Drug-Free Approaches to Pain Management
Drug-Free Approaches to Pain Management
Medication may be a quick solution to back pain, but is it the best one? From side effects that range from inconvenient to downright dangerous, to the expense and long-term effects of perpetual drug use, to disliking pills and wanting to treat the issue rather than the whole body, there are many good reasons to seek out drug-free approaches to pain management.
It’s no surprise medication is so commonly used in lieu of other treatments for pain. In the modern medical world, where a doctor only has a few minutes with each patient, it takes a special physician indeed to get to the root cause of the pain, rather than prescribing pain meds.
Unfortunately, the rise in painkiller usage has its own health risks, like opioid addiction, liver damage, gastrointestinal distress, and other side effects of long-term use of over the counter drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. (See Pain Management and the Opioid Crisis.)
Fortunately, there are drug-free approaches to pain management that don’t involve taking medications and enduring their potential downsides.
Meditation practice can be a good way to manage your pain from the inside out. Studies show that meditation can reduce pain, and it eases the anxiety and depression you may experience as a result of chronic pain. Learning how to calm your mind through meditation may actually change the structure of your brain, so you’re better able to deal with pain.
The practice is free and requires no equipment – just some time and patience – so it’s a good place to start. If you need help, apps like Calm and Headspace have free options to ease you into regular meditation practice.
Regular stretching could provide the pain relief you’re looking for, especially for low back pain. One of the biggest benefits of stretching exercises is that you can do them in your own home, with little or no equipment.
One tip for stretching: muscle pain is often caused by tightness in the muscle opposite the discomfort. So if the right side of your neck hurts, chances are, the muscles on the left side are tight. Similarly, low back pain can be caused by overdeveloped or tight abdominal or leg muscles.
If you want to supercharge your stretching, give yoga a try. Yoga increases flexibility while strengthening complementary muscle groups. Plus, there are yoga routines for virtually every type of muscle pain.
If you attend a class in person, your instructor should be able to help you pinpoint some exercises to strengthen and stretch your pain points.
The barriers to entry for yoga have dropped in recent years, too, with minimal equipment required, and plenty of class options available online.
If you’re experiencing a level or consistency of pain that requires medical intervention, and you don’t want to resort to medication, seeing a physical therapist is a great option. A physical therapist can work with you on a customized strength and flexibility routine, and they’ll have equipment that will give you access to a wider variety of stretching and exercise techniques. They can also give you access to imaging technology like x-rays, if necessary, to determine the underlying causes of your pain.
Massage therapy from a licensed massage therapist is another good option for relaxing tight muscles and tension in your back. It can also provide stress relief, which, in turn, can lead to pain reduction.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
TENS units deliver electrical impulses that both stimulate endorphins (natural pain relievers) and reduce the transmission of pain signals.
Gone are the days where it’s necessary to linger at a provider’s office, wired to a large and immobile TENS machine. Modern TENS therapy machines like the WiTouch Pro are small, wireless, portable and can be controlled on your smartphone via Bluetooth. They’re also affordable, and HSA or FSA eligible. A personal TENS device means lasting, drug-free pain relief when you need it most, whether you’re working, playing, or relaxing.
If you’re experiencing chronic or acute back pain, it’s important to remember that drug-free approaches to pain management are available to ease your suffering.