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9 Drug-Free Ways to Manage Chronic and Acute Pain

Posted by Nicole Verdesi on 6/25/2021

9 Drug-Free Ways to Manage Chronic and Acute Pain

Chronic Pain Statistics

According to Statista, 31% of US adults aged 65 and over and 26% of adults aged 45-64 suffered from chronic pain in 2019. This is equal to about 38.5 million people. 

There are many things that cause chronic pain, some of which include arthritis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, cancer, post-surgical pain, and more. 

If you suffer from chronic pain, we can help. Here are 9 of the best ways to manage Chronic and acute pain without narcotics or pain medication, so that you can continue living your best life.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) Therapy

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, better known as TENS, is a method of pain relief in which small, non-painful electrical impulses penetrate the skin and release endorphins, which block pain signals from reaching the brain. These impulses are sent through conductive pads called electrodes, which hook up to the TENS unit via lead wires.

Most TENS devices offer a range of intensity levels, which you can adjust based on your level of pain. TENS therapy should NEVER be painful, but users may experience a tingling or buzzing sensation, which is normal. 

TENS therapy is a cost-effective and drug-free method of pain relief. It is also long lasting, at up to 48 hours between treatments. It may be a great option for you if you suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, joint pain, neck, or back pain. Users that have implanted devices such as pacemakers or spinal cord stimulators should not use a TENS device.

Ultrasound Therapy

Ultrasound therapy is a method of pain relief in which sound waves penetrate tissues and promote healing. Unlike electrical modalities like TENS, ultrasound is unique in that the longitudinal waveform associated with sound is not electromagnetic in nature. The electrical energy from the device’s power source is converted into a strong vibratory sound wave, or ultrasound, a sound beyond the normal range of human hearing. The sound waves cause vibration in soft tissue cells, increasing temperature, and inducing dilation in blood vessels, which promotes healing and reduces pain. 

You may benefit from ultrasound therapy if you have muscle pain or a strain or sprain that is struggling to heal. It is recommended to only use ultrasound therapy if recommended by a doctor. Do not use ultrasound therapy on broken skin, cancerous tumors, on plastic implants, or if you have a pacemaker.

Topical Pain Relief

Topical pain relief can be a fast and effective method of pain relief for minor aches. These often come in gel, cream, roll-on, spray, and patch form. Oftentimes, topical pain relief includes anti-inflammatory ingredients such as menthol and eucalyptus oil which cause a cooling sensation, tricking the mind into thinking that the body temperature is dropping which decreases inflammation.  Another common ingredient is capsaicin (found in chili peppers) which causes a warming sensation and blocks pain receptors. 

Topical pain relief works best on acute pain rather than chronic pain. It might work if you have a pulled or sore muscle or a sprain. Evaluating what type of topical pain relief is best for you comes down to personal preference. It is recommended to review the ingredients list before purchasing. For example, the active ingredient capsaicin (discussed earlier) often only comes in gel form. Patches typically work on flat surfaces, so they work best for neck and back pain. Creams and gels work best for joins such as knees and elbows to allow ease of motion. 

If you plan on purchasing a topical pain relief product, please note that it should never be used on sensitive areas such as open wounds, eyes, and genitals. The simultaneous use of a heating pad or other heat device can be dangerous as it causes the product to be absorbed into the bloodstream at a faster rate. As always, consult a doctor if you experience any rashes or irritation. It is recommended not to use topical pain relievers for more than 7 days in a row. 

Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot Therapy

Hot therapy can relax muscles by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow. There are two types of hot therapy: dry and moist heat. While they are both equally as effective, moist heat is found to work quicker. Dry heat is more effective if you are targeting deep muscle tissues, and can be safer for extended use. Hot therapy methods include soaking, and capsicum cream, which causes a hot sensation on the application site, and heating devices such as heating pads, hot water bottles, and wraps/compresses. Many heating devices can be found in different shapes and sizes to best accommodate a particular area of the body.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy can reduce inflammation and numb soreness by decreasing blood flow. This type of treatment is beneficial in treating joint and muscle pains that may be caused by injury. It is recommended that cold therapy be applied within 48 hours of the injury. Cold therapy methods include cold compresses such as ice packs and wraps and soaking. You should avoid applying ice directly to the skin or on open wounds.

