Drug-Free Pain Relief

Sometimes we all get tired of taking pills or having injections. Sometimes, perhaps, we simply want to try other options. For patients with mild to moderate or persistent pain, it may be appealing to explore ways to manage the discomfort without having to make repeated trips to the pharmacy. The following are some suggestions on ways to reduce or control pain without prescription drugs or over the counter painkillers. A word of caution, however: you should still talk about your pain with your doctor and never undertake any form of treatment without being sure it is medically appropriate for you. The options below may work for some patients but not for others. There is no "one size fits all" solution, but there are many options to try.

Physical manipulation

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy is a short-term option for pain relief. A low-voltage electrical impulse is delivered through patches that are placed on a patient's skin, controlled by a small, hand-held TENS unit. This therapy works by disrupting the signals sent along the nerves to the brain.

Acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, and massage offer various methods for pain relief through the manipulation of muscles and nerves. Results from these options range from simple relaxation to complete removal of symptoms depending on patient response. Adding heat and stretching to the mix offers additional potential relief. Many medical facilities now have relationships with providers in these complementary disciplines, with the express intent of providing additional ways to manage pain.

Diet and nutrition

If you want to control pain through diet or the use of supplements, then you need to have time and patience. Most of these dietary solutions take a while to build up in your system if they even work at all. And it is always very important to check with your doctor about any supplements or herbs that you intend to use because some of them may affect the way your prescribed medications work or pose unique health hazards of their own.

Knowing the source of pain is essential for targeting it. Joint pain, for example, is thought to be potentially treatable by supplying nutrients that encourage healthy cartilage, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. If inflammation is causing the pain, many people advocate for the use of turmeric, which can be used as a spice or brewed as a tea. With any of these options, it is difficult to know what an effective dose will be or how long it will take to recognize any progress. Taking supplements or including ingredients with possible medicinal qualities in your diet may be helpful in the long-term, provided that this is done as part of a healthy and balanced diet and with the approval of your doctor.

Other dietary additions that reduce inflammation include omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and brussels sprouts, and probiotics, the "healthy" bacteria found in sources like yogurt and kefir. The omega-3 fats may help with joint pain, stiffness, and back pain. Probiotics help with bowel-related pain and bloating, and also may be a useful component when taking antibiotics (though take them at different intervals, because the antibiotics might attack the probiotics rather than the bacteria they are prescribed for).

Vitamin D has also been associated with some types of pain relief. However, before taking high doses of Vitamin D, a patient should always consult with his or her doctor. The levels of acceptable Vitamin D have long been under debate, but it is clear that many people suffer from a lack of this important nutrient.

Mineral supplements

Calcium and magnesium may offer some limited relief due to their role in regulating muscle relaxation. Calcium has been posited to have an effect on the nervous system, with high doses purportedly reducing the sensation of localized pain. But minerals tend to work only when absorbed in concert with appropriate vitamins -- in this case, Vitamin D and Vitamin C. Before using mineral supplements to control severe pain, however, you should absolutely consult your doctor about possible drug interactions and how high levels might affect normal bodily functions.

Herbal approaches

Creams or lotions with capsaicin, the chemical in chili peppers that generates the sensation of heat, may be very effective at soothing muscle pain. Comfrey extract is also reputed to be effective when applied topically in a lotion. White willow bark is consumable as a tea or capsule and reduces inflammation. Of course, this is the original source of aspirin, so it should be no surprise that it can help with headaches or back pain. However, it can also lead to Reye's syndrome in children and it is not as easy to tolerate as its pharmaceutical cousin.

Not all herbal ingredients are safe for oral consumption, however. Always be sure that you check with a doctor or pharmacist about the safety of herbal remedies. While some can be very effective, there are still companies that sell teas, infusions, or supplements that may damage the liver or cause other health problems because supplements and herbs are not regulated in the same way as pharmaceutical drugs.

Whether it is an intentional choice to try managing pain without prescription medication, or you simply find yourself unable to obtain appropriate drugs, it may be helpful knowing that there are some other options to help manage pain. Be aware that sometimes prescription medication may be the best -- or even the only -- method to properly treat some pain. And even though many "natural" solutions sound promising, they are not always healthier or safer than the pharmaceutical options, so always consult your physician before trying something new.1-2

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.

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