Non-Pharmacological Pain Management Techniques

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to go over some of the options that are available to help manage and reduce pain without the use of over-the-counter or prescription drugs. We will look at how some of the options work and the types of pain they relieve.


Most people only have one thought in their head when they are in pain: make the pain stop. There are many drugs available to relieve pain. They range from the ones you can get over the counter at your local drug store, to drugs that require a prescription, to drugs that are so potent that they are illegal. You can pill pop or inject yourself to pain relief.

What about getting rid of pain without using drugs? Many of the drugs out there are very harsh on our bodies. And, we won't even get started on the side effects of these drugs. Your pain is gone, but you are asleep and cannot enjoy being pain-free. This leaves some people wanting other options to manage their pain.

Non-Pharmacological Options

Herbal and Exercise Remedies

Herbal remedies, even though they can have some side effects, may be a great option for you, depending on what is causing your pain, and the location of the pain. Muscle pain, joint pain (in general or from arthritis), or inflammatory pain can be relieved by taking devil's claw, capsaicin, cloves, ginger or turmeric. They all work in different ways and have different durations of action, but all have been shown to have pain relieving properties.

One of the worst types of pain to endure is a migraine headache. The pain and other symptoms can be debilitating. Feverfew, an herb derived from a flower that looks similar to a daisy, can be helpful at preventing or relieving migraines. You can eat it, make it into a tea, or take it as a pill. It can also help with stomachaches.

There are a few other herbs linked to relieving pain in particular conditions and diseases. Ginseng is an herb that seems to work really well for relieving pain in fibromyalgia sufferers. St. John's Wort reduces pain associated with arthritis and nerve diseases. Kava Kava is a pain relieving herb for nerve diseases as well as stress and pressure headaches.

Willow bark is great for inflammation
Picture of willow bark

An herb that has been on the scene for a very long time for pain and inflammation relief is willow bark. It works well for pain because pain can be caused by inflammation. Willow bark can be brewed into a tea, taken as a powder, or eaten as a bark.

It is understandable that the last thing you probably feel like doing while you are in pain is exercise. However, in some circumstances, that is the very thing that you should do. Exercise causes your brain to produce endorphins, a set of 'feel good' chemicals. These endorphins help block the feeling of pain. Aerobics, water aerobics, cardio workouts, weightlifting, yoga, tai chi and Pilates can all cause an endorphin release to ease pain.

Therapeutic Procedures

There are also some therapeutic procedures that relieve pain. One that you may have heard of is acupuncture.

Acupuncture causes a serotonin release
picture of acupuncture

This is a procedure that uses a series of very thin needles placed at specific points on the body to make the body release serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical released in the brain that makes us have a 'feel-good' sensation. This procedure has shown promise for relieving pain in many areas of the body.

The use of heat or ice packs is something that you may have tried before to relieve pain. Headaches can be relieved by placing a cold pack on the forehead or back of the neck. Arthritis pain can be helped by using moist heat on the painful joint. Pain from swelling and inflammation can be relieved using an ice pack followed by a heat pack.

Working with a physical therapist to do certain exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles may also help with pain relief. This is because pain sometimes comes from stiff muscles and joints that are not being used through their full range. The range of motion exercises will ease pain and increase flexibility, which decreases the chances of pain returning to that part of the body.

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