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Physical Therapy and Other Natural Ways to Treat Chronic Pain

Elder man being treated by physical therapist


According to the National Institutes of Health, pain is the number one reason people seek medical attention. One of the most common ways doctors help ease patients’ pain has been to prescribe a painkiller.

This started to change when more people started becoming addicted to their pain medication, leading to a national epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Additionally, opioids have some negative side effects for many older Americans, including nausea, constipation, diminished bone density and an increased risk of falls. Because of this, doctors today tend to be more hesitant about prescribing opioids, which is leaving many older Americans in pain. That’s why many are turning to physical therapy for pain relief.

Physical therapy treats pain by treating both the symptom of pain as well as its source. Heat, ice packs, massage, ultrasound and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are all ways to treat the symptom of pain, while low-impact aerobics, stretching, strength training and other forms of exercise are used to target areas where you experience pain and work to make those areas stronger and more flexible with the intention of providing more long-term relief.

Here are some other natural ways to treat chronic pain:

Yoga and tai chi

Yoga and tai chi have shown to possess strong pain relief benefits. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people living with fibromyalgia who participated in tai chi classes twice a week for 12 weeks reported less pain than a control group who participated in stretching sessions and wellness education twice a week.


Meditation, in addition to being a powerful stress reducer, has also been shown to reduce pain. In a study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, researchers found that people who were meditating experienced less pain than control groups when subjected to a painful prod on the back with a thermal heat probe. The study led lead researcher Fadel Zeidan to conclude that “this study is especially significant to those … looking for a nonaddictive way to reduce their pain.”


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese art that has been used to alleviate pain for centuries. Although formal studies have been mixed on acupuncture’s ability to control pain, a report published in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Journals Library indicated that there was “significant evidence” to demonstrate that acupuncture provides more than a placebo effect for chronic pain.

Chiropractic manipulation

As with acupuncture, many mainstream medical professionals view chiropractic medicine with suspicion, but many people have experience relief. A study of US military personnel showed that chiropractic treatments helped ease lower back pain.


Counselors can help us manage the mental aspect of pain. Pain isn’t “all in our head,” but how we think about pain does make a difference. Stress and anxiety magnify the perception of pain. Counselors help patients break the cycle of pain and anxiety by learning to think about pain in a different way.

Other natural remedies

Many natural remedies have been shown to help control chronic pain for some people. In a study comparing fish oil to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, like ibuprofen), research showed that fish oil had an “equivalent effect” in reducing arthritic pain compared to NSAIDs and appeared to be a safer alternative. Another powerful anti-inflammatory is turmeric, the yellow spice used frequently in Indian food. Many people have found that turmeric works as a pain reliever for osteoarthritis, headaches and other pain responsive to anti-inflammatory medication. Spicy foods in general, including cayenne pepper and wasabi, have shown some promise in relieving pain.

If your doctor is reluctant to prescribe opioids or other pain relievers for you, have a talk about other possible remedies. Not every potential remedy is going to work for everyone and it may take some experimenting to find the solution that’s right for you.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor if you have questions about your pain relief needs.