Chronic & Acute Pain

Drug-Free Help for Chronic Pain

Before popping pills, try these gentle alternative treatments
BY Lynn Jaffee TIMEJanuary 3, 2018 PRINT

Let’s face it: Being in chronic pain is awful. It creeps into every aspect of life. Your sleep may suffer, it’s tough on loved ones, and you feel like there are so many things that you can’t do. Over time, being in unrelenting pain is frustrating and wears you down.

Is there anything you can do to feel better without taking pain medications every day? The answer is “maybe.” Here are a few things that might help decrease your pain, increase mobility, and bring you more peace of mind:

Use heat. Applying heat to where you hurt increases circulation in the area and loosens tight, cranky muscles. One caveat: If the area is red and swollen, ice may be a better bet.

Get a massage. Not only can massage be incredibly relaxing, it also boosts circulation, loosens tight muscles, and helps increase your range of motion. Make sure you find a massage therapist who understands your condition and what you need in terms of pressure and style.

Go to physical therapy. If you’ve not already done so, get a few sessions with a physical therapist. They can assess your condition and give you stretching and strengthening exercises specific to your needs. Not only will your physical therapist work with you in the clinic, but they will also give you some exercises to do at home.

Get on a bike—indoors or out. Most physical therapists have their patients warm up on a stationary bike for five or 10 minutes if they are able. Biking is a great low-impact way to warm and loosen up your muscles and joints and get your heart rate up.

Go for a walk. Sometimes walking feels like the last thing you want to do, but lacing up your shoes and taking a walk actually decreases stiffness and pain, especially if you’re suffering from fibromyalgia or back pain. It’s also good for your lungs and heart, increases the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood, and boosts your energy.

Stretch. Slow and gentle stretching loosens up tight muscles, and just plain feels good.

Try yoga. Gentle yoga combines stretching and strengthening with breathing, through various postures and positions. It helps to loosen up muscles, decrease pain, and relax the mind.

Lift weights. If you are able, lifting weights can help by strengthening the muscles to increase support in the area affected by pain. This is especially true for pain in the neck, shoulders, back, and core. Work with a knowledgeable trainer, and don’t overdo it, at least to start. You can always add more weight later.

Get in the water. Low-impact water exercises are a great way to loosen up your muscles and increase your range of motion. If you’re really hurting, try watsu, a gentle, movement-based massage done in the pool. Whether you’re doing water aerobics or watsu, look for a facility that offers a warm therapy pool. Cold water might cause your already stiff and achy muscles to feel tighter.

Try an acupuncturist. Known for its ability to decrease pain, acupuncture works by altering the neurotransmitters in your central nervous system to turn down the pain “volume” and activate your body’s built-in opioid system. Acupuncture also decreases stress, reduces inflammation, and supports healing. Your practitioner may also incorporate Chinese herbs, heat therapy, bodywork, or cupping into your treatment for the best results. Be sure to look for an acupuncturist who is familiar with your specific condition.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on

Lynn Jaffee
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on
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