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Natural pain relief – 10 drug-free ways to relieve chronic pains

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Pain relief is something we all use from time to time – whether it’s to ease the occasional headache after a long day at work, or as part of a daily routine managing an ongoing condition.

Popular over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen are generally very safe to take, however there can be complications when they’re used on a daily basis for a long time – paracetamol can lead to a “medication-overuse headache”, while ibuprofen can cause stomach problems.

For this reason, if you live with chronic pain you may want to incorporate other pain relief techniques into your daily routine so that you don’t have to rely solely on medication. There are many different alternative or “natural” pain relief techniques you can try, some of which have been used for centuries.

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Exercise

If you live with pain, it’s understandable that you’ll want to rest often. However, lying down or sitting down for too long can actually worsen symptoms, causing stiffness, muscle weakness and poor sleep. By contrast, exercise can help build strength, boost your energy, improve your sleep and reduce pain.

Try to exercise every day – even when you’re in pain. Remember, exercise doesn’t just mean going for runs or hitting the gym, it’s about finding ways to get your body moving.

If you have chronic pain, exercise for you might involve:

  • Taking a walk outside
  • Going swimming
  • Doing some yoga or pilates
  • Joining a dance class

On a bad pain day, try getting out of bed and doing some gentle stretches – these ones can be done while sitting down.

Breathing techniques

Breathing exercises can be a great way to ease feelings of stress and anxiety – but did you know they can also help with pain?

When you’re having an intense pain flare-up, your body may respond with short, rapid breathing – this can make you feel more panicked and anxious, and cause feelings of dizziness, which can heighten your discomfort.

Instead, focus on your breath by taking slow, deep breaths to calm both your body and mind. You can find some useful tips about controlled breathing at the NHS website.

Heat therapy

Heat pads and hot water bottles can really help with pain – particularly during a bad flare-up. Applying heat to the affected area can reduce pain, ease stiffness, warm up your muscles before exercising, and increase muscle relaxation and circulation.

Tips for using heat therapy correctly:

  • Never use boiling water in the hot water bottle, and if using hot water in a bowl, this should be around 40∘C
  • Wrap the hot water bottle in a cover or towel
  • Don’t go to sleep while using a heat pad or hot water bottle
  • Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes then remove

Cold therapy

As with heat, applying ice packs and cold compresses can reduce pain. It can also reduce swelling and decrease bleeding.

Tips for using cold therapy correctly:
  • Wrap ice packs in a damp towel or pillow case to avoid ice burns
  • Don’t leave on affected area for longer than 20 minutes

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is a term for any practice that involves manipulation, massage, stretching and other pain-relieving exercises for the body. It can be delivered by a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, an osteopath, or sometimes by an occupational therapist.

Having several sessions of physical therapy should help with your pain symptoms. You can also get advice from the practitioner on stretches, exercises and lifestyle adaptations to make that will help with your condition.

You should be able to get a referral for physical therapy on the NHS, although in some areas you might need to arrange it privately.

TENS machines

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may not be a traditional form of pain relief, but in recent years it’s become a very popular method for people with chronic pain.

A TENS machine is a small, battery-powered device that sends electrical impulses through electrodes (sticky pads) on to your skin. This process helps to block pain signals and relax the muscles. It’s also thought to stimulate the release of pain-relieving endorphins.

TENS machines are most often used by people with chronic pain conditions like arthritis and endometriosis.

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Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient pain-relieving technique that was first developed in China. Although it’s known as an alternative medicine, acupuncture has been adopted in Western medicine, primarily to treat chronic pain and migraines.

The acupuncture process involves stimulating nerves around the body with long, thin needles, which are carefully inserted into the skin and muscles. This process encourages the release of pain-relieving endorphins.

If you’re interested in trying acupuncture, speak to your GP – sometimes it’s available on the NHS but you might have to arrange it privately.

Counselling

It may seem like a strange suggestion, but getting counselling or therapy can be really helpful when you live with a chronic pain condition. If your pain is affecting your mood and making you feel anxious or depressed, you might find that your symptoms actually worsen.

Speaking to a counsellor or therapist – particularly one who specialises in chronic pain – can be a good way to stay on top of your negative thoughts and feelings, and to manage the effects of your condition on a daily basis. If you’re interested in trying therapy, speak to your GP – you can also check out this guide on the NHS website.

Turmeric

Turmeric is best known as a bright yellow spice used in South Asian cooking. However, it has been said to be used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever in traditional medicine for centuries. Evidence for its effectiveness is limited, however some studies have shown that turmeric can help reduce pain and improve mobility for people with arthritis.

Learn more by reading this article: Turmeric for arthritis and joints.

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Clove oil

Clove oil is not a treatment for ongoing chronic pain, but it can come in handy if you need to temporarily relieve toothache while waiting for dental treatment.

Cloves have a naturally anaesthetic and antiseptic effect, which means clove oil can help to numb a sore area in your mouth, reduce pain and fight infection. For toothache, apply a small amount directly to the tooth using a cotton bud.

Here at LloydsPharmacy we stock a wide range of products which can help with pain relief, from TENS machines to turmeric supplements. If you want to learn more about drug-free and natural pain relief options, pop into your nearest LloydsPharmacy to chat with one of our pharmacists.

When to speak to a GP

If you’re experiencing any kind of ongoing, unexplained pain symptoms, it’s really important to make an appointment with your GP. The same goes if you have a diagnosed pain condition that has worsened recently.

Remember: while natural, alternative and drug-free pain relief options can all be really helpful in managing a chronic pain condition, medication is often needed. When prescribed by a GP or specialist and taken correctly, painkillers can be incredibly effective in reducing symptoms and helping you live a normal life.

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References

https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/5916/smpc
https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/ibuprofen-for-adults/how-and-when-to-take-ibuprofen
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/ways-to-manage-chronic-pain
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/10-ways-to-ease-pain
https://www.uhcw.nhs.uk/download/clientfiles/files/Patient%20Information%20Leaflets/Clinical%20Support%20Services/Physiotherapy/118403_Heat_and_Cold_Therapy_a_guide_for_patients_(1243)_-_DEc_18.pdf
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens/
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acupuncture/
https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/complementary-and-alternative-treatments/types-of-complementary-treatments/turmeric/
https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/files/pil.4817.pdf