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Holistic Pain Management

Medically Reviewed Fact Checked
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Many people suffering from severe and chronic pain turn to medication to help them get through the day. This reliance on medicine is compounded by the fact that many healthcare providers are too eager to prescribe medications, especially opioids, to treat acute pain. However, there are many ethical questions about this enthusiasm leading to overprescribing opioids for pain management, and the fact that they are so addictive makes them a dangerous choice for acute pain sufferers. Pain management and addiction do not have to ruin your life.1,2

alternative treatment for managing painContrary to what many people are told every day, someone does not have to choose methods of pain management that only involve addictive drugs. There are, in fact, many scientifically based holistic approaches to pain management that can bring relief to people so that they can live full lives without the need for medication-based treatments.

The truth is pain medications will not cure your pain. Krebbs et al’s 12-month-long comparison study of opioid vs non-opioid treatment for pain showed conclusively that opioids do not reduce pain when used long-term. In some cases, opioids can even worsen pain over long-term use.17 The desperation for help, when a person is in pain, may foster buying into false “cures” that actually add to the problem. True pain management comes from a holistic, investigative approach that incorporates environmental medicine, orthomolecular medicine, psychology, naturopathy, physiotherapy, laboratory testing, and more.

What Is Holistic Pain Management?

Pain management can be a misleading term, in that it may imply hopelessness. Perhaps a better stated objective for someone living with acute pain would be “pain reduction ” or even “pain elimination”. Instead of managing pain, effective treatments may significantly lessen the pain so that you can get back to the quality of life you’re used to living without heavy drug dependence.  Alternative to Meds programs focus on science-backed strategies for the reduction of pain that will provide significant and lasting relief, and that do not rely heavily on medication.

There seem to be new clinics opening every day that claim to be experts in pain management. However, when people go there, too often the only treatment offered is in the form of one or multiple prescriptions.

Pain may not come from one source alone. Many elements of your life can be adding to the pain you are already suffering from. Chronic conditions can arise from injuries, as well as a lack of exercise or a lifetime of improper nutrition. The buildup of toxins in your body, nutrient deficiencies, living in a toxic environment, and many other factors can contribute to chronic pain conditions. The CDC recognizes that many clinics do not do the work needed to uncover someone’s underlying reasons and the contributing factors for pain, but rely instead, incorrectly, on pain medication as the first-line approach.3

Holistic Pain Management and Addiction

When looking at the relationship between pain management and addiction, the numbers are shocking. Up to 29% of people who are prescribed opioids for pain management misuse them, and approximately 12% develop an addiction disorder. Between 4% to 6% of all people who misused prescribed opioids went on to use heroin. Perhaps most tragic of all, in 2019, nearly 50,000 people died in the United States of an opioid overdose. It’s simply heartbreaking to think about how many lives are affected by the consequences of addictive drugs. The culture of pain management must change in this country for the safety of all its people.1-3

Many people are not adequately informed that real relief from pain can come from non-harmful methods including exercise, diet change, physiotherapy, and others. There are alternative treatments for pain management that work naturally with the body that can be explored to bring effective and lasting relief.

The Holistic Approach to Pain Management

One of the most common questions asked by people living with acute pain is “What are alternatives to medication for effective pain management?” Often, they feel that there is no answer to this question that doesn’t involve some form of drugs; however, nothing is further from the truth. Holistic approaches are a much safer means of pain management and do not result in addiction.

holistic approach to manage pain These approaches are backed by evidence. There are new, natural approaches to pain management being discovered all the time. For example, the Canadian Arthritis Society recommends many drug-free approaches 4 to treat the pain of arthritis, including the use of turmeric. Research by psychologists Goldberg & Katz from York University has shown the high efficacy of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in pain reduction for joint inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease, and painful menstruation symptoms.5 These nutrients are easily obtained either from food sources or taking supplements. How marvelous that nature is so full of the answers we need — better answers for many that will not be found in a pill bottle.

Personalized Programming at Alternative to Meds Center

At Alternative to Meds Center, we begin the process of pain management treatment with a biochemical examination through laboratory testing and other assessments. We understand that everyone is a unique individual and, as such, they will have unique needs to be addressed throughout their pain management treatment. Things that are taken into account include the medical history of the patient including past or current illness and injury, medication history, current physical and mental conditions, an assessment of diet, genetic factors, an inventory of types of treatments in the past that failed, and any other considerations that will aid in programming holistic treatment of their pain. Safe medication withdrawal must be done gradually and in tandem with pain reduction therapies. A new awareness is dawning in the holistic medical community that gives real hope to those who have been waiting for authentic, effective, drug-free treatments for pain.6

Alternative Treatments for Holistic Pain Management

You’re not alone if you’ve ever asked the question “How can I manage my pain without medication?”

