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Drug-Free Pain Management

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Manage Pain

Often, it is beneficial to make long-term lifestyle changes in order to help manage chronic pain. By developing healthy habits at home and at work, many people are able to manage all types of chronic pain, without the use of medications.

Some healthy lifestyle practices include:

  • Getting 7 to 9 hours of deep, restorative sleep each night
  • Nurturing positive relationships
  • Creating a positive work environment, with a comfortable, ergonomically friendly work station
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating healthfully

Developing positive lifestyle habits helps strengthen your immune system, reduce the body’s production of cortisol (the stress hormone), improve cellular repair and enhance your overall well-being, which, in turn, helps relieve chronic pain.

More than 100 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. ¹

However, pain management can be a tricky topic, because there are many factors that play a role in the persistence of pain. In fact, many experts agree that pain is more than just a physical ailment. For instance, Steven Stanos, D.O., medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Center for Pain Management, says that it is beneficial to take a “bio-psycho-social approach” to treating chronic pain.²

Dr. Stanos points to the importance of treating the biological, or physical, root cause of pain (which might initially include the use of certain medications) as well as the psychological and social aspects of chronic pain. Psychological components of chronic pain include depression, fear and anxiety while social aspects of chronic pain include a patient’s ability to work, maintain friendships and simply function overall.

With this holistic approach to pain management in mind, let’s discuss some of the drug-free approaches to managing chronic pain. (Note: Pain management typically requires a trial-and-error treatment approach, and often involves a combination of multiple therapies or treatments.)

Alternative Pain Management Therapies

  • Acupuncture. Acupuncturists insert thin needles through the skin to stimulate specific points on the body, which helps alleviate pain, as well as treat various other conditions. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine and is widely accepted in Western culture too.
  • Acupressure. This technique follows the same principles as acupuncture, but without the use of needles. Acupressure practitioners apply pressure to certain acupressure points that lie along the channels (meridians) in the body. Both acupuncture and acupressure work to restore balance throughout the body by stimulating certain points along the 12 major meridians in the body.
  • Massage. This technique has been shown to help relieve pain associated with many conditions, including cancer, postoperative recovery, back pain, tension, myalgia and many more.³
  • Yoga. Yoga can be described as an Indian practice of holding poses and stretching, with a strong focus on the breath and meditative qualities. It has been shown to improve pain tolerance and positively alter brain anatomy.⁴
  • Physical therapy. There are many different exercises used in physical therapy, but they are all designed to strengthen weak areas of the body and restore balance.
  • Tai Chi. This ancient Chinese practice involves slowly flowing from one movement to another to improve balance and regulate the body’s life-giving energy, known as chi.
  • Diet.  Many experts believe that certain natural foods carry medicinal properties that can help relieve many ailments, including chronic pain. For example, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, which often accompanies pain, while ginger root has been shown to inhibit molecules that cause pain.
  • Mind-Body Medicine. Many techniques fall under this category, including meditation, guided imagery, relaxation and biofeedback. These practices involve using the power of the mind to produce physical changes in the body.

These are only a short list of pain management techniques that can be used in combination with or instead of medication use. If you would like to find out more about alternative pain management therapies, contact your acupuncturist today.


  1. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/pain/chronic.htm
  2. http://www.aarp.org/health/alternative-medicine/info-11-2008/drug_free_remedies_chronic_pain.html
  3. http://www.amtamassage.org/statement6.html
  4. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/062013
  5. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pain-relief-outside-the-pill-bottle-201206184896