Though unpleasant, pain can serve a purpose – without pain signals, you wouldn’t know to move your hand away when touching a hot stove, or to avoid walking on a hurt knee. However, some types of physical pain can last for days, weeks, or even longer – causing unnecessary agony and interfering with daily activities.
We tend to treat pain with medication, especially in Western medicine – either with anti-inflammatory medications available over the counter or with prescription narcotics. While these medications serve their purpose, they come with a laundry list of potential downsides. Over the counter medications can be hard on the liver, especially when taken for long periods of time. Prescription medications can cause unwanted side effects and carry risk of dependency. Some pain medications affect cognitive function, making it potentially hazardous to drive or work while taking them.
With so much risk involved in taking these medications, it’s understandable that many people want alternatives to prescription medication. While medicine has its place in pain management, when facing persistent or intense pain, it’s important to have a variety of options available to you. Read on for a few helpful tips to manage pain without medication.
Pain Management Beyond Prescriptions
Cold and Heat
One widely used form of pain management is cold and heat therapy. There are several ways to use cold and heat to treat pain. These include alternating between temperatures or using just heat or just cold. It’s important to know when and how long to use cold or heat therapy to achieve the intended effects.
Cold is typically used to treat acute pain or injury – such as the pain you might feel immediately following a physical therapy appointment for on an injured knee. Cold therapy can come in the form of ice packs, cold therapy machines, or even ice baths. The lowered temperature decreases blood flow, dulling pain signals, and reducing inflammation and swelling.
Heat, on the other hand, is used for relief from longer-lasting pain or stiffness. It can be used to ‘warm up’ your muscles or joints before activity or reduce stiffness you might experience after periods of rest. Common sources of heat therapy include heating pads and hot compresses.
With both cold and heat, it’s important to not overdo it. Limit sessions to 15-20 minutes at a time and protect your skin by avoiding direct contact with the cold or heat source.
Massage is another helpful tool for managing pain without medication. Whether from a massage therapist or a massage gun, massages can alleviate pain through a variety of mechanisms.
First, massages can help repair damaged tissues by increasing circulation in the affected area. If you have pain and stiffness in your neck and back, for example, a targeted massage can help bring oxygenated blood to that area, reducing pain.
Massages also help to release endorphins, which can reduce pain signals temporarily.
However, there are some conditions that can be worsened through massage – such as broken bones, varicose veins, and certain skin conditions – so it’s important to consult with your doctor before pursuing massage as a treatment for pain.
Physical therapy is another medication alternative that can offer pain relief. Physical therapy isn’t one type of therapy, but rather a targeted combination of therapies (including those listed here) designed to treat pain due to disease, injury, or deformity.
There are many reasons why someone might need physical therapy: to prepare or recover from a surgery, strengthen muscles after injury, improve mobility, or increase independence as you age.
For best results, physical therapy should be done on a regular basis – both at a clinic and at home. A patient recovering from ACL surgery, for example, might be prescribed two sessions per week with a physical therapist, as well as exercises at home to recover fully from their injury.
Your brain can be a powerful pain management tool. While you might experience pain in your shoulder or your knee, it’s actually your brain that creates the sensation.
Although it may seem far-fetched that you can “think away” your pain, there is growing research to support the use of mind-body techniques, including mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises in pain management.
The more your brain processes pain, the more sensitive your brain becomes to the sensation of pain – meaning that if you’re dealing with persistent pain, such as from arthritis, your brain may get stuck in a “fight or flight” state. Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises can help you to regain a sense of control over these pain signals and reduce the time your body spends in a high alert state.
Even simple positive thinking – having a realistic, but positive mindset – can go a long way in the treatment of persistent pain. If you believe that you are unable to do any sort of exercise, for example, you are less likely to do the exercises that might help reduce your pain.
Conversely, if you believe that doing gentle exercise or stretching might help, then you’re more likely to do it – and more likely to experience the benefits of those activities.
If you’ve tried these non-medicinal approaches to pain-relief and are still suffering from discomfort, it may be time to consider a different approach. Applying non-prescription topical medicine (analgesics) can provide welcome relief for pain. And today, you can even wear your topical pain relief. We infuse the fabric of Nufabrx HealthWear® sleeves with capsaicin. Unlike analgesic creams, lotions, and patches, infused fabrics work as long as you wear them, so you don’t have to constantly reapply.
Pain management is a complicated process that involves both the mind and body, and you’re more likely to get the best results when you combine a variety of treatments in a holistic approach. See how Nufabrx HealthWear® can be the game changer in your pain management toolbox.