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Sweet Relief: 12 Ways to Manage Pain without Opioids

12 Ways to Manage Pain without Opioids

Pain is big problem for millions of Americans. In fact, lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. If the hurt isn’t completely disabling, it can still result in lost income and interfere with daily life.

Naturally, we all want to make pain go away. But reaching for a prescription opioid isn’t the best answer – or sometimes even an option. The current medical recommendations are to not use opioids at all for people with chronic pain and instead try alternative methods of pain control.

That’s why it’s not only important but essential to explore options beyond opioids. The good news is different things work for different types of pain, and more than one approach often provides good results. Here’s 12 options for easing pain:

  1. Physical therapy tackles inflammation, stiffness and soreness and also encourages the body to produce natural pain-relieving chemicals.
  2. Exercise specific for rehabilitation needs, including postural correction, stretching, strengthening and modalities.
  3. Proper diagnosis of the sources of pain.
  4. Common things happen. E.g.) Fibromyalgia patients may have pain related to musculoskeletal or neurological issues.
  5. Weight management can help ease joint and back pain by simply reducing the amount of pressure on joints. Exercise is important because the body wants to move.
  6. Smoking cessation. Studies have found that long-term smoking causes receptor desensitization, which can create a perception that pain is more severe.
  7. Massage therapy/chiropractic massage work by relaxing muscle tissue and reducing nerve compression.
  8. Tai chi and yoga combine physical strengthening with meditation practice, which can be particularly good for fibromyalgia.
  9. Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points of the body.
  10. Dry needling, which evolved out of acupuncture, involves inserting a needle into muscle or tissue trigger points to reduce spasms.
  11. Biofeedback, meditation, and mindfulness help increase relaxation and can provide distraction from the perception of pain.
  12. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for pain because they increase the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, which can inhibit pathways to decrease pain signals in the brain.
  13. Radiofrequency ablation uses an electrical current to heat up and destroy a small area of nerve tissue; however, this approach can be expensive and offers short-term results.
  14. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) sends an electrical current to stimulate nerve pathways. The resulting tingling sensation reduces the perception of pain by sending a confusing signal to the nerve system.
  15. Supplements like glucosamine chondroitin and turmeric can ease inflammation.

Work with your provider to find the best options for you. Keep in mind that easing pain, not alleviating it, a realistic expectation. Think of it as pain management rather than pain cure.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics. Look at how your lifestyle affects your pain. If you’re overweight, losing some pounds can improve back and knee pain. Focus on healthy living factors like not smoking, sleep hygiene, weight control and a healthy diet. Beware of anyone who says that one specific approach will cure pain.

William Hwang, MD


(William Hwang, MD, is board certified in pain management, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and neurology at CHI St. Alexius Health. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders, including diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles.)