The alternation of hot and cold therapy is often recommended, especially for conditions such as arthritis and muscle soreness.

Orthopedic Braces

Orthopedic braces are most helpful when recovering from a joint-related injury. They are used to stabilize, align, and protect muscles, joints, and bones in a specific area. They help to correct or restrict movement in areas such as ankles, knees, collarbones, elbows, wrists, and arms. Back braces can be used to correct posture and stabilize the spine and abdomen in people with scoliosis. 

Orthopedic braces are usually made with materials such as nylon or neoprene, which allow airflow and flexibility. A doctor should always be consulted before using an orthopedic brace. There are many types of braces which all perform differently, and incorrect use can result in further injury. 

Kinesiology Tape

Kinesiology tape stabilizes and supports your muscles and joints. It is often used to treat injuries or enhance performance. It is typically made from a blend of cotton and nylon to mimic the skin’s natural elasticity and allow for full range of motion. It also contains a strong adhesive, which allows it to stay on for up to 7 days through shower and exercise. 

Kinesiology tape reduces pain by compressing or decompressing the skin, which encourages the release of enkephalin and stops pain where the tape is applied. Athletes claim that their performance is improved by kinesiology tape as it retrains the muscles and joints to function optimally.

Although there are no studies done on Kinesiology tape about its effectiveness, it is widely recommended by physical therapists. They can assist you in determining whether or not Kinesiology tape is right for you, and if so, how to apply it correctly.

Pillows and Cushions

Memory foam Pillows and Cushions have also been found to be effective in pain management while sitting and sleeping. These cushions help in relieving excess pressure on your muscles and joints. Many people use them if they have arthritis or muscle strain. 

These types of pillows and cushions come in all different shapes and sizes for their intended uses. A commonly used pillow is the knee pillow, which fits comfortably in between your knees. It provides spinal alignment which reduces lower back and leg pain while laying down.

These types of pillows and cushions are a simple but effective method of reducing pain. They can improve your quality of sleep, and make activities such as sitting and traveling much more comfortable. 


Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine used to treat pain. In recent years, its uses have been extended for overall wellness, including stress management. Traditional Chinese medicine describes acupuncture as a technique for balancing your “flow of energy” or qi (chee). Western practitioners use acupuncture to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues, which encourages the release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers.

Acupuncture is recommended for those who suffer from conditions such as migraines and tension headaches, lower back pain, arthritis, dental pain, labor pain, and respiratory disorders such as allergic rhinitis. Just like some other types of pain management, it is recommended you talk to a doctor before deciding whether or not acupuncture is right for you. It is not recommended for those who have bleeding disorders or are taking blood thinners, if you have a pacemaker, or are pregnant.

Mindfulness and Meditation Techniques

Your mind and thoughts are directly correlated with your physical feelings. This is due to your brain’s neurotransmitters, which control how you feel emotionally and how your body functions. Because of this, mind-body techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, among others, can be extremely effective in managing pain.

Meditation includes focusing on your breathing and clearing your brain, which can help reduce stress and ease tension. Mindfulness includes being fully aware of your thoughts and actions, which enhances performance and reduces stress.

Mind-body techniques such as meditation and mindfulness can do wonders for both your mental and physical health. While their purpose is not specific to pain relief, these practices can certainly help improve your physical condition and do much more to improve your quality of life. Plus, there are no extra supplies needed. Just you and your mind.

While none of these methods guarantee that your pain will disappear entirely, it is very likely that one or a combination of these will greatly help decrease it. If you are unsure about whether or not you should try one of these methods, please consult a doctor. 

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Alice Adamczyk
Date: 7/16/2021
I've been using TENS therapy for my back for over 40 years. I swear by it. It gets me through acute states of back pain. I've also used TENS on my neck, arms, and leg. TENS does work.

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