Medication-Free Management Options for Chronic Pain

For one reason or another, a great many people live with chronic pain every day. Some of that pain results from injury, stress, lifestyle habits, or from an underlying systemic condition. But no matter what’s causing the chronic pain, many people are averse to the idea of taking medications to treat their disorder.

There are any number of motivations for that choice, but it’s a common position. With so many people looking for another option, we wanted to clarify some details about other treatment options, and to make it clear that there are plenty of ways of managing chronic pain that go beyond the pharmacological.

Reasons to Avoid Medications

There are plenty of very good reasons why pharmaceutical medications might not be the most effective treatment option. First, many people are allergic to various medications, including painkillers, so they may be prohibited from the get-go.

As well, many painkillers lose their efficacy over time, since people can quickly develop a tolerance. In a similar vein, many painkillers, like opiates, are strongly habit forming within 3 to 5 days despite of one has a history of addiction.  If you do not want to take the chance of taking a habit-forming drug consider avoiding it from the outset.

Many painkillers come with a variety of detrimental side-effects. These might include upset stomach, constipation, mood imbalances, drowsiness, an increased risk of injury, organ damage, cognitive impairment, and more. Painkillers aren’t to be considered lightly. They can also counter-react with other medications, or they might be prohibitive owing to other systemic issues (like impaired liver or kidney function, peptic ulcer, inflammatory bowel disease).

At any rate, there are plenty of very good reasons why painkillers might not be everyone’s best choice for managing chronic pain.

So what else is there?


Acupuncture has been in use for millennia. A Chinese practice, originally, it involves the application of fine needles, heat, and pressure to specific points on the body.

Acupuncture is especially effective in the treatment of chronic pain. Numerous studies have demonstrated its profound and lasting impact on back and neck pain, osteoarthritic or joint pain, muscle pain, chronic migraines and tension headaches.

Acupuncture works by stimulating endorphins and by reducing tension. It can target a particular treatment site with remarkable precision, such that treatment for a specific injury need not reduce pain or sensitivity in other parts of the body, and comes with virtually no systemic risk, or risk of addiction. (On that, no more a risk of addiction than jogging.)

Seeing an acupuncturist regularly helps to maintain general health and a sense of wellness, with a very limited risk of short-term side effects.

Chinese Herbs

Though Western medicine is only very recently beginning to understand the underlying mechanisms by which various Chinese herbs treat chronic pain, there are a number of herbs with strong results from clinical trials.

There are, conservatively, thousands of remedies, but two in particular stand out as especially useful in the treatment of chronic pain.

First, Corydalis (Yu Jin), a tuber (like a potato) conventionally boiled with hot vinegar, containes DHCB (or dehydrocorybulbine). DHCB is just as good as morphine, but it’s not an opiate. Also, no one develops a tolerance to it, so it can be used long-term.

The other especially useful herb is Curcumae (Jiang Huang). As well as treating pain from injury, it’s a strong anti-inflammatory, so it can be used in the treatment of digestive, abdominal, and menstrual pain, as well as headaches.

Neither of these herbs is in any way habit forming, and both have been proven effective for pain management.

Stress Reduction

While some types of chronic pain are caused by stress outright, stress can exacerbate just about every kind, be it from injury or otherwise. Absent medication, there are plenty of ways of managing chronic pain through good habits and lifestyle changes to reduce stress.

For instance, getting regular, quality sleep can help the body heal, and can prevent muscle tightness from inhibiting circulation and from making chronic pain worse. Changes to posture, both through practice and through regular exercise, can open up the joints and muscles of the body and improve blood flow.

Regular massage, too, can help with the treatment of all sorts of chronic pain, so it shouldn’t be discounted as a viable treatment option.

For a list of 10 ways to reduce stress, check out this guide from Dr. Payal N. Bhandari!

Chronic Pain Management at Advanced Health

The practitioners at Advanced Health practice an integrative approach to chronic pain, which considers the body holistically. In doing so, we rely on these treatments, and more, for all sorts of patients, especially those managing chronic pain. There are certainly cases in which pharmaceutical medications are beneficial. Our practitioners work to find the best solution for each individual patient.

If you’re living with chronic pain, contact Advanced Health to arrange a consultation and to discover how many of these non-pharmacological treatment options are right for your condition.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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