How to Manage Pain Without Drugs

Try these methods to reduce chronic pain so you don’t need to rely on medication.

When you’re experiencing chronic pain, it’s tempting to seek instant relief by taking medications. But relying on pills that only temporarily ease the pain can have long-term health effects. Plus, they do nothing to help the underlying condition causing the pain.
Opioid pain medication, like hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, is highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 30% of people who are prescribed opioids misuse them and around 12% develop an opioid use disorder (tolerance, dependence or addiction). Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen should also be used sparingly. Overuse of opioid or OTC pain meds can cause long-term health issues including organ damage, hormonal imbalances, stomach ulcers and brain bleeds.

It’s almost never a good idea to rely on long-term use of pain medications – and sometimes it’s best to try non-drug therapies even for acute pain. If you’re looking for some proven ways to help manage pain without medication, consider these options. They won’t help all types of pain but you may find one or more that eases your pain.

9 Non-Drug Pain Therapies

  • Hot/cold therapy. A cold treatment such as an ice pack decreases blood flow, which helps reduce inflammation. A hot method, such as a heating pad, hot water bottle or hot bath increases blood flow, which helps relax muscles.
  • Physical therapy. A skilled physical therapist can massage the affected area, loosening tight muscles and improving blood flow. They can also teach you gentle stretching exercises that help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.
  • Exercise. When you’re feeling pain, a vigorous workout is probably not on your radar. But gentle exercise, like a walk or a swim, can speed the healing process by loosening up muscles and improving blood flow.
  • Yoga. Regular yoga sessions help restore the body’s balance, which builds strength, helps loosen tense muscles and improves flexibility.
  • Meditation. When you meditate, it helps shift your focus to calmness which in turn can decrease stress, a common trigger for chronic pain. One recent study showed that meditation activates the area of the brain that’s involved with how our bodies process pain signals.
  • Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese practice relies on the insertion of very thin needles into the skin in order to interrupt the body’s pain signals and bring the body’s energy flow back into balance.
  • Acupressure. Also an ancient Chinese healing method, acupressure involves exerting mild manual pressure on specific points in the body to promote the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain-relief chemicals). For instance, you may be able to relieve a headache by pressing on the area between the base of your thumb and index finger on your left hand.
  • Dietary changes. Pain is sometimes caused by inflammation in the body and inflammation is often triggered by the foods we eat, like processed sugar, vegetable oils, excessive alcohol and processed meat. Some foods proven to help reduce inflammation include ginger, blueberries, pumpkin seeds and chili peppers.
  • Pain support group. When you’re in pain, it helps to know you’re not alone. Joining a pain support group – either virtually or in-person – allows you to share your struggles with others who know how you’re feeling and to discuss natural pain-relief methods you might not be aware of yet. Many meetings also include pain-management techniques like guided meditations and deep breathing exercises.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 16, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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