Managing Chronic Pain Without Medicine

Approximately 100 million adults in the United States suffer from some form of chronic pain, and it becomes more common with age. But for a variety of reasons that range from expense to fear of dependency to simple ineffectiveness, many people don’t want to rely on traditional medications for managing chronic pain. What sort of options do they have?

First, it’s important to note that few complementary health approaches have been subjected to rigorous research. This is changing, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other organizations have begun sponsoring studies on acupuncture. Second, many complementary therapies are generally safe. However, what may be safe for a healthy adult may not be for folks with certain medical conditions.

Important: It is essential to consult your doctor before you begin any alternative or complementary therapy.

Here are six alternative methods to pain management you may want to consider:


A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, it involves inserting very fine needles at strategic points of the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) includes pain on its list of 30 conditions that acupuncture can help, and the NIH study above offered strong scientific support as to the practice’s effectiveness against pain. Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by an experienced practitioner.

Chiropractic Treatment

Early NIH research suggests spinal manipulation might help alleviate headaches and neck and lower back pain. Side effects of treatment are typically minor.

Massage Therapy

Studies indicate that massage can be beneficial, especially for back and neck pain, and may also reduce stress and tension. Negative reactions are rare, but some kinds of massage (e.g., deep-tissue massage) may not be suitable for those with certain health conditions or taking certain medications (e.g., blood thinners).

T’ai Chi

An ancient Chinese martial art, t’ai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation.” Preliminary NIH research suggests the practice might help with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis pain. Its low intensity makes it a particularly good fit for older adults.


Combining movement, breathing techniques, and meditation, yoga is excellent exercise with the potential to reduce various kinds of pain. The only downside is that people with certain conditions, such as high blood pressure or glaucoma, must modify or avoid some yoga positions.

Relaxation Therapy

Over time, stress can worsen (or even cause) a number of physical ailments, from headaches to ulcers to high blood pressure. Studies indicate that practicing meditation, mindfulness, and other forms of relaxation techniques may help to reduce pain caused by stress.

Finally, keep in mind that although the hard science is not yet in on many complementary health practices, the research continues to look promising. Thus, you or your loved one may experience pain relief not yet backed up by a study. As long as the doctor approves, there’s hardly a reason not to give an alternative therapy a try!