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Man asks what he can do for pain to forestall surgery.

14 Feb
A man with chronic back and knee pain asks what he can do to forestall for as long as possible what he feels will be some inevitable surgery, and BR makes some suggestions..
Dear BR,

I suffer from chronic back pain, due to some disk problems from an old football injury. My knees also give me trouble off and on. I’m probably going to need surgery at some point, but I would like to postpone it for as long as possible. Do you have any resources or ideas that might help?


Dear John,
Luckily for most of us, pain is a matter of perception, and because of that, we can "lower the volume" on it by directing our attention away from it. For acute pain, one of the best ways to manage it, since it’s near-impossible to ignore it, is to take a warrior stance and dive right into it, focusing mindful attention on it, breathing into it and softening the body around the intense signals of discomfort. This is pretty much what we do for the pain of labor and childbirth, and it’s an effective approach. It doesn’t evaporate the pain, but it does make it manageable, by allowing it to get out of the foreground and into the background.

For chronic pain like yours, though, distraction is the key. Our Ease Pain imagery, not to mention imagery for Relaxation and Wellness, General Wellness and imagery to Relieve Stress are examples of using a pleasantly distracting, immersive narrative to gently steer attention away from the perception of pain. In addition to reducing the actual signal, it gives the listener a sense of empowerment and control over something that could otherwise create unpleasant feelings of helplessness.

In addition, Carol Ginandes’ superb new CD set, Rapid Recovery from Injury, has several terrific, gentle Ericksonian hypnotic techniques for reducing pain that are very effective, easy to follow and pleasant to listen to. Likewise for Emmett Miller’s Healing Your Back.

Along with guided meditations specifically geared for pain reduction, we can also use the breath to focus our minds away from the distress of pain - again, similar to certain tried and true exercises for natural childbirth. Andrew Weil MD has a wonderful audio on using the breath, called Breathing: Master Key to Self-Healing, as does Qigong master, Ken Cohen, with Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Breathing.

Finally, mindfulness meditation can be used very effectively to relieve pain, and a beautiful example of various kinds of meditation practices can be found in Susan Piver’s gorgeous book and CD set, Joyful Mind.

Other things you can do for pain:
  • Consider massage, including herbal treatments and aromatic oils that are good for pain. Specific kinds of body work, such as Trager and Alexander Technique are also good for certain types of pain.
  • Yoga Therapy can also help.
  • Energy work, such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch, can help by supporting relaxation and a general sense of well-being.
  • You might want to try acupuncture or acupressure for your pain.
  • Some studies have shown that magnets can help with certain types of pain.
  • Medication can help for symptomatic relief, both over the counter and prescribed. But beware, some pain meds, like Demerol, are highly addictive.
  • For more specific information, visit Andrew Weil’s site,, and search the archived Q and A’s under the keywords: back pain and knee pain.
I hope this helps! Good luck and be well,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award