Does Drug-Free Pain Management Actually Work?

Pain Awareness

Ready to ditch pain meds? Here are some other treatment options for managing chronic pain.

If you experience ongoing pain from an injury, illness, or chronic medical condition, taking medication isn’t the only way to feel better. Many drug-free treatments are available to help you manage pain without side effects or the danger of addiction.

All medications can cause side effects or health problems, even the over-the-counter drugs you buy at the store. Depending on the medication, you may feel dizzy, nauseated, or tired. Or the ingredients may damage your liver or kidneys. Some may raise blood pressure or even increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Some drugs, especially pain medications like opioids, can cause addiction. Overdosing is also a danger of these drugs. Thousands of people die every year due to overdoses from prescription opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Due to growing issues surrounding the use and misuse of opioid pain medication, as well as the other potential dangers of using pain meds on a regular basis, your doctor may suggest that you try another way to control your pain. Some drug-free pain management treatments include:

  • Physical Therapy: The exercises you do during physical therapy stretch and strengthen your muscles and joints, reduce pain, make it easier to move your body, stop muscle spasms and help reduce the need for opioids. In one study, people who had shoulder, neck, knee or low-back pain were 7 to 16% less likely to need opioids if they started physical therapy within three months of pain diagnosis.
  • Acupuncture: This may help if you have migraines, tension headaches, arthritis, or neck, back or knee pain. During acupuncture treatment, very thin needles are placed in your skin at specific areas to boost your body’s natural painkillers. The needles only cause a mild ache or tingling feeling when they’re put in your skin.
  • Massage: This loosens your muscles, eases pain and makes you feel relaxed. During a massage, your body releases brain chemicals that control pain naturally. Massage could be helpful for headaches, fibromyalgia, knee arthritis and neck or shoulder pain. It may also help other painful conditions, but more research is needed.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): This uses a mild electrical current to stop pain signals from reaching the brain. If the brain doesn’t get the signals from your nerves, you won’t feel pain or your pain will be less. TENS may ease pain in your back, neck, elbow, wrists, ankles and joints.
  • Nerve Block: With this treatment, your doctor injects medication that numbs the nerves in a painful area, stopping or reducing pain. A nerve block may be a good idea if you have low-back or neck pain, shingles, Raynaud’s syndrome or cancer pain.
  • Other Treatments: Radio wave treatment, counseling, exercise, biofeedback, spinal cord stimulation and other therapies may also help you manage pain without taking drugs.

If you have chronic pain and don’t want to take pain medication, talk to your doctor about what alternative therapies may be most effective at helping you manage your pain.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 19, 2021

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

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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