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7 Pill-Free Ways to Relieve Pain

7 Pill-Free Ways to Relieve Pain

From celebrities hooked on painkillers to TV reality shows about rehab and those recent Senate hearings in Washington, DC, you can’t escape the news that prescription pain pills like OxyContin and Vicodin -- so important for managing some acute and chronic pain -- can cause you big trouble when used the wrong way. If you’re among the 100 million Americans coping with nonstop pain, scary reports about addiction, dependence and overdoses have probably left you wondering how to safely ease those aches.

We’re here to help -- with good news about effective ways to dial back and even prevent big pain. Proven, non-drug therapies can slash your pain by 20 to 60 percent and let two-thirds of you with chronic pain slash pain-pill dosage, too. 

The Combo Plan. If you’ve got pain that won’t quit – like headaches, nerve pain, digestive pain or aches in your back, joints or muscles – getting the upper hand will brighten your mood and improve your sleep. Try these seven steps:

  1. Move gently. Exercise may be the last thing you want to do, but a gentle program like walking and yoga (ask your doc what’s best for you) can pay big dividends – such as cutting your need for prescription pain pills by 56 percent and boosting the odds you’ll be back to work by 55 percent. Movement’s great for everything from that bum knee to headaches and pain associated lumbar discomfort.
  2. Watch your weight. Not only does an extra 10 pounds put 30 to 60 pounds of added force on your knees with every step, added weight increases your odds for lower back pain, tension and migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, abdominal pain, and chronic widespread pain. The good news? Losing weight takes that pressure off.
  3. De-stress daily. It’s not all in your head; tension makes pain feel worse. Progressive muscle relaxation by tightening, then releasing your muscles slowly from toes to head helps joint aches, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis pain and inflammatory bowel disease. Massage and guided imagery (download the mobile StressFreeNow app at ClevelandClinicWellness.org) also help you relax deeply and ease pain.
  4. Meditate. Turning inward for a few minutes relaxes you -- and helps you control the rhythm if your brain’s alpha waves and that tunes out distractions like pain. This also sharpens memory. Good news because chronic pain can take a toll on your ability to remember names, dates, where you left the car keys. Try it: Close your eyes and breathe in and out at a natural pace, noticing how it feels. As thoughts, feelings and physical sensations crop up, acknowledge them without judgment and return your attention to your breath, focusing on exhaling stress. After 10 minutes start noticing your surroundings again, open your eyes -- and go about your day refreshed!
  5. Make an appointment for more pain help. Therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture and biofeedback, provided by trained practitioners, also take the edge off pain. Ask your doctor for a referral.
  6. Use topical pain relievers. These halt pain signals before they reach your brain. Options include over-the-counter creams and prescription-only patches containing capsaicin (the same compound that gives hot peppers their fiery zing), as well as prescription creams containing stronger pain drugs. 
  7. Get a second opinion about your pain meds. Using strong pain relievers long-term may be a smart choice if you’ve got cancer pain or are suffering from pain at the end of life. After major surgery, taking them while well supervised by a pain management specialist is often essential, too. But for the rest of you, whether you’re stuck on pain meds or just started taking them, it’s the right time to see a pain management specialist to learn about options. Intercepting pain fast can stop it from becoming chronic. Finding new options can, at any time in your journey to control pain, put you back on the road to living the life you love. 

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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