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Eleven Alternative Therapies For Pain Relief

Updated on February 15, 2016

Pain is a complex experience, that is not only influenced by its underlying pathophysiology, but also by an individual's thoughts, emotions and behavior. A variety of physical and psychological interventions can help allay severe pain. Various non-pharmacological methods that can be used to reduce the intensity of chronic severe pain, include the following :

Biofeedback assists in gaining better awareness of vital functions with the goal of being able to manipulate them at will


1. Biofeedback

This therapy is based on the principle that enables an individual to learn, how to change certain vital functions for the purpose of improving health and performance. With this, the sufferer feels more in control of the situation. As per medical definition, "Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions, primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will." Eventually these changes may be maintained without the use of extra equipment. As for example, in sufferers of chronic muscular pain, an ElectroMyoGraph (EMG), a device that uses surface electrodes to detect the contractions of skeletal muscles, is used. One or more active electrodes are placed on the diseased muscle, and a reference electrode is placed within six inches distance. When auditory or visual feedback is provided to the sufferer, it helps him reduce contractions of superficial muscles, thus reducing the pain felt. Ancient practices of yoga and pranayama (breathing techniques) are eventually biofeedback methods that allow a person to exercise control over his vital functions.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps a person identify overly negative pain related thoughts and then to replace them with more adaptive coping thoughts


2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The word "cognitive" is derived from the Latin word "cognoscere" that means "to recognize or be aware of". This form of psychotherapy emphasizes on the role a person can play in controlling his own pain. In this method, the sufferer has to understand that cognition and behavior can affect his pain experience. Training is provided for progressive relaxation, and cue controlled brief relaxation exercises are used to reduce muscle tension, decrease emotional stress and divert attention from pain. Cognitive restructuring is used to help a person identify and challenge overly negative pain related thoughts, and to replace them with more adaptive coping thoughts. These coping skills are then applied to daily situations. This therapy is carried out in small group sessions of 4-8 people, held weekly for two to two and a half months. The groups are led typically by a psychologist or trained therapists and educators. Techniques used in cognitive behavior therapy include the following :

  • Discussions about coping mechanisms.
  • Role playing.
  • Breathing and relaxation methods.
  • Positive reinforcement.
  • Activities to promote focus.
  • Journal writing.
  • Social skills training.
  • Reduced anger and fear of pain.

In this therapy, the affected person is asked to think of situations that threaten him, and then he is helped to develop different coping skills. This therapy helps reduce incidents of self harm, improves social skills, emotional expressions, reduces outbursts and allows improved functioning in unfamiliar situations, and better pain management.

When hypnotized, a person is more open to suggestions and goals such as, reducing pain


3. Hypnotherapy

Using hypnosis, a person is made to attain a state of consciousness in which he is less aware of the surroundings, and has focused attention and concentration on a specific thought or memory. It is characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion. In this method, the sufferer is guided by a hypnotherapist to focus on the idea of promoting healing and relieving pain. When hypnotized, a person is more open to suggestions and goals. In post suggestion phase, the therapist reinforces continued use of new behavior.

4. Massage

This therapy works best for back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and neck pain. It boosts secretion of endorphins and serotonin, the natural pain killers and mood regulators in our body, to reduce stress hormone cortisol levels and reduce pain perception.

5. Acupuncture

This therapy is used to provide relief from chronic backache, osteoarthritis, sciatica and rheumatoid arthritis. Tiny needles are inserted at specific points, in order to correct imbalance of energy known as qui or chi, in the body. Acupuncture stimulates small diameter nerve fibers in muscles and the brain centers, to release endorphins and enkephalins, that causes reduced pain perception.

6. Yoga

This therapy helps reduce lower backache and pain due to arthritis. It combines physical, mental and spiritual strength of a person. Yogic asanas or postures involve holding stretches as a low impact physical exercise. It combines focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements to provide health benefits and pain relief.

Meditation helps increase pain tolerance and reduce anxiety


7. Meditation

Regular meditation can increase pain tolerance, activity level and self esteem, and help reduce anxiety, stress and depression. There are two basic techniques in meditation, that include -

  • Transcendental meditation : In this technique, a person repeats a single word or phrase called mantra, and is taught to allow other feelings and thoughts to pass away.
  • Mindfulness meditation : In this method, a person focuses all his attention on thoughts and sensations. It is beneficial in reducing stress levels, decreasing pain and to escalate a dull, depressed mood.

Tai chi involves a slow sequence of movements that emphasize on straight spine, abdominal breathing and natural movements


8. Qi gong and Tai chi

Qi gong is a practice of aligning body, breath and mind for health, meditation and martial arts training. It involves moving meditation, coordinating slow flowing movements and deep breathing to calm the mind and reduce pain.Tai chi is an internal Chinese martial art form that involves a slow sequence of movements, which emphasize on a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion. It contributes to pain management in three major areas - adaptive exercise, mind-body interactions, and meditation. It enables the sufferers to reduce their medicines while increasing their flexibility, movement and comfort. It is effective in returning the confidence, that is so often lost in individuals suffering from pain since many years.

9. Natural food items and Supplements

Regular intake of certain fruits and vegetables helps alleviate chronic pain. Spinach and other leafy greens are rich sources of the mineral Magnesium, deficiency of which can cause tiredness, insomnia, and muscle cramps. Pineapple contains the enzyme Bromelain that helps reduce swelling and inflammation in our body, and is a good source of the mineral Manganese that plays an important role in collagen synthesis. Buckwheat contains malic acid that fights tired sore muscles. Figs are a natural source of malic acid and minerals Manganese and Magnesium. Fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexenoic acid (DHA) have an anti inflammatory effect, and help reduce arthritic pain. Vitamin-D deficiency has been linked to a host of diseases, including chronic pain. Those deficient in vitamin-D require almost twice as much pain relieving medication as those with adequate levels. Vitamin-D supplements, eating fish at least twice a week (especially cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies, mackerel, herring and sardines) and regular exposure to early morning sunlight might offer pain relief.

10. Herbal Supplements

Certain herbal extracts such as ginger, turmeric and black pepper can also assist in pain relief. Ginger contains phytochemicals that reduce swelling, and decrease joint pains and muscle aches. Turmeric contains an active curcumin that has anti inflammatory properties, and is a natural remedy to relive arthritic pain. However, when taken in an excess turmeric can lead to indigestion. Also, people with gall bladder problems should avoid intake of turmeric extracts.

11. Regular sleep

A sound sleep for at least 6-8 hours helps reduce stress levels and provide pain relief.


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    • DSmizzle profile image


      3 years ago from Long Beach, New York

      Thanks for this Hub. I'm in chronic pain in multiple parts of my body and I'm willing to try anything.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome.

    • shraddhachawla profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you for your feedback Kristen Howe. Complementary therapies indeed work well.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub on very good insightful suggestions. Some of them--yoga, massage, meditation, and sleep--helped me out, along with Pilates and water aerobics. Voted up!

    • shraddhachawla profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks for the compliments Cris Sp.

    • shraddhachawla profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Chiropractic and Reiki are indeed very beneficial alternative therapies. Thanks for your valuable feedback radhapriestess.

    • CrisSp profile image


      3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Good hub, quite comprehensive and useful.

    • radhapriestess profile image


      3 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Good article, but there is one more alternative therapy you missed which is covered by insurance more than the others you have listed and that is chiropractic. Many chiropractors know massage. Some know acupuncture. Qigong is excellent. Another one you missed is Reiki.


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