Tips on how to relieve pain without drugs
Published Oct 1, 2023 • By Claudia Lima
Pain is often perceived as a warning signal from the body, indicating that something is wrong. Whether physical or emotional, pain affects quality of life.
While many people opt for medication to relieve pain, there are also some alternative approaches that can offer relief without the potentially undesirable side effects.
So what is pain? How can it be treated?
Read our article to find out!
What is pain?
According to the official definition of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), "pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with or described in terms of actual or potential tissue damage".
There are three ways of classifying pain:
- Temporal: acute (for example, a sprain) or chronic (low back pain),
- Aetiological: cancerous or non-cancerous origin,
- Physiological: nociceptive (triggered by an attack on the body), neuropathic (lesion or dysfunction of the central or peripheral nervous system) or mixed.
Pain also has an emotional component. Emotional responses to pain can vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors such as context, past experiences and general emotions. There are also psychogenic pains, linked to psychological disorders, which cause a painful sensation, and unexplained aches pains, in which the origin of the pain, or of the associated illness, remains unexplained.
Pain therefore involves physical, psychological and social aspects. It can be treated in a variety of ways, including medication, physical therapies, psychological counseling and other approaches depending on the nature and underlying cause of the pain.
The most common pain killers and their side effects
The drugs used to relieve pain fall into three categories:
- Non-opioids, effective for mild to moderate pain and sometimes for severe pain (paracetamol, NSAIDs),
- Opioids, also known as narcotics (morphine), the most powerful analgesics,
- Adjuvants, drugs generally used to treat other conditions, but which can also relieve pain (imipramine).
The most common side effects of pain killers are:
- Problems affecting the digestive system,
- Bleeding problems
- Cognitive problems,
- Respiratory problems,
- Water retention or kidney problems,
- An increased risk of heart and vascular disease,
- A risk of drug misuse or dependence.
Alternative approaches to pain relief
Many other methods are used to relieve pain, and their place in the therapeutic strategy is becoming increasingly recognized by healthcare professionals.
Below are listed the different types of pain management that can improve patients' quality of life.
An appointment with a psychiatrist or a psychologist can be a useful way of improving communication around pain. These specialists use different techniques to help patients manage their pain, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or EMDR.
Physical therapy is a paramedical discipline that helps people maintain or recover their ability to move, relax and train their muscles, and relieve muscular tension.
Osteopathy identifies tensions or imbalances that cause pain or discomfort, and then uses manipulations to help restore balance.
There is also chiropractice and various types of massage (cupping, reflexology, moxibustion).
Electrical stimulation can change the way nerves process pain. These techniques include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), spinal cord stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and peripheral neurostimulation.
This technique involves using temperature variations to relieve pain, contractures, cramps and aches. Warm compresses can help relax tense muscles, while cryotherapy (application of cold) can reduce inflammation.
Regular exercise can help reduce pain by strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. However, you should remember to see a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, and the intensity of exercise should be adapted to the type of pain you are suffering with.
Foods with anti-inflammatory properties
Certain foods and supplements have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Because pain can be linked to inflammation in the body, having an anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce pain.
Lack of sleep contributes to the intensification of pain. Working on improving your sleep quality takes quite a lot of effort, but it is extremely important for general well-being.
Acupuncture is a type of complementary therapy where needles are inserted into areas of the body to produce a sensation of warmth and reduce pain. There is also therapeutic touch, reiki, Qi Gong, etc.
Herbal and aromatherapy
Some plants (wintergreen, fennel, arnica, CBD) are thought to reduce the body's production of substances linked to inflammation, and therefore to pain. Before using a plant (herbal tea, capsule, essential oil), ask your pharmacist for advice on dosage and contraindications.
The idea is to surgically interrupt the pain circuit. It can only be prescribed and performed by specialized teams working in neurosurgery departments.
There are many alternative methods of relieving pain, including ayurveda, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, art therapy, balneotherapy and even hirudotherapy (medicinal leeches).
Finding the right balance between the different approaches to pain relief
Pain is often treated with a combination of drugs and non-drug treatments. In addition, more and more healthcare establishments are combining alternative methods with conventional treatments. These methods do not replace conventional treatments, but can sometimes lead to the decrease in dosage and/or can reduce the side effects of medication. These methods have beneficial effects on physical pain, mental well-being and quality of life. They should be used in accordance to your doctor's advice, who will be able to refer you to a specialist if necessary.
There are many different methods of relieving pain. The important thing is to find the one that provides the best relief, depending on the pain and on your goals.
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