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8 Proven Ways to Manage Chronic Pain Without Medication Including Acupuncture

From good old downward dog to vitamin D and acupuncture, these natural remedies can provide the relief you need from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, and more.

1. Relax with acupuncture


This Eastern treatment is a natural go-to when you're looking for natural pain relief. "The evidence is now quite good that acupuncture can be helpful in low back pain, headache and arthritis. The benefits of acupuncture accumulate with ongoing treatment," says Robert Bonakdar, MD, director of pain management at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California. He explains that acupuncture rewires the brain by tapping into cognitive areas that control the memory of and response to the hurt.

2. Stay moving with exercise


"Exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have for chronic pain," says Dr. Bonakdar. Staying active "allows patients to increase their level of endorphins, dopamine, and tissue oxygen, all which can help reduce pain while improving mood and sleep," he adds. Dr. Bonakdar points to a 2017 Cochrane review that found that aerobic exercise likely improves quality of life and may reduce pain intensity in patients with fibromyalgia. That said, some people say that exercise increases discomfort, so to sidestep that problem, it's important to see a doctor or physical therapist who can work with you to start a program and ramp up safely.

3. Consider vitamin D


What can't D do? In one new review in the Journal of Endocrinology, Brazilian researchers point out the role that D may play in both chronic pain management and sleep. For one, lack of sleep can have downstream inflammatory effects that make you more sensitive to aches. Lack of vitamin D has also been linked to both pain conditions (like fibromyalgia) and poor sleep. (These are the signs you're not getting enough vitamin D.) The conclusion: Taking supplements of D plus making sure you have good sleep hygiene practices (like keeping technology out of the bedroom) may both help you sleep better and manage discomfort. How much D is right for you? Talk to your doctor before popping a supplement.

4. Aim for a Mediterranean diet


The style of eating has people eating in a seriously delicious way: heaps of fruits and veggies, fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, legumes, and olive oil. "There's evidence that blood sugar control can reduce the progression of pain in knee arthritis and that following the Mediterranean diet can reduce pain sensitivity," says Dr. Bonakdar. One study published by researchers from Ohio State University, he points out, suggests that an anti-inflammatory diet can decrease long-term discomfort, particularly in those who are obese. That's why he tends to recommend his patients follow a low sugar, high omega-3, anti-inflammatory diet. (In fact, he plans to give his patients cooking demonstrations on how to use food to reduce pain.) A paleo diet may also be effective in easing the ache.

5. Stretch yourself


Now that you're moving more, add in yoga. Chronic pain can change your brain—you may lose gray matter, which affects your emotions and cognition, two factors that affect pain processing—but yoga can turn that around, suggests research in 2015 in the journal Pain. "Practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain," study author M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, said in a press release. Yoga and meditation can reduce your perception of pain and reduce the risk of conditions that often go hand-in-hand like depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Just be careful with the yoga poses that can injure you.

6. Sip a cup of java


As if you needed more proof that you need a good night's sleep: a new study in the journal Nature Medicine on mice discovered that tired rodents exhibited signs that they felt more pain after five nights of sleep deprivation. The study author told news outlets that staying up late may be one of the things contributing to lasting aches. You can't avoid late nights completely, so what's the solution for the inevitable candle-burning at both ends? Drink caffeine. The stimulant also helped lower a sleepy rodent's response to discomfort. Stick to a cup or two in the morning.

7. Try cognitive behavioral therapy


Also called CBT, the mind-body approach helps you identify and change self-defeatingthoughts, emotions, and behaviors that trigger pain. You may learn how to relax, identify and change destructive thought patterns, as well as identify behaviors that increase and lessen pain. Simply put, it's a problem-solving approach. CBT, along with other psychotherapeutic techniques, like biofeedback and mindfulness "can help reduce pain levels while also modulating brain activity similar to acupuncture," says Dr. Bonakdar.

8. Use more turmeric


There are so many ways turmeric can boost your health, including cognitive functioning. Add another one to that list: chronic pain. Turmeric contains an anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin (which gives it its yellow hue), which "has historical and now solid clinical evidence for reducing inflammation and pain," says Dr. Bonakdar. One meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that turmeric extract was effective in treating arthritis, though more research is needed, the authors point out. Still, it's worth it to add the spice to your meals (throw fresh root into a smoothie, sprinkle it into water while rice cooks). Ask your doctor if supplements are right for you.


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