Therapies to Try for Natural Pain Relief
Medication isn't the only path to pain relief. Find out how to get natural pain relief with alternative approaches.
By Juhie Bhatia
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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Pain can impact the entire body, from your joints and back to your head and hips, often making even the simplest movement difficult. While over-the-counter and prescription drugs are often used to manage chronic pain, more and more people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for natural pain relief. These therapies, such as yoga, massage, and mind-body techniques, are often used in conjunction with medication.
Though many alternative and complementary treatments haven't been as thoroughly studied by mainstream medical researchers as other therapies, they're still popular for pain relief. Some not only provide a break in the stress-pain link, but also give you more physical flexibility to make moving easier.
"In our estimation about one-third of pain patients are using complementary and alternative medicine, and the literature supports these figures," says Carmen Green, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology and director of pain medicine research at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Natural Pain Relief: The Alternatives
Different alternative treatments are used to provide natural pain relief for different kinds of pain. Some common therapies include:
- Exercise.Movement, whether it's walking or pool therapy, is key to pain relief. "Exercise is at the top of my list of non-medication solutions for pain," says Jennifer Schneider, MD, PhD, a chronic pain specialist and author of the bookLiving With Chronic Pain. Dr. Schneider says, "The less you do, the less you use your muscles, the more it hurts when you finally use your muscles." Increase your movements gradually, though, and consult a doctor if you're concerned about how exercise may initially affect your pain.
- Yoga.Another type of movement that may be beneficial for pain relief is yoga. Though more research is needed, one small study found that yoga was more effective for managing chronic lower back pain than following the advice in a self-care book. Be cautious when doing yoga, though, and start with simple, gentle poses. "Some stretches or postures have the potential to aggravate pain conditions or bring up new pain problems," says Sam Moon, MD, MPH, associate director of education at Duke Integrative Medicine and an associate professor in the department of community and family medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
- Acupuncture.This technique is widely used for pain relief, whether it's for back pain or headaches. It's thought that one way acupuncture relieves pain is by increasing the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which block pain. Dr. Green points out that, while acupuncture works for some patients, more studies are needed to determine who will benefit most from it and when to use it.
- Massage.Massage may have therapeutic benefits for people who suffer from pain, since it also aids in the release of endorphins, according to the American Pain Foundation. Additionally, massage can increase the range of motion in the joints. If you decide to add massage to your pain management strategy, be sure to visit a licensed massage therapist, preferably one with experience in pain management.
- Mind-Body Techniques.These approaches, such as meditation, can allow people to relax tense muscles, reduce anxiety, and alter their mental state, according to the American Pain Foundation. “A variety of mind-body therapies — including hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, and cognitive-behavioral therapy — are scientifically proven treatments for chronic pain," says Dr. Moon.
Natural Pain Relief: Getting Started
Though complementary and alternative therapies are a natural route to pain relief, if you are being treated for a chronic condition or have health issues, consult your doctor before starting one of these treatments.
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