Can complementary therapies help me feel more comfortable?

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Jan 3, 2024

Image shows close up of lavender flowers.

Experiencing pain and discomfort can have an impact on our mental health. Here, we explore how complementary therapies can help you feel more comfortable

When we experience pain or discomfort, whether as a result of illness or injury, it can go on to affect our mental health. This in turn can shape how we respond to the treatment or management of these conditions, often resulting in a complex cycle. 

Pain is not equal for everyone. There are a number of factors that might influence how someone manages their experience. These include age, spiritual beliefs, support systems and their emotional reaction to pain. The treatment and management go beyond simply addressing the physical symptoms, looking to reduce any negative psychological experiences, too. This is why complementary therapies have gained popularity. 

Generally considered to be a whole-body approach to treatment, complementary or ‘holistic’ therapies support the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the individual, helping them feel more comfortable. Many CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) approaches have been well-received in recent years, particularly among people living with chronic pain or who are receiving palliative care.

How do complementary therapies help manage pain and discomfort? 

Physical symptoms can go hand-in-hand with how we feel. People often use complementary or holistic therapies alongside conventional medicine to help them cope with all aspects of their health. For example, by encouraging relaxation and reducing stress, many find they are better able to deal with pain. 

According to Cancer Research UK, some methodologies can be effective at relieving pain following cancer treatment where an invasive procedure may have been had. For example, acupuncture can reduce discomfort after the removal of lymph nodes in the neck.

If you or someone you know has been affected by a cancer diagnosis, counselling can offer a space to work through any feelings and emotions you may be faced with.

Complementary therapies work by reducing stress and anxiety that can be associated with chronic pain, terminal, or life-limiting illness. Whilst this may not cure pain altogether, it can go a great length to improving overall wellbeing. Reducing symptoms such as fatigue, sickness, pain, depression and anxiety can help the individual to live more comfortably. 

We refer to advanced progressive illnesses that are not responsive to curative treatment as ‘terminal illnesses.’ We recognise that some people may prefer to use the terms 'life-limiting' or 'incurable illness.’ Please use the language that you feel most comfortable with.

What therapies can help people feel more comfortable? 

Most complementary and holistic approaches are considered safe, however, it’s always best to consult with your doctor or nurse if you’re considering exploring this option to check that it is suitable to use alongside your existing treatments. Some complementary therapies that can support pain management and provide relief from discomfort include:

  • Acupuncture. As mentioned above, acupuncture can be helpful for post-operative care among cancer patients. It can also support people with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. 
  • Chiropractic care targets the musculoskeletal system by making adjustments to joints and tissues in the body. The manipulation techniques seek to address potential spinal misalignment which can contribute to aches and pains. It’s most commonly used to treat lower back and neck pain. 
  • Aromatherapy. Using a combination of massaging oils into the skin and the person’s sense of smell, aromatherapy is an incredibly relaxing technique that optimises the benefits of particular flowers, plants and seeds to help people cope with their symptoms or side-effects of treatment. It can help reduce nausea and vomiting, as well as help manage pain and increase energy. 
  • Massage therapy can help relieve pain and discomfort as well as decrease anxiety and increase relaxation. 
  • Reflexology is one of the most common therapies used among palliative care cancer patients, as it can help with some of the main side effects such as nausea, tiredness, sleeping problems, constipation and pain. It’s also one of the easiest to perform, as the individual doesn’t have to be moved – reflexology generally focuses solely on the feet. 

For some people who are experiencing severe pain, touch-based therapies may be too uncomfortable. Fortunately, other types of complementary therapies take a hands-off approach.

  • Reiki. Whilst Reiki can be hands-on, it can also be hands-off and therefore helpful for people who may have intense discomfort. It is an energy healing system which looks to re-balance an individual’s life-force energy, which can in turn support healing and the management of symptoms. 

How do I find a complementary therapist? 

Some hospices may provide free or low-cost complementary therapies for those receiving palliative care, however, most people seek these therapies privately. If you’re experiencing pain and want to explore holistic approaches to feel more comfortable, you can find out more about each type on Therapy Directory. 

Top tip: Most complementary therapies are unregulated in the UK. This means that anyone can call themselves a holistic therapist. We recommend checking that practitioners have qualifications and insurance or are registered with a professional body. On Therapy Directory, our professionals are verified so you can be sure you’re working with someone qualified and experienced. 

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