7 Efficient Non Pharmacological Pain Management Options

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Only 10 short years ago, in 2011, there was an opioid crisis in the US. These were not just the illegal opioids – but also prescribed painkillers. People were in pain for different reasons and their physicians were way too quick to prescribe opioids to deal with that pain. This lead to the overuse of these medications and to the resulting crisis. As a reaction to this crisis, people started turning toward other, non pharmacological pain management. The prescription of opioids has decreased to 60% of its 2011 peak. It still remains an ongoing problem, even though the numbers are lower.

Today, there are different ways to get your pain relief without reaching for medicine, no matter if it’s chronic pain or injury-related. Here is a list of the most effective non pharmacological pain relief methods:

Red Light Therapy

If your pain is a consequence of an injury, red light therapy makes the perfect non-pharmaceutical pain relief method for you. It will help you deal with your injury in two ways. First, red and near-infrared help your body release its natural painkillers. 

Photobiomodulation triggers the release of serotonin and endorphin, and also peripheral opioid levels. These chemicals originating from your own body, help you achieve pain relief and there are no medicines involved.

While these natural pain relief hormones and neurotransmitters do their thing, red light therapy also helps your body eliminate the cause of the pain. It activates your immunity to fight off any possible inflammation while boosting the blood flow aiding the restructuring of the broken tissue and repairing the nerve damage. 

Red light therapy can also help with different types of chronic pain as well. 

TENS Machine 

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). These machines consist of several electrode patches that you attach to your body through which a low-voltage electric current is released. The TENS machine delivers the current in a constant flow, pulses, waves, and other ways. 

There are several ideas about how TENS actually works, but two of them are the most common. The first one is that the low-voltage current is blocking your feelings of pain by affecting the nerve cells. The other idea is that this type of stimulation releases endorphins which consequently block the pain.

Physical Therapy

This is one of the go-to therapies when it comes to healing injuries, but also when it comes to issues such as arthritis. It is used as a non pharmacological pain management tool for both acute and chronic pain.

If you have suffered an acute injury, the main goal of your physical therapy will be to promote healing and help you return to your daily activities. A big part of it is also making sure you are not causing more damage to your injury. This will include showing you how to safely move, exercise, and identify positions in which your injury isn’t painful.

For chronic pain, physical therapy helps you identify the factors which lead to such painful states. While the usual suspects might be chronic injuries, weak muscles, and bad movement patterns, a good physical therapist won’t neglect your emotional state and behavioral factors. 

Physical therapy can include:

  • Exercise
  • Education about your condition
  • Manual therapy


CBD stands for cannabidiol. While this substance comes from a cannabis plant, it is not a psychoactive substance and it doesn’t cause intoxication. The active substance of a cannabis plant that causes such effects is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and this component is present in traces in any CBD product. These products can be taken in different ways:

  • Orally
  • Inhalation
  • Topical application

CBD oil is usually a preferred pain relief option for people who suffer from chronic pain. They also report it has beneficial effects on their anxiety levels and sleep disruptions. 


Acupuncture is one of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese believe that this is a powerful pain relief method that requires no painkillers of any kind. The basis of traditional acupuncture is the flow of the vital energy – Qi. This energy keeps the body, mind, and spirit healthy. If something is blocking Qi, or it is not in balance- that is when the pain and illness occur. 

Qi travels through its main pathways – meridians. By inserting needles and stimulating certain acupoints on the body, they unblock, release, and rebalance your Qi. 

In medical terms, acupuncture stimulates the nerves and hormonal pathways. As a result, your body releases all the necessary neurotransmitters, hormones, and cytokines responsible for healing and pain relief.


Most of us enjoy a good massage. Everybody is aware of its relaxation effects. It is also used as a non pharmacological pain relief option. According to the University of Michigan, massage has two effects on the human body:

“Massage causes physiological changes in your body through:

  • The relaxation response which is an involuntary, yet a predictable response of the nervous system to massage techniques and touch
  • Mechanical responses, which are physical effects that occur in the body when pressure is applied to the soft tissues  

Together, these responses can produce physical and emotional benefits.”

How Does Massage Work?, Beth Burgan, MA, MFA

They further explain that the mechanical responses include improved blood and lymph circulation, as well as normalization of the soft tissue that benefits the nervous system. These effects improve support for the body’s system to heal and repair itself. In addition to this, the relaxation response triggers all the right hormones and neurotransmitters for pain relief.


Hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy involves treating the pain in different ways, by using water. It is possible to treat the pain by using jets of water for massaging and get similar effects as a regular massage. At the same time, submerging the body into the water can help alleviate the pressure from the pain points due to the fact that water supports the body.

Also, water that is used for aquatic therapy can have different temperatures. Sometimes, warm water will have relaxing, or pain-relieving effects, while sometimes, cold water that numbs certain areas is just the thing to make the pain go away. 

Besides these methods, you can also explore non pharmacological pain management techniques such as yoga, tai-chi, mind-body therapies, reiki, and other similar holistic approaches. If your pain levels allow, it is always a good idea to try adjusting your lifestyle and helping your body heal itself, instead of reaching for pharmaceutical painkillers. 

Some of these methods work well in synergy with one another. Red light therapy has been known to boost the effects of other therapies, supplements, exercise, and other wellness efforts. That is one more reason why getting your own portable red light therapy device is a good idea.