We haven’t always had modern medicine, and over the years, people have found a range of ways to manage serious and chronic pain, some more effectively than others. Often the best course of action is to pursue “complementary medicine”, which is an approach that combines alternative therapies, many of which have been known about for millennia, with what we now regard as conventional, or modern, medicine. These alternative therapies include chiropractic and massage treatment, yoga and other exercise, herbal and diet-based remedies, aromatherapy, acupuncture and others.

These therapies may have several effects on pain sufferers, including temporary alleviation of pain, improved mood and mental health, and an enhancement of the efficacy of drugs and conventional medicine and treatments. More research remains to be done on many of these alternatives, and individuals may find relief and respite from these approaches in ways that are unique to them.

Massage and Chiropractic Treatment

Even apart from its impact on pain sites, massage can help to lower stress and tension levels by enhancing blood flow through the body and reducing the presence of certain substances responsible for the sustained feelings of pain. Such therapy has been shown to have a particularly positive effect on those that suffer back pain.

Chiropractic therapy is the most common non-surgical treatment for back pain and can be helpful to people with neck pain and whiplash, arm and leg issues as well as headaches, though there is some inherent risk in such treatments, particularly when performed by non-licensed or inexperienced providers, such as pinched nerves and herniated discs.

Exercise and Yoga

Good aerobic health has been correlated with improvements in pain, and exercise can be considered as much a preventative therapy as treatment. The body responds to exercise by producing certain natural painkillers including endorphins, which can work to increase your threshold for experiencing pain.

Of course, exercise that inflames or exacerbates pain should be avoided, but where possible, individuals can start slowly and gently (such as walking) and build up gradually to higher levels of intensity. This approach should be taken only after discussion with a pain specialist to avoid unintentional consequences that may come from overcompensating with other body parts.

Yoga is great for increasing strength and flexibility, and may help pain associated with back, knee, carpal tunnel, and other pain issues.  Another benefit of yoga is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety which may reinforce pain.

Diet and Nutrition

Certain foods contain anti-inflammatory substances that can work to ease pain over time. Some individuals suffering from fibromyalgia have reported finding a vegetarian diet to be helpful, though this has not been definitively proven. Similarly, low fat vegetarian diets have been suggested to alleviate the intensity and duration of premenstrual symptoms.

Weight loss achieved through diet and exercise can indirectly provide relief from osteoarthritis pain by reducing stress on the body.

Some studies have looked at the impact of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate on knee osteoarthritis, and early evidence suggests that fish oils and turmeric may be useful as a supplement to help with chronic pain symptoms, though further research is needed.

Herbal Remedies

One of the oldest categories of alternative pain therapy is the use of herbal substances, including ginger extract for joint and muscle pain, feverfew for headaches, stomachaches, and toothaches and devil’s claw, a south African herb for arthritis and lower back pain.

While positive impacts have been experienced through these therapies, doctors advise caution and recommend in most cases that pregnant women avoid these. Side effects may be common, and there are risks associated with their interaction with conventional medication.


Whether you understand (or believe) the concept of acupuncture, as developed by sixteenth century Chinese physicians, which states that needles stimulate the body’s energy-carrying channels to return balance, it has become a widely used alternative therapy.

It is thought to alleviate pain through the release of endorphins by stimulating certain muscle nerves. Common ailments for which acupuncture is used include headache, lower back pain, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Consider with Caution

Alternative therapies should not be assumed to be benign, and while they may be useful as part of a pain management plan, you should seek advice from your doctor before attempting them to avoid physical risks or interaction with existing medications.

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