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Non-Pharmacological Comfort Interventions

Instructor: Emily Ketchel

Emily has taught nursing assistant students and has a bachelor's degree in Botany and Nursing.

What are some ways to lesson pain and increase comfort when medication is not enough? In this lesson you will learn the definition of non-pharmacological comfort, and some of its interventions.

Non-Pharmacological Comfort Interventions

Have you ever had a really bad headache and didn't have any medication at home to relieve it? Or, perhaps you took something for your headache, but the pain was still there? Maybe you didn't know that there are other ways to get rid of your headache besides taking a pill. These ways are called non-pharmacological comfort interventions.

Non-pharmacological comfort interventions are ways to relieve pain without taking pain medication. Knowing different kinds of non-pharmacological comfort interventions are beneficial. Just like when you had that headache earlier, having these interventions available could have helped with the pain.

Some people may not want to take medication for pain due to personal preference, not being able to take pain medication, having chronic pain, or possibly because pain meds don't control the pain they are experiencing. Through comfort interventions, pain could completely go away, or it may just be decreased.

Do you know the saying, 'the watched pot never boils'? The same can be true of waiting for pain to go away. If the focus is taken away from the pain, then it can be reduced for the patient. This is why most of the non-pharmacological comfort interventions focus on some form of diversion away from the pain.

In this lesson, the non-pharmacological comfort interventions will be grouped in two categories: psychological and physical interventions. Let's first start with the psychological comfort methods.

Psychological Comfort Interventions

Psychological comfort interventions are ways of relieving pain that you cannot touch. The following are three common examples:

  • Hypnosis
  • Distraction
  • Meditation

Hypnosis is when the patient is put in an altered state of consciousness by a hypnotist. In this altered state, the patient is suggestive to their direction. The hypnotist will suggest that the pain they are feeling is not really there.

Distraction is also a form of altered consciousness. It involves the patient focusing on something other than the pain they are feeling. This can be listening to music, watching television, or petting a dog.

In child-birthing classes, women are taught distraction techniques to control the pain they will feel during labor. These distraction techniques are sometimes centered around music and breathing. While focusing on something else, pain is decreased for the laboring woman.

Meditation can help relieve pain.
woman meditating

Meditation involves a deep relaxation of the body and the mind with the intent of the mind to be silent. Meditation's goal is to transform the mind so pain can be lessened. It can reduce pain by relaxing the muscles that may cause the pain, and also by changing the focus off the pain.

Physical Comfort Interventions

Next we will look at physical comfort interventions. These involve pain relief techniques that are physical or involve touch. Three common examples are:

  • Massage
  • Position changes
  • Localized heat or cold

Massage involves a practitioner rubbing the skin and muscles of the body. It can reduce pain by releasing pain-reducing chemicals in the brain. It can also reduce pain by relaxing the muscles that may be causing the pain.

Have you ever had a muscle spasm in your leg? You might know these as their common name, charley horse. Probably the first thing you did was rub the area, to get some of the pain to subside.

Position changes can decrease pain in a couple of ways. It can cause a distraction for the person, and their focus on the pain is decreased. Another way it can relieve pain is by removing the pressure off a part of the body.

Remember the charley horse example from above? After rubbing the area, you probably changed your position to stretch out the muscle until the pain was gone.

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