11 Surprising (Natural) Ways to Relieve Pain

Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
April 8, 2014

If you usually look for pain relief from a pill, you may want to give these effective natural pain relief solutions a try. Natural pain remedies can prevent and ease your symptoms while lessening the risk of liver damage, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and heart attack that can come along with some drugs. 

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Better Sleep

A recent study found that the single biggest predictor for the development of widespread pain was unrefreshing sleep, which has a strong link to the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia. Sleep is when our bodies repair tissues and secrete anti-inflammatory molecules, so getting both the quantity and quality of rest that you need can help you feel better.

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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These healthy fats have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body, reducing swelling and pain. In one study of people dealing with pain, those who took an omega-3 fatty acid supplement reported a decrease in morning stiffness and tender joints. Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, rainbow trout, walnuts, flaxseed, fortified eggs and soybeans. Fatty fish is also a good source of vitamin D, which is associated with widespread musculoskeletal pain in people who are deficient in it.

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Herbs and Spices

Spices like ginger, cayenne, turmeric, garlic and onions, as well as herbs like rosemary and licorice root, may help block enzymes that fuel the processing of pain and inflammation. Season your dishes liberally with herbs and spices to reap the benefits. And use fresh herbs when you can—they have higher levels of antioxidants than dried versions.

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Antioxidants

These compounds have been shown to help neutralize free-radicals—substances that damage cells and may contribute to chronic pain. To up your antioxidant intake, fill your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables like spinach, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kale and bell peppers.

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Yoga

While yoga has been shown to relieve various types of pain, much of the research has looked at back pain. In one study from West Virginia University, back pain sufferers who did yoga twice a week reduced their discomfort by 56 percent and relied less on medicine than before beginning yoga. Researchers suspect that yoga poses increase mobility, while deep breathing puts exercisers in a relaxed state that makes pain easier to tolerate. In addition, practicing yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality. And because research shows that sleep deprivation is linked to pain, a regular practice could help.

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Aerobic Exercise

Studies have found that aerobic exercise helps curb premenstrual pain, menopause discomfort and even headaches. A study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis who regularly did cardio exercise enjoyed improved mobility, less joint pain and greater quality of life compared to those didn’t exercise. 

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Hypnosis

Many studies have shown that hypnosis produces significant decreases in discomfort associated with an array of chronic pain conditions, from fibromyalgia to osteoarthritis. Experts think the effect is twofold: Hypnosis is thought to divert a person’s attention away from pain, offering relief. In addition, hypnosis may have an analgesic effect on the brain, which means it may turn down pain signals.

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Meditation

In a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers mildly burned 15 men and women in a lab on two separate occasions, before and after four days of daily meditation. (A 120-degree heat was applied to the participant’s calf.) During the second session, after the participants had meditated daily, they rated the exact same pain stimulus as being 57 percent less unpleasant and 40 percent less intense, on average. Experts hypothesize that it’s easier to handle pain in a relaxed state. The people in the study did 20 minute–long meditation sessions, but you can begin by practicing deep breathing in a quiet place for a few minutes each day and work your way up to longer sessions.

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Tai Chi

A study done at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that the Chinese movement therapy tai chi—which is a mix of meditation and gentle movements—reduced pain, fatigue and stiffness in people living with arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, while improving their sense of wellbeing.

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Massage

You may think of massage as the ultimate indulgence, but getting a rubdown is good for more than just pampering: Slow, deep strokes target the deep layers of muscle and connective tissue to promote flexibility and movement while reducing pain and stiffness. Massage therapy can ease aches and improve function in back pain sufferers for up to six months, according to report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. If you suffer from chronic pain, you may also consider seeing a physical therapist for a posture assessment to work on an underlying postural habits or structural issues that may be contributing.

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Acupuncture

While most studies have been small, research shows that acupuncture therapy triggers a surge in pain-numbing endorphins and releases anti-inflammatory molecules, which reduce swelling and help healing.

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Reference(s) 
American College of Rheumatology
American Pyschological Association
Harvard Medical School