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5 Drug-Free Options for Joint Pain

Before we dive into the options for relieving joint pain, it is important to cover the main cause of joint pain. Regardless of whether it stems from an injury, overuse, a medical condition, or arthritis, the main culprit of the pain in any joint is inflammation.

Inflammation is the body’s responses to negative outside triggers. The inflammation process sends white bloods to attack the intruder and keep you healthy. This causes an increase in blood flow and triggers the symptoms of inflammation we are familiar with: swelling, redness, and warmth. In autoimmune disorders or inflammation disorders, like arthritis, the inflammation process goes into overdrive and attacks the body itself. Inflammation starts as a healing process, but if there are no intruders to fight it can cause pain in the joints or other areas of the body.

Most of us are familiar with over-the-counter NSAIDs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). These products, and their prescription counterparts, are a helpful tool in managing inflammation and joint pain. The downside is that taking medications regularly and long-term can lead to unwanted dependency and unpleasant side effects like stomach issues and liver damage.

If you are searching for a drug-free alternative to manage your joint pain, please read on for 5 suitable alternatives.

5 Non-Drug Pain Relief Options for Joints 

Physical Therapy. Physical therapists and occupational therapists dedicate their education to understanding the mechanics of the human body. Often joint or muscle pain can be attributed to unbalanced movement or muscle weakness. Physical therapy works to strengthen muscles and reteach people how to move properly as to reduce the strain put onto the joints. If practiced regularly, physical therapy has been shown to be widely successful as part of a pain management plan.

Physical therapy is a great starting point before turning to OTC drugs or pharmaceutical treatments. In one study of participants with lower back pain, the group that consulted a physical therapist first were much less likely to end up on opioids than the group that visited their primary care physician first.

Mind-Body Therapy. While we do not want to perpetuate the idea that the pain is all in your head, it would be irresponsible to deny the impact that negative thinking can bring to pain. The perception of pain is not solely a physical sensation. It has been shown in studies that the perception of pain depends on mental and emotional factors including attention, beliefs, conditioning, mood, emotion, stress and cognition. Particularly with chronic or long-term pain, addressing your mind in the equation could prove valuable to your overall quality of life. 

Methods that incorporate the mind for relaxation, stress management, and body-mind connection have shown to be effective in managing pain. Relaxation techniques like meditation and hypnosis are a great supplement to other approaches. Mindful movement practices like yoga and Tai Chi have been proven quite effective in osteoarthritis study participants. The gentle movements are helpful alone, but the mind-body connection and stress relief shouldn’t be discounted.

Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese method includes inserting tiny metal needles at different energy points, or meridians, in the body. The practitioners believe these needles help release blockages and encourage energy flow throughout the body.

Modern studies of this technique believe its success lies in the body’s production of pain-relieving endorphins. The small stress of the needle near a nerve in the body helps to spike production of endorphins which blocks the pain response in the brain. The World Health Organization recognized more than 30 conditions that acupuncture is a valid treatment for and topping the list is pain management.

Compression. As covered before, the inflammation process often results in uncomfortable or painful swelling around a joint. Compression can help with joint pain by managing swelling, improving quality blood flow to the joint, and providing stability until strength is regained.

Not only can compression garments help on their own, but it also provides support for performing exercises that can lead to pain relief. If joint instability or swelling is preventing you from exercising, it can be a vicious cycle of immobility contributing to the pain. Using a compression garment before, during, and after physical activity can be a great way to “hop back on the horse” of caring for your body with movement.

Popular ways to achieve compression are with compression sleeves built for specific joints (ankle sleeves, knee sleeves, elbow braces, etc.) or compression clothing like leggings or socks. More temporary compression options could be cloth bandages/wraps or athletic tape.

Diet. Increasingly, medical professionals are taking a more holistic view of managing pain and health issues. When it comes to inflammation, it turns out that what you eat could be making a major impact. Making changes to your diet that eliminate or reduce certain foods could reduce the overall amount of inflammation in the body. When dealing with autoimmune disorders, like arthritis, a change in diet could be a life-changing factor.

Generally speaking, every person will respond to foods in different ways. What may induce inflammation in one person could do nothing to another. The best way to determine your own personal diet is to speak with a professional. However, there are certain foods or elements that tend to cause inflammation across the board. Those foods include:

  • Processed sugar. White table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, candy.
  • Artificial Trans-Fats. Margarine, vegetable oil, fried foods.
  • Refined carbohydrates. White bread, white pasta, cereals, baked goods.
  • Alcohol
  • Processed meats. Bacon, sausage, deli meat.

As there are foods to avoid, there are also foods that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. A combination of reducing the amount of inflammation trigger foods and adding inflammation reducing foods could result in significant pain reduction. The following are inflammation reducing foods:

  • Omega-9 Rich Oils. Olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil.
  • Omega-3 Rich Foods. Fatty fish, flaxseed, nuts, leafy vegetables.
  • Antioxidant Rich Fruits. Berries, apples, pineapples, citrus.
  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Green Tea.
  • Garlic

Lastly, hydration can be super important in reducing inflammation and pain in the body. Drink plenty of water and watch your intake of electrolytes like magnesium, sodium, and potassium to keep your body hydrated.