With so many Canadians pursuing all-around healthier lifestyles, it’s no surprise that many are seeking alternatives to manage their pain.
Many of us immediately pop a Tylenol or an Advil whenever we feel a headache or pain coming on, as it’s often the first (and easiest) solution that comes to mind. But if you’re reading this, chances are you’re curious about alternatives to over-the-counter painkillers.
Whether you’re looking to expand your repertoire of holistic pain management, explore the potential benefits of soon-to-be legal cannabis or just see what else is out there, we’ve compiled a list of tools for pain management, all with natural therapeutic qualities, that you can find fairly easily in Canada. As with any new treatment plan, however, a physician should be consulted before you include any of these methods in your routine.
In addition to the old standby treatment for a strain or sprain, RICE (short for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), heat is also an important element of treating pain. For those with lower back pain or arthritis, heat can be a particularly effective, natural method of pain relief. Drawing a hot bath filled with Epsom salts, applying a dry heating pad, spending a bit of time in a sauna or even wrapping a simple moist heating pack or steamed towel around a sore body part will ease pain without chemical intervention.
For thousands of years, different cultures around the world have noted the therapeutic qualities associated with many plants. Roots such as ginger and turmeric may help soothe abdominal pain, headaches and bone pain when ingested or used as an ingredient in topicals like ointments and salves. Try brewing a cup of ginger tea or cooking up a pot of turmeric chicken soup the next time you’re hit with a bout of pain.
While there’s still a great deal that we can learn about cannabis and pain relief, more and more people are consuming it to manage symptoms associated with injuries, post-surgery pain and more.
According to Chris Wagner, CEO at Emerald Health Therapeutics, the possible benefits stem from cannabis’ ability to help regulate the physiological and neurological responses produced by the endocannabinoid system. This system manages a variety of bodily processes, including appetite, pain sensations, mood and memory. “The endocannabinoid system operates on the same idea [as insulin],” Wagner says. “There are these endocannabinoid receptors on all of our cells, particularly in our brain, [and] these cells get opened and closed by the endocannabinoid system.”
With legalization just around the corner, cannabis consumption has become a common and more widely accepted method of pain relief. “I am shocked at the number of people—and quite often they're over fifty—who come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I've been using CBD.’ Or, ‘I've been smoking cannabis for pain, and it's super effective,’” Wagner adds.
Massage, especially when performed by a registered massage therapist, can aid in relaxing tight, painful muscles as well as stimulating nerves. Massage therapy can be an excellent pain management tool that requires no additional substances (other than perhaps some massage oil) and can help with overall well-being, including reducing anxiety and stress.
In China, the benefits of acupuncture and acupressure have been explored for over two thousand years. And now, with many licensed North American medical professionals offering it to patients, it has become more accessible than ever. It is said by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to be useful in treating painful symptoms caused by issues with the knees, neck and spine, as well as having fewer negative side effects than other forms of treatment.
Practicing yoga helps to control breathing and increase relaxation, as the various poses involved stretch and strengthen the muscles. Plus, these exercises may help with pain. Those who experience suffering caused by migraines, arthritis, lower back pain and even fibromyalgia have experienced relief by practicing yoga regularly. In a study quoted by Harvard University, it was found that over 300 participants with chronic lower back pain increased their mobility with a weekly yoga class.
Long touted for their health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils, walnuts, flaxseed oil and many other whole food products, have anti-inflammatory qualities that may assist in pain relief. For this reason, introducing more omega-3s into your diet can help reduce inflammation associated with painful conditions such as arthritis.
There are many alternative methods of pain management available to those who are interested in avoiding opioids and over-the-counter painkillers. Alternative pain management tools are becoming more and more available (and appealing) to consumers, as they present less risk for addiction and negative side effects. Whether you’re seeking relief from run-of-the-mill aches and pains or a more serious condition, consider implementing one or more of these methods into your routine.