Natural ways to relieve pain

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, roughly 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain (persistent pain that lasts more than six months).* Many patients have been prescribed opioids—painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl—and have had good results. However, this has also resulted in a nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse that has become a top priority for the Department of Health and Human Services. Many people who become addicted to opioids end up switching to the cheaper heroin.* 

Here are facts that should get your attention:

  • 91 Americans die every day from opioid abuse—including prescription and heroin use—and that number increases every year.* 
  • Since 1999, deaths involving opioids have quadrupled in the U.S.* 
  • In 2007, of the nearly 28,000 Americans who died from unintentional drug poisoning, nearly 12,000 involved prescription pain relievers.*
  • Nearly half a million emergency department visits nationwide in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.* 
  • Withdrawal from friends, work, school, and favorite activities
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Doesn’t seem to care about anything or gets very secretive
  • Money goes missing
  • Appears antsy or nervous*  

If you or a loved one is already taking opioids, here are some signs to watch out for that may indicate dependency or addiction:

There is another way to go. If you don’t want to use opioids or would like to reduce the amount you use, there have been studies that show the effectiveness of some natural pain relief methods. Most can be used in combination.

Warning: Talk with your doctor first before trying anything new, stopping your medicine, or adding in diet supplements. Don’t hide any new approaches from your doctor.*

Acupuncture: An ancient Chinese art of stimulating specific points of the body by inserting thin needles. A recent analysis of studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that acupuncture can help with chronic pain depending on the patient’s belief that it will work and on the needling locations and the depth of the needle.* If you go to an acupuncturist, make sure he or she is licensed by the National Certification Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Massage and acupressure: There are many different kinds of massages, but in general, it is the practice of pressing and kneading muscles and joints to relieve pain and stress. Studies looking at the effect of massage on different varieties of pain found that it can be a source of relief for some chronic, non-malignant pain conditions, particularly musculoskeletal pain complaints (e.g., shoulder pain, low back pain). In addition, patients who were evaluated several weeks after treatment stopped showed around 62% less pain than people who hadn’t received massage.*

Healthy diet: Inflammation (swelling, heat, pain, redness) happens when your body’s immune system responds to damaged tissue or infection. Some people’s immune systems over-react and lead to chronic diseases and chronic pain. An anti-inflammatory diet includes avoiding processed foods and sugar, getting 6–8 servings of vegetables and 3–4 servings of fruit a day, choosing oily fish like salmon or sardines, and eating whole grains such as barley and oats.*

Yoga, tai chi, and qigong: These centuries-old mind-body practices have been shown to be effective in pain reduction in many scientific studies. Yoga poses, in particular, can be helpful with lower back pain, and tai chi for osteoarthritis of the knee. The meditative quality of all 3 improved chronic headaches and migraines.*

Mindfulness meditation: A Wake Forest School of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study discovered that mindfulness meditation is moderately effective for pain relief.* Simply put, this is a way to quiet your mind by sitting still and focusing on your breathing. There are many variations, but you can get a free introduction on the UCLA website. 

Hypnosis: Studies show that hypnosis (psychological techniques that increase your response to suggestions to modify your behavior) can have an impact on the perception of pain. One study reported that hypnosis produced significant reductions in pain, the need for painkillers, and the length of stay in hospitals.* 

Exercise: Physical activity increases blood and oxygen flow to tissues and brings healing nutrients to areas of the body where pain is present. Staying active may even help rehabilitate an existing injury.* As long as your doctor gives you approval to exercise, movement such as walking or cycling can be medicine for your body. 

If these methods of relieving pain don’t work, talk to your doctor about other alternatives to opioids to help manage pain. There may be non-opioid medicine you can take that might work. 

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.