Pain can happen for many different reasons. Sometimes the pain is caused by an illness or injury—a shortlived issue that will get better. Some pain, however, is chronic and is caused by a condition that is more difficult to treat, such as arthritis.
While it is possible to manage pain with painkillers such as paracetamol, codeine, or ibuprofen this is not always ideal. Some painkillers have unwanted side-effects, and in general, painkillers are best for short-term use since people often build up a tolerance to them.
This is something that the medical community has struggled with for a long time.1 While doctors may be divided on the best ways of managing pain, it is generally agreed that painkillers should be a last line of defense, after other methods of pain management have been tried.
Popular Natural Pain Management Techniques
Pain management is a personal thing, and what works for one person may not work for others. Here are five natural pain management techniques that have some evidence behind them.
Acupuncture is a treatment which uses fine needles inserted into the skin to “block” pain signals. While the science behind it is debated, research does show that some people find acupuncture useful for relieving chronic pain. It is thought that it may simply be a placebo effect, but even so, if it helps people who are suffering from chronic pain, and it does not have noticeable side-effects then it is worth using for those that benefit from it.2
Hot and Cold Therapy
Both heat and cold can be helpful for relieving pain, and there is some evidence to show that contrast bathing (using heat and cold one after the other) can help certain difficulties as well. Cold is good for fresh injuries, while heat is good for conditions like arthritis where you want to loosen the joints and improve blood flow.3
Essential oils are often used in complementary and alternative medicine because they offer a lot of the benefits of pharmaceuticals, but often with fewer side effects. Many essential oils are anti-inflammatory and as a result, they can be helpful for relieving pain. While essential oils are unlikely to dull severe pain, they can be a valuable addition to an arsenal of pain management techniques.
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The Relieve blend is perhaps the most obvious choice for those who are dealing with aches and pains, but many other blends have pain-reducing properties too. The sandalwood in the Forest blend, for example, has been found to have therapeutic effects.4 When used as a part of a broader self-care regimenn, personal diffusers can keep you feeling at your best.
If you are suffering from tension headaches, back pain, or general aches and pains, then a massage could be an effective treatment. There are many kinds of massage, from using a foam roller for myofascial release to getting a gentler massage from a massage therapist, using essential oils. Massage treatments can help reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and help relieve pain.5
Regular exercise can be a powerful mood booster and a pain reliever. Exercise releases endorphins, which can make you feel better and mask pain. Exercise also boosts your circulation which means that it can promote tissue repair and the healing of minor injuries.
If you are suffering from long-term pain, then you should try to get a diagnosis for the cause. Once you know what is causing the pain and what makes it worse, you can work with your medical team to determine what sort of exercises you can safely do. It is important to try to stay active, within the limits of your general health and abilities, because exercise has other benefits including cardiovascular fitness and metabolic health, as well as bone density and proprioception, which can be helpful as you get older. Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise can help reduce a person’s perception of pain.6,7
Don’t Ignore Pain
If you are suffering from pain that lasts for more than a few days, it is important that you seek advice and figure out what the cause is. Pain itself is not necessarily “bad,” but it is a warning sign that there is something wrong. The cause may be obvious, for example, if you sprained your ankle or hurt your wrist, or you have a sunburn.
Sometimes, the cause of pain is not obvious, however. For instance, stomach pain could be caused by something you ate, an infection, or a more serious problem. That’s why it’s so important to get persistent pain looked at. Don’t put off going to the doctor out of fear of getting “bad news.” The earlier you seek advice and treatment, the more likely it is that you will get good news or simple resolutions to your issues.
Whenever possible, try to avoid taking painkillers. Even over-the-counter painkillers are things that you can build up a resistance to, and that means if you ever do need painkillers for very serious pain, you may find yourself limited to much harsher painkillers.
Taking painkillers for things like headaches can lead to “rebound headaches” too.8 Many doctors now actively discourage the use of painkillers for mild pain because of this problem. It makes sense to keep your options open and to use self-care and small lifestyle changes to take care of yourself when you are feeling slightly run-down.
Small lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and getting regular exercise can make all the difference to your well-being. It can sometimes feel overwhelming when you get on the path to leading a healthy lifestyle, but with time and patience, one small change can lead to another, and another, until healthful habits have become the norm.
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