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Non-Pharmacological Pain Management Therapies for Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What are non-pharmacological therapies for pain?

Non-pharmacological therapies are ways to control your child's pain without medicine. Your child's healthcare provider will help you choose therapies that are right for your child. Each therapy has advantages and may work best for certain age groups. You may need training when the therapy involves your help in guiding your child through exercises.

What are some common therapies to help control pain?

  • Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat to the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Massage therapy may help relax your child's muscles and decrease pain.
  • Physical therapy helps your child with exercises to improve movement and strength, and decrease pain.
  • A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a portable, pocket-sized, battery-powered device that attaches to your child's skin. It is usually placed over the area of pain. It uses mild, safe electrical signals to help control pain.

What other therapies may help control my child's pain?

  • Biofeedback helps your child's body respond differently to the stress of being in pain. Healthcare providers may use a biofeedback machine to help know when your child's body is relaxed. Your child will learn what his or her breathing and heart rates are when he or she is relaxed. When your child is in pain, he or she will practice getting breathing and heart rates to those levels. This may help your child feel more control over his or her pain.
  • Hypnosis or hypnotherapy may help your child block out pain and other distractions.
  • Relaxation exercises teach your child to breathe in deeply until his or her stomach rises a bit and then breathe out slowly. To relax muscles, the exercises teach your child to tense his or her muscles and then relax them. Guide your child through this exercise starting from foot muscles, slowly going up the leg. Then move to the muscles of the middle body, arms, neck, and head.
  • Distraction helps your child learn to focus his or her attention on something other than pain. Distraction includes activities such as painting, playing board or video games, or watching TV. Visiting with friends or playing with animals may also be a form of distraction.
  • Guided imagery teaches your child to imagine a picture in his or her mind. Your child learns to focus on the picture instead of his or her pain. It may help your child learn how to change the way his or her body senses and responds to pain.
  • Music may help lift your child's energy levels and mood. Music may help take your child's mind off his or her pain. Help your child pick songs that make him or her happy, calm, or relaxed. You may play your child's favorite songs just before a procedure or when he or she is in pain. Music may be used with any of the other techniques, such as relaxation and distraction.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH
    Information Clearinghouse
    PO Box 7923
    Gaithersburg , MD 20898
    Phone: 1- 888 - 6446226
    Web Address:

When should I call my child's doctor or pain specialist?

  • Your child's pain does not get better, or he or she has new pain.
  • Your child is tense and unable to relax because of his or her pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.