Physical pain brings not only bodily discomfort but can cause stress, affect us at work and at home and alter how we interact with our family and friends. If you suffer from pain, you likely take OTC or prescription pain pills or tough it out. Whether you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, neck, shoulder or back pain, to name just a few, consider some alternative pain relief options before reaching for that pill.
“Many people don’t realize that pills, even OTC, provide a lot of medication to the body – often more than the amount needed to simply dull the pain,” says Beverly Hills-based Dr. Aristotle Economou. Pain sufferers can find relief with the following top ten natural pain-busting recommendations:
1. Massage Matters – The Comprehensive Accreditation Manual for Hospitals: The Official Handbook, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations suggests “massage as a non-pharmacological therapy that can be used successfully in pain management.”
“Massage therapy is an effective part of pain relief and management because it can help reduce inflammation and swelling and soothe stiff sore muscle which ultimately relieves pain,” says Stephanie Smith, Spa Director and a licensed massage therapist with the Viana Hotel & Spa. “Today, more and more pain specialists are incorporating massage therapy into their pain management programs.”
2. Needle Pain Away – Acupuncture originates from China and is the practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at particular points to relieve pain. “Most patients receive pain relief,” says Christina Robich, an acupuncturist and registered nurse. “I can look back and remember how they came in the office bent over or unable to walk, and then see they come back with smiles and a lilt in their gait. A man that had his spinal tract severed during surgery that could not put one foot in from of the other when he walked; he can now run with his daughter.”
3. ‘Namaste’ to Yoga – The American Pain Foundation recommends yoga as a recommended treatment for lower back pain. The benefits of yoga include building stamina, strength, and flexibility as well increasing a body’s range of motion. “Beyond those benefits, pain relief has been associated with yoga in terms of decreasing lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and joint pain,” says Monique Richard, a Nashville, TN-based certified yoga instructor. “Often we do a stretch in a way that connects the body to the breath and allows it to relax, loosening tense muscles and tendons. Synovial fluid in the joints is massaged as we move slowly through a flow of movements. Often, upon a continued gentle, safe practice, pain can be lessened or relieved.”
4. Mindfulness Meditation – A study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that meditation may be more effective than many drug-based pain relievers for certain kinds of pain management. “Mindfulness can transform pain,” says Jon Kabot-Zinn, PhD, who is internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. Zinn’s audio CD titled Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life” provides guided meditations to help people find relief from chronic pain and everyday stress.
5. “MELT” Away Pain – The MELT Method® is a self-treatment technique that helps people get out and stay out of chronic pain. Developed by manual therapist Sue Hitzmann, she says that “MELT restores the supportiveness of the body’s connective tissue to eliminate chronic pain, improve performance, and decrease the accumulated stress caused by repetitive postures and movements of everyday living.” Classes are available nationwide.
6. Improving Strength with Physical Therapy – “Physical therapy can be highly effective for all types of musculoskeletal and neuropathic types of pain,” says New York-based Dave Endres, Physical Therapist and Co-Founder of SPEAR Physical Therapy. “A primary goal of physical therapy is to help chronic pain patients become stronger, because they’re usually weaker from not moving. Physical therapy can teach people how to move safely and functionally in ways that they haven’t been able to in some time.”
7. Get Moving – “While pain may leave a person wanting to curl up in bed with a heating pad and a bottle of medication to ease their aches, exercise is one of the best pain management options for mild, moderate and even chronic pain,” says Endres. Start out with simple activities like gardening, walking or swimming.
8. Distract Yourself with Favorite Activity– There’s no argument that excessive mental stress often results in physical pain. How can you avert it? Different bodies require different solutions. Find relaxation and release from your mental stress by participating in your favorite activities whether that is exercising, knitting, taking photos, listening to music, and reading, watching TV, hanging out with friends or meditating.
9. Ice or Heat for Pain? – Both heat and cold can reduce pain. Cold is best for acute pain or a new inflamed injury while heat is optimal for treating chronic pain or an older injury.
10. Get Topical – Americans are steadily starting to adopt what the rest of the world had known about for years: topical pain relievers, such as patches and gels, which are safe, effective methods for pain management. One of the latest developments are the Salonpas® Pain Relief Patch Large is the first and only FDA-approved over-the-counter pain relievers approved for sale using the FDA’s New Drug Application process. Clinically tested, they relieve mild to moderate pain for sore muscles, backache, sprains and strains, as well as joint and arthritis pain.