If you have liver disease, don’t take more than 2 grams in a single day. 

Should you find yourself in a position where you need more than 3 grams of acetaminophen, it is time to consult your doctor and explore other medications and pain management techniques.


Anticonvulsants or anti-seizure medications were initially designed to treat people with epilepsy. However, some of these medications have nerve-calming qualities that can help minimize the stabbing, burning, or shooting pain resulting from nerve damage.

These medications interfere with damaged or overly sensitive nerve signals to relieve pain. Anticonvulsants minimize or control abnormal surges in brain electrical activity.

Common anticonvulsants for chronic pain treatment include;

  • Gabapentin
  • Carbamazepine
  • Oxcarbazepine
  • Lamotrigine
  • Topiramate

Anticonvulsant dosage for pain is typically low. However, there are potential side effects, including drowsiness, nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movements), gingivitis, and liver damage.

Pain management therapies

Various therapies can ease pain and improve quality of life, especially if you’re living with chronic pain. You can combine the therapies with other pain treatment options for the most relief.

Here are some pain management therapies to consider;

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to help people cope with chronic pain. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that can contribute to pain.

CBT helps you understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and pain, and how negative thought patterns can worsen the pain. 

Once you understand the relationship, you can then work to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about pain, replacing them with more positive and adaptive thoughts.

Moreover, CBT helps you learn relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing to help manage pain and minimize stress. You are encouraged to engage in activities you enjoy and find meaningful, even if you initially feel discouraged by pain.

You’ll need to work with your therapist and set specific and achievable goals for managing pain and improving your quality of life.

Through CBT, you can learn to discover and solve problems triggering your pain, such as poor sleep habits.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT is a modern therapy that utilizes mindfulness. The idea is that rather than trying to eliminate pain entirely, you can use acceptance and mindfulness to cope.

This type of therapy encourages you to discover your values and commit to behaviors that are consistent with those values, even in the presence of pain.

ACT trains you to accept and learn to live with pain, limiting the control it has over your life.


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese method used to relieve pain, among other health conditions and symptoms. 

The technique involves inserting thin needles into specific points on your body to stimulate nerve endings and promote your body’s natural healing process. 

Acupuncture originated from traditional Chinese medicine and has become popular worldwide.

The needles rebalance your qi (body’s energy) and stimulate your body to release natural chemicals to fight the pain. However, no one really knows exactly how acupuncture works.

Acupuncture is used to relieve pain and discomfort linked to various diseases and conditions, including;

  • Chemotherapy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Labor pain
  • Dental pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain

You can combine acupuncture with other treatments to manage pain. Ensure you have a competent and certified acupuncture practitioner who uses sterile needles. 

Remember, acupuncture may cause side effects such as soreness, minor bleeding, or bruising where the needles are inserted.

Most importantly, talk to your doctor before going for acupuncture for pain relief.

Osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT)

Osteopathic manipulative treatment or osteopathic manipulative therapy is a hands-on treatment method utilized by doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs). The DO moves and manipulates your joints and muscles to diagnose, prevent, and treat certain conditions.

OMT is often a treatment option for chronic pain stemming from different causes. It can treat muscle pain and also offer relief for patients with sinus disorders, asthma, migraines, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Note: There are more than 40 OMT techniques. Your DO may use one or a combination to help relieve your pain.

Guided injections

Ultrasound-guided injections are commonly used to treat pain from chronic tendinopathy, carpal tunnel, and muscle tears, among other conditions. These injections may help relieve pain, especially when oral medications don’t help and you’d like to avoid surgery.

The ultrasound guides the needle to the specific location requiring treatment. For instance, for joint injections, the needle is guided within the joint space. If not guided, the needle might go to the surrounding soft tissue. This is also true for tendon injections. The ultrasound guides the needle into the tendon sheath, not the tendon itself.  

Lifestyle changes

Making minor (or major) lifestyle adjustments can help alleviate pain. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help you reduce pain symptoms;

  • Regular exercise: Physical activity can help you manage chronic pain and improve overall physical function. However, you don’t need an intense workout routine or a full-time gym membership. You can simply go for nature walks, take hikes, swim, or do yoga.
  • Positive diet changes: Your diet can significantly influence your overall health and well-being. Therefore, you want to limit certain foods (like those that increase inflammation levels), like processed foods and sweetened drinks. Some anti-inflammatory diets to incorporate into your diet include fruits and vegetables.
  • Sleep hygiene: Adequate sleep is crucial for managing pain. Therefore, you must practice good sleep hygiene, including maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.
  • Maintain good posture: Posture and body mechanics can contribute to the intensity and frequency of your pain, particularly in the spine. Therefore, you should always practice and maintain good posture by aligning the three natural curves in the spine with its natural curvature. This can help manage pain and prevent future injuries.
  • Manage stress: Stress can worsen your pain—it causes your muscles to tense or spasm. And when you’re stressed, hormone cortisol levels rise, causing inflammation and pain over time. You can reduce stress by staying active, sleeping well, and finding distractions to take your mind off it.

Is it time for pain surgery?

Pain can be hard to live with. Luckily, there are various ways to relieve or manage pain. Before considering surgery, explore and exhaust other options, including pain medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes.

You can get all these treatments and more at our facility. We are non-operative specialists who can help you manage your pain with non-invasive therapies.  We rarely perform nor recommend surgeries at our facility.

We understand surgery can have certain risks that might sometimes raise legal concerns. Therefore, it’s essential to seek legal advice before going under the knife.