9 Non-Opioid Alternatives for Pain Management

In 2015, the National Institute of Health released a report that encouraged multidisciplinary, individualized programs for the treatment of chronic pain rather than the “1-pill-fits-all” mindset that’s commonly used in prescribing seniors long-term prescriptions for opioid pain medications. The following alternative treatments may help your loved one avoid or discontinue the addictive, dangerous and harmful use of opioids:

#1: Mental health care

Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors can help patients formulate personalized plans to tackle the biological, neurological, and emotional effects of living with chronic pain as well as assess the patient for potential mental health disorders that can cause or influence chronic pain. A plan may include teaching a patient coping and self-management strategies to deal with the sensation of pain, taking medications to correct chemical imbalances in the brain, and coming up with strategies to regain control of one’s life. Coping exercises can involve accepting the presence of painful conditions, exercise, relaxation, and other techniques to improve day-to-day function. Specific kinds of therapies are aimed at mitigating the negative responses and thought patterns associated with chronic pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy and stress reduction therapy.

#2: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese remedy used to cure a range of chronic illnesses. Acupuncturists believe that chronic pain is caused by blockages or imbalances in the body’s natural energy. To invigorate or redirect this energy, acupuncturists apply needles, heat, and pressure to specific points of the body. Acupuncture is considered a non-invasive, gentle procedure that can increase well-being, relaxation, mental and physical energy, and pain relief. To find an acupuncturist near you, visit the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture “Patient Referral Directory.”

#3: Physical Rehabilitation

Therapists come up with personalized, comprehensive treatment plans that can include guided movements, a structured exercise regimen, and  self-management techniques. Rehabilitation programs have been shown to reduce pain and depression and increase the likelihood of returning to work. During your first visit, a physical therapist will assess your condition and the severity of your pain. Your goals will be incorporated into the treatment plan that they develop, which will progress over time according to your progress.Physical therapy treatments can include both passive treatments like deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapies, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations, and ultrasounds, with active treatments that involve daily exercises to strengthen and balance your muscles to relieve pain. Visit the American Physical Therapy Association to find a physical therapist near you.

#4: Interventional Therapies

Interventional therapies use a multidisciplinary approach to provide a range of treatments and services to people suffering from chronic pain. Often interventional therapies include techniques that address the source of the pain. For instance, if your loved one suffers from chronic lower back pain, a therapist might take images of their spine to find the potential root of the problem. Then, a medication may be injected at the specific site rather than ingested. These types of treatments are usually covered by insurance, and you should talk to your loved one’s physician to determine if this type of approach might be a good fit for them.

#5: Exercise

In the past, people who suffer from chronic pain have been told to rest. However, recent evidence has shown that physical exercise isn’t harmful to patients suffering from chronic pain. Exercise boosts endorphins that can decrease the anxiety and depression that often accompanies chronic pain. Exercise also builds strength, flexibility, and stamina, which can help to correct imbalances and reduce the symptoms of certain conditions. Certain types of exercise like yoga can serve as a meditative practice, teaching you how to build a stronger mind-body connection, strengthen your body alignment, and engage in deep breathing. Exercise regimens are only appropriate for some people with chronic pain, so it’s important that your loved one always contact their physician or an accredited exercise physiologist before beginning any kind of program.

#6: Mindfulness Meditation

There are many different types of meditation, but all forms emphasize mindfulness and finding the connection between the mind and the body. Meditation can help manage chronic pain, reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, and generally increase quality of life. During meditation, the practitioner aims to clear the mind, listen to the body, and exist in a place of acceptance that’s free from judgment. A meditation practice doesn’t have to be long. You can reap the benefits of meditation by setting aside even a couple of minutes each day, sitting in silence with your eyes closed, and focusing on your breathing.

#7: Massage

Massage can help ease pain, relieve muscle inflammation, reduce stress, and decrease anxiety and depression. Therapists use their fingers, hands, and tools to press and manipulate muscles and soft tissues, loosening knots and tension and increasing blood flow to promote healing. There are many different massage options, from massages that are specifically oriented toward certain conditions or body parts to massage that use certain tools or motions. Finding the right massage therapist is essential, so make sure to do your homework.

#8: Herbal Remedies

Many supplements are used for reducing the symptoms of specific conditions associated with chronic pain. Purported herbs that are used to reduce chronic pain include: kava, ginger, turmeric, devil’s claw, white willow bark, and primrose. To investigate the basic information, science, side effects and risks of a large number of commonly taken herbal supplements, visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s “Herbs at a Glance.” Even though supplements can be purchased without a prescription, your loved one should always consult their physician before beginning any nutraceutical regimen.

#9: Non-opioid medications

A number of different options are available, each with specific uses, benefits, and risks. Examples include: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (like ibuprofen and naproxen), anti-depressants, neurontin, anti-epileptics, CBD capsules or creams, and capsaicin creams and patches. Many of these options are less addictive and have fewer side effects than opioids, especially for long-term use. If your loved one tends to get an upset stomach, they can try a medicated cream that’s rubbed directly onto the painful area and enters the tissue directly. Most pain-relief medications are covered by insurance. Always consult with your loved one’s physician to learn which medication will best suit their needs.