Explore Your Options for Non-invasive Pain Relief


In this article:

  • If you have chronic pain, non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical treatments may help you find lasting relief.

  • Low back pain often shows up in other areas of the body, causing additional issues that can impact your physical and mental health.

  • The Structured Functional Restoration Program at Swedish Pain Services teaches you effective techniques to manage pain throughout life.

Low back pain causes people to miss work more than any other condition worldwide. And with an estimated 25% of American adults experiencing low back pain, you or someone you love will likely have to deal with it at some point.

While just the idea of pain may inspire dread, there’s also a lot of fear and anxiety associated with treatments for back pain, like opioids, injections and surgery. But this year, the International Association for the Study of Pain is shining a light on multidisciplinary approaches to pain care for Pain Awareness Month.

“A lot of patients facing low back pain at first think that their treatment options are very limited,” says Dr. Wilson Chang, a specialist at Swedish Pain Services. “But now there are options that can help patients avoid or minimize the need for conventional treatments like surgery and prescription medication.”

One of those options is Swedish’s groundbreaking Structured Functional Restoration Program (SFRP), which offers a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to pain management that helps you better understand what’s causing your pain – and gives you actionable, sustainable strategies to manage and overcome it.

Low back pain has a whole-body impact

Low back pain frequently radiates to other areas of the body, especially if you haven’t received adequate care or treatment. When this happens, it is called whole-body low back pain.

“Whole-body low back pain can act like an earthquake, where there is an epicenter in a certain area of the low- or mid-back that spreads and manifests in other parts of the body,” says Dr. Chang. 

Whole body, low back pain can impact the buttocks, the legs and as far down the body as the feet and toes. It can also radiate north into the upper back, shoulder blades, shoulders and neck. 

The condition occurs when patients underestimate the seriousness of low back pain and its role in other health issues. It may begin as acute pain and then develop into a chronic problem, at which point the pain centers in the brain become confused. You can then experience other issues that can compound over time, like:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

“Not only do these conditions make it more difficult to overcome pain, they often create a cycle where each is feeding off of the others, leading patients to need treatment beyond just the initial back pain problem.” 

Body compensation patterns compound the pain 

Compensation patterns are another aspect of the mind-body connection and their role in whole-body low back pain. Your body develops compensation patterns when one part of the body (like your back) can’t perform sufficiently, and you either consciously or unconsciously rely on other muscle groups to complete tasks.

“Compensation patterns develop because the body’s protective mechanism isn’t well trained,” says Dr. Chang, “If you hurt yourself lifting, your body and mind will avoid lifting when what you really need to be doing is training yourself to lift.”

The result is that pain begins to manifest in the areas that are compensating for the lower back, such as your elbows, upper back, shoulders and upper arms, creating more problems that need attention. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor to investigate the underlying causes of pain throughout the body.

A holistic approach can help successfully manage pain

Swedish Pain Services uses a team approach to identify all the factors contributing to your chronic pain. The goal is to help you better understand and manage your pain with medication and non-pharmaceutical care like exercise, physical and occupational therapy, psychological counseling, relaxation training and education.

For some patients, treatment may be as simple as a coordinated plan that includes physical therapy, medication management or injection therapy. Other patients may opt for a more intensive approach, like the Structured Functional Restoration Program (SFRP) offered by Pain Services.

How the Structured Functional Restoration Program works

SFRP is a unique, four-week program that meets for five-hour sessions three times a week. During each boot-camp-like session, you’ll work with an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and therapists to address the root causes of your pain and learn pain-management techniques you can use for life.

The only program of its kind on the West Coast, the SFRP focuses on non-invasive, therapeutic methods for relieving and managing pain. Each session includes:

  • Physical therapy to pinpoint the cause of your pain. These non-traditional sessions focus on identifying what activities you can and cannot do and what activities are making your pain worse.
  • Occupational therapy to learn new healthy habits. Incorporating practices like tai chi and chi gong, gravity-assisted and gravity-eliminated movement, and self-pacing, we help you learn how to move in ways that protect your back and the rest of your body while you go about your day-to-day tasks.
  • Relaxation therapy to manage pain-related mood issues. Techniques like breathwork and autogenic training can help you learn how to oxygenate your body, calm your blood pressure and lower your heart rate during a pain flare-up, potentially avoiding a visit to the doctor or a call to 911.
  • Pain psychology to learn how to cope with the stress of living with pain. When pain stops you from doing the things you enjoy or spending time with the people you love, you can feel frustrated and isolated. Pain psychology focuses on mindfulness, meditation and boundary setting so that you can communicate your needs to friends, families and colleagues.
  • Informational sessions with a pain nurse educator. Learn from our staff in a classroom setting alongside other patients, where we share the most current research about chronic pain, medications and side effects, cognitive behavioral therapy, sleep problems and nutrition.

“There’s really no downside to incorporating these non-invasive techniques into a pain care plan,” says Dr. Chang. “They build confidence, enhance peace of mind and give patients sustainable ways to enhance their quality of life.”


Learn more and find a provider

If you have chronic pain, contact Swedish Pain Services. We are available for both in-person and virtual appointments.

With Swedish Virtual Care, you can connect face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your family and health history. To find a doctor, try searching our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Understanding chronic pain

Ouch! What can help your aching back?

Painful joints? Find ways to relieve the discomfort

Five ways yoga improves your mind


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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About the Author

Whether you're interested in physical fitness, an athlete looking for performance tips, or it's time for a full or partial replacement of knees, shoulders or hips, the Swedish Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team is committed to providing you with expert advice on how to prevent injury, plan for physical activity and recover from orthopedic procedures. Our mission is to help you live the active lifestyle you want.

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