Here are ten ways that various experts recommend managing pain without the use of opioids.

Opioid pain medications carry a risk of physical dependence and addiction. Experts recommend these ten less dangerous pain management options as alternatives.

Unfortunately, many people have legitimate pain issues that can lead to a substance use disorder. As many as 26% of people who receive prescription painkillers in a physician’s office or hospital are struggling with addiction. Because opioid pain medications carry a risk of addiction, many people prefer to consider ways to manage pain without drugs. Here are ten ways that various experts recommend managing pain without the use of opioids.

Article at a Glance:

  • There are dangers to treating chronic pain with opioids.
  • Explore ten different non-opioid pain management methods.
  • Specific methods may work better for certain chronic conditions.
  • Using alternative pain management methods may help you avoid misusing opioids.

Opioid pain medications can be an effective short-term pain management solution in certain situations, such as following surgery. When used over a longer period of time, however, opioids can lead to addiction and cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Opioids may also cause a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which actually causes someone’s pain sensitivity to increase while using opioids over a prolonged period of time.

10 Ways To Help Control Pain

1. Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a treatment or exercise that allows an individual to learn to consciously control his or her heart rate and response. They’re connected to sensors that provide feedback about how their body is responding to their thoughts. It is useful for pain management because it can teach patients to control their own pain levels.

2. Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care is an accepted form of treatment for chronic low back pain, neck pain and headaches. A chiropractor manipulates the spine to help the body function properly. They may also order physical therapy and massage treatment.

3. Eastern Medicine

Also referred to as Chinese medicine, this is a term that encompasses both herbal treatments as well as acupressure and acupuncture. Acupuncture, in particular, has been used for pain relief in the shoulder, low back, neck and knees.

4. Hypnosis

When patients undergo hypnosis, they receive suggestions that help them respond differently to sensations and feelings in their bodies. A patient can learn to use relaxation and other techniques to reduce anxiety, which can also result in lower pain levels.

5. Cold and Heat

Cold and heat are accepted as effective therapies against chronic pain in various parts of the body. Cold helps reduce inflammation, and heat can increase blood flow to an area and alleviate spasms in muscles. Avoid extreme temperatures and do not apply cold or heat for more than 20 minutes at a time.

6. Meditation

One method of reducing pain is incorporating various relaxation exercises into everyday life. This includes learning to breathe to lower blood pressure and practicing meditation techniques. Meditation can help reduce the “fight-or-flight” response to pain. There are even smartphone apps that have simple guides, like the Nobu mental wellness app.

7. Massage

Massage therapy is another effective way to provide relief from chronic pain. Most massage therapists will massage the affected area and the whole body to relieve muscle pain and improve circulation.

8. Non-Opioid Medication

Just because you are avoiding opioid painkillers does not mean you cannot take any medications for chronic pain. Among the medicines that the CDC recommends for pain relief are:

  • Analgesics such as Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen (See More: Non-Opiate Pain Killers)
  • Antidepressants
  • Topical agents

You should always speak with a doctor before beginning one of these medications on a long-term basis, as even popular over-the-counter medications can have serious side effects.

9. TENS

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) produces electrical stimulation in the affected area, which has been shown to reduce pain related to musculoskeletal conditions.

10. Yoga and Tai Chi

Exercise can be an excellent way to build up the muscles around damaged tissue and vertebrae. Among the best forms of exercise are those that use slow and smooth movements, such as yoga and Tai Chi. These are both guided programs that also focus on breathing and relaxation techniques. These exercises are also low impact, meaning they are less likely to cause further muscle injury.

Related Topics: 
How should you stop taking prescription medication? 
Can you get addicted to opioids when using them as prescribed?

Common Types of Pain and How To Get Relief

There are several types of pain that more commonly cause chronic pain. It is important to realize that the cause of these different types of pain will be different for each person. While there are several potential ways to get relief, you should first consult with your doctor about which pain management techniques are best for you.

Back Pain

Back pain most often affects the lower back but can affect any area of the back.  Strain or damage to the back muscles normally cause this type of pain. It may also be caused by misalignment or damage to the spine. Some good pain relief options for back pain include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage
  • Cold or heat
  • TENS therapy
  • Yoga

These pain relief options all target muscles that may be the primary source of the pain.

Foot Pain

The causes of foot pain vary greatly, making it difficult to identify particular pain relief options that will work for most people. Some of the best options for foot pain will likely be:

  • Massage
  • Cold or heat
  • Non-opioid medication
  • Eastern medicine
Joint Pain & Arthritis

Arthritic joint pain is normally caused by either chronic inflammation in the joints or wearing down the joint itself. While there are some non-medical ways to improve the pain temporarily, arthritic pain will ultimately require non-opioid medical treatment to manage it the best way possible. Some possible ways to provide temporary pain relief include:

  • Cold or heat
  • Distraction therapy
  • Non-opioid medication
  • Eastern medicine

While these options may provide temporary relief, long-term relief from arthritis-related pain is normally achieved by getting treatments from your doctor.

Headaches and Migraines

Headaches and migraines can be debilitating. The best non-medical way to treat headaches depends on their cause, but several options may be effective. These include:

  • Massage
  • Eastern medicine
  • Cold or heat
  • Biofeedback
  • Chiropractic care
Menstrual Pain

Menstrual pain occurs because of cramping and other normal changes that occur during menstruation. Several non-opioid pain relief options may be helpful for menstrual pain. These include:

  • Non-opioid medication
  • Cold or heat, especially heat
  • Massage
  • Yoga

Managing menstrual pain — or any kind of pain — may still need to be addressed by a doctor if non-medical pain relief efforts are not effective.

Related Topic: 10 Ways to Get Off Opiates

When Opioid Addiction Is Already an Issue

For some chronic pain sufferers, addiction to opioid pain medication is already a reality. Living with an opioid use disorder can be frightening and disheartening, but recovery and effective non-opioid treatment are possible. Contact The Recovery Village now to learn more about how our comprehensive opioid addiction treatment recovery program can help you break free from opioid addiction.

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
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Dave, Vinnidhy H. “Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia.” Hospital for Special Surgery. May 21, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Chiropractic care for pain relief.” Harvard Medical School, February 15, 2021. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Relieving pain with acupuncture.” Harvard Medical School, June 15, 2016. Accessed August 6, 2021.

American Psychological Association. “Hypnosis.” 2021. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Dehghan, Morteza & and Farahbod, Farinaz. “The Efficacy of Thermotherapy and Cryotherapy on Pain Relief in Patients with Acute Low Back Pain, A Clinical Trial Study.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research,  September 2014. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Griffith, Brenda L. “Massage Therapy and Pain Management.” Practical Pain Management, May 16, 2011. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Nonopioid Treatments For Chronic Pain.” April 27, 2016. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Cleveland Clinic. “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).” January 15, 2020. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.