Chronic pain management can be a difficult path to navigate for both patients and doctors. Pharmaceutical opioids can be addictive and come with side effects; those suffering might consider some of these natural therapies for managing chronic pain.

We all experience the normal aches and pains that worsen with age and wear and tear on our bodies. Sometimes, though, chronic pain disrupts your ability to work, go to school, care for others, or enjoy leisure activities. In these cases, you may be prescribed pain medicines. While opioids can be effective, they typically aren’t well-suited for long term or chronic pain and can even increase your pain or cause severe side effects over time.

How is Chronic Pain Different from Acute Pain? 

Pain is a signal from the brain to your body that something is wrong. Acute pain can be caused by a sudden trauma such as a broken bone, cut, or burn or from a surgery or medical procedure. Opioid-based pain management medicines may be prescribed by your treating physician to curb acute pain a patient may be experiencing. While they work effectively to curb acute pain symptoms, the risk for addiction and side effects gives many patients and doctors pause when it comes to prescribing and using them. Quitting these drugs abruptly can cause severe side effects, including pain worse than it was before you started taking opioids

Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists beyond the usual expected recovery period (usually 3 months or more). Chronic pain may be “on” and “off” or continuous. It may affect you to the point that you can’t work, eat properly, take part in physical activity, or enjoy life. 

The risk of addiction and side effects can make opioids a poor choice for chronic pain. First-line treatments for chronic pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapies such as physical therapy, heat or cold packs. As you try different therapies to ease your pain, you’ll need to work with your doctor to target the simplest long-term solution possible. 

When should I stop taking opioids after surgery?

Research suggests that opioid prescriptions typically cover 4 to 9 days after general surgery, 4 to 13 days for women’s health procedures, and 6 to 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures. Specific patients may need more or less opiate medications, depending on their prior home medications, chronic pain issues, and the complexity of the surgery or recovery. 

It’s important for post-surgical patients to follow a regimen for weaning off pain medicines. If you’ve taken pain medications for more than two weeks, you may need to stop using these medications as soon as possible to prevent serious consequences. Common signs that it’s time to get off opioids include serious side effects, reduced pain relief from the same dose of medications over time (tolerance), or behaviors that raise concerns about misuse, abuse or addiction.

Opioid withdrawal can be dangerous, and symptoms can be severe. When it’s time to stop taking opioids, ask for your doctor’s help to develop a medication withdrawal plan (called a taper) that gradually reduces the amount of medication taken. Depending on the type and dose of the drug and how long you’ve been taking it, it may take weeks or even months to gradually and safely reduce your dose and stop using your opioid medication.

Managing Chronic Pain Naturally

These natural therapies may be helpful in managing your chronic pain. They may also help you reduce the amount of opioid pain medicine you take

1. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can help reduce stress and relieve tension — and is being used by people living with all sorts of chronic pain, including back and neck pain.

2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice, uses fine needles—about the width of a strand of hair—that are inserted into various “acupuncture points” on the body to treat your pain.  These needles aid in the healing process and can provide significant pain relief for people who have regular acupuncture sessions. Acupuncture works to restore a healthy flow of an energy force called Chi (also known as Qi). This technique frees up your body’s Chi channels, so energy can flow freely in the body, ultimately reducing your pain.

3. Yoga

Yoga is a meditative movement practice originating from ancient India, and it’s believed to have numerous health benefits. Besides reducing stress and improving fitness, the practice has been shown to reduce discomfort in people suffering from low back pain and even improve the quality of life in cancer survivors.

4. Willow Bark

People have been using willow bark to ease inflammation, the cause of most aches and pains, for centuries. The bark of the white willow contains the chemical salicin, which is similar to the main ingredient in aspirin. Willow bark is sold as a dried herb, a liquid supplement, or in capsule form and may help relieve discomfort from headaches, low back pain, and many other conditions. However, it can cause stomach upset, may slow down your kidneys, and can prolong bleeding time, just like aspirin. So use with caution and only under the supervision of a doctor.

5. Heat and Ice

Applying an ice pack to reduce swelling and inflammation in the moments just after you experience a strained muscle, tendon, or ligament may reduce pain. Once the inflammation has disappeared, heat may help reduce the stiffness. Soaking in a warm bath can alleviate many forms of muscle pain and muscle spasms, as well as various types of arthritis. There are many options for a warm soak, including a deep bathtub, whirlpool tub, or warm pool for water therapy. Adding Epsom salt, eucalyptus oil, or other herbs can amp up the therapeutic vibe, too. 

6. Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critical to managing pain and promoting healing. Visualization, meditation, and other psychological techniques can help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Where you sleep also plays a big role in controlling the way we feel in the morning after waking up. Perform a sleep hygiene audit and consider whether changing your mattress might help you sleep more restfully.

7. Cannabis 

Opioids are prescribed for 1 in 3 people living with chronic pain. Increasing recognition of the harms associated with long term opioid use have generated enthusiasm for alternatives, including medical marijuana.

Cannabis contains compounds that have the potential to relieve pain, nausea, and other symptoms. The components of cannabis that most studies focus on for pain relief are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In recent years, many studies have looked at the effects of cannabis for chronic pain. 

Using parts of the cannabis plant (like CBD oil) can have a therapeutic effect on its own. But when the whole plant is used, known as an entourage effect, different parts of the plant work together to have a more significant effect. When you ingest or inhale THC, the brain’s cannabinoid receptors activate the brain’s reward system and reduce pain levels. THC is a psychoactive compound as it binds to cannabinoid receptors and produces an elevated state of mind, known as a high. CBD does not cause a high, although it does interact with pain receptors in the brain to produce pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.

Other Suggestions?

Have you found any of these natural therapies for managing chronic pain helpful? Have some additional therapies we should consider? Tell us about it for our next article! Comment below or email us at medicateOH@gmail.com.

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Author

  • Medicate OH's Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.