Opioids Aren’t the Only Choice: 6 Alternative Therapies for Pain Management

By Kimberly Hayes.

When used properly, opioid drugs are a safe and effective treatment for pain relief. However, difficulty accessing medication and concerns over efficacy and addiction have lead many chronic pain sufferers to seek alternative therapies. Other chronic pain sufferers choose to complement conventional treatments with alternative therapies to effectively manage their pain.

Alternative pain therapies take a variety of approaches. Some, like massage, seek to affect pain directly. Others, like meditation, focus on coping strategies that reduce pain’s impact on quality of life. And others still, such as yoga, aim to build strength and physical function.

These are some of the most popular alternative therapies for chronic pain.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is quickly rising to the top of alternative pain therapies. CBD is derived from hemp, which means it can’t intoxicate users like THC. It does, however, contain compounds that reduce inflammation and regulate pain and moods. CBD can be taken orally as an oil, tincture, or edible product; inhaled as a vapor; or applied topically as a cream or salve.


Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine, sterile needles into the body to stimulate acupoints. Although typically associated with Chinese medicine, acupuncture is recognized as an effective and long-lasting treatment for chronic pain, particularly low-back pain, neck pain, knee pain, and headaches. The NIH advises that patients to seek services from a licensed acupuncturist or a conventional medical practitioner with training in acupuncture. Additionally, acupuncture is covered under some health insurance policies.


Chronic pain and mental health are intimately connected. Not only does living in pain increase the risk of mental health issues like chronic stress and depression, but stress and depression also amplify pain. Mindfulness meditation helps chronic pain sufferers overcome this feedback loop. Through meditation, individuals learn how to shut down negative ruminations and stop focusing on their pain. Meditation is simple to do at home but may take practice to get right.


Yoga combines the healing powers of meditation and strength-building exercise into a single practice. Through yoga, chronic pain sufferers can practice mindfulness meditation while also building strength and flexibility so their body functions better. There are many ways to practice yoga, from slow-paced Iyengar yoga to the highly athletic Vinyasa yoga. New practitioners should learn basic poses before advancing to more difficult yoga types to avoid injury.


Massage therapy relaxes muscles and stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that reduce pain and promote feelings of well-being. Pain Doctor recommends Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial relief, and craniosacral therapy massage for chronic pain sufferers. Unfortunately, the expensive nature of massage makes this an inaccessible therapy to many individuals who are suffering from chronic pain.

Anti-inflammatory Diets

When inflammation is behind chronic pain, a special diet designed to reduce inflammation in the body may be able to help. An anti-inflammatory diet calls for adherents to avoid processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol while building a diet around colorful vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and plant- and animal-based proteins. This is also the core of any healthy diet, so chronic pain sufferers have nothing to lose by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.

These six alternative therapies are proven effective against chronic pain, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone. Refining an individual’s pain management strategy may require experimenting with several therapies before finding the most effective approach. For some chronic pain sufferers, alternative therapies alone may not be enough, and conventional pain treatment is needed in conjunction to provide effective pain relief. As with all healthcare decisions, individuals with chronic pain should talk with their doctor to devise a pain management plan that’s safe, healthy, and effective for them.

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