Below are some of the scientifically sound approaches Alternative to Meds Center recommends, followed by an expanded description:
  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Massage therapy
  • Nutritional upgrades
  • CBT and other forms of psychological support

1. Acupuncture

An acupuncturist will use thin needles, gently inserted into specific points of the body, that will relieve pain. Acupuncture has been performed for thousands of years and is commonly used in the Far East. Although it had been largely dismissed or laughed at over the years by Western doctors, the scientific evidence tells a different story. In fact, when international experts from all over the world combined studies that involved over 18,000 participants, they found that there was significant pain reduction as a result of acupuncture.

Acupuncture for pain reduction is becoming increasingly used as it is effective and doesn’t incur the adverse effects associated with drug-based treatments.18 

Although acupuncture has been in use for 3,000 years or more, scientific studies are underway to explore the reasons why acupuncture is effective. Fascinating research is ongoing on how acupuncture can regulate the body’s neurotransmitters, hormone levels, and immune system.19  

2. Exercise

exercise for pain managementPhysicians and physical therapists who specialize in rehabilitation and other forms of physical healing can create a specialized exercise program at an appropriate intensity level that can improve your quality of life and reduce pain. Exercises that have been found to help manage pain include relaxation exercises, strength exercises, flexibility, stretching, core strengthening, balance training, yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, and Pilates.8

One of the most beneficial advantages of exercise is it naturally releases endorphins. These natural endorphins are much more powerful pain relievers than the pain medications you will find in a pharmacy. Exercise needs to be carefully tailored to the individual, never reaching a level of intensity that will exacerbate their pain. Exercise regimens are best tailored to each individual’s needs and abilities. For some, aerobic exercises (at a tolerable level) can be highly beneficial, especially for neurotransmitter regulation.20  Others may find relief utilizing the gentle moves of tai chi or Qi gong can provide ideal health benefits. 21

3. Massage Therapy

Massages done by experts that work deep into the muscles can also help with pain management. Massage may help accelerate the process of draining bio-accumulated waste products stored in your body which can help your mental state find its balance again. Massage is also deeply relaxing and can help relieve external stressors that may be adding to the pain you are already feeling. Many people might not realize all that massage therapy entails, and an expanded idea of what it is can include ultrasounds and even whirlpools.9

4. Nutritional Therapy

nutritional therapy for pain managementBecause of over-farming, there may be many nutritional elements that were once naturally found in the soil our food was grown in that are now lacking, causing a gross nutritional depletion in our society.10 Minerals and trace elements are prime examples, including magnesium. Magnesium is thought to be involved in many processes of the body in relation to mental and physical health, and yet it is easily leached from the soil. It is imperative that magnesium and other minerals are part of everyone’s diet at least in a supplemental form where food sources have become depleted.11

Vitamin deficiencies can contribute to painful conditions. For instance, a vitamin D deficiency is recognized as a contributing factor to the severity of muscular and joint pain, and also in inflammatory bowel conditions.12

Acute pain can be worsened by the noxious elements in processed foods. A corrected, clean diet is indicated by clinical research as an effective way to prevent or even reverse the development of chronic pain conditions brought on by poor diet.13

Behavioral and Mental Health Therapies

It might surprise people to know that your mental health can affect how your body feels and deals with pain. Talk therapy such as CBT can be used to help identify the source of your pain and uncover feelings that may be holding your pain relief back or even blocking the body’s natural ability to heal.

Often, mental health therapies will help those who are tapering off the medication they use and confront the reasons that they became dependent on the medications in the first place. With the case of opioids, many people begin taking them for pain, but they begin to use them to hide from other issues and to self-medicate to deal with other traumas. There are a wide set of genres including cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance & commitment therapy, trauma counseling, and many more, that can help get to the source of issues that might be causing or contributing to physical pain.14,15

People are social beings, and when someone has no one to talk to, mental health begins to suffer. Talking to a specialist not only gets your thoughts out and changes your ways of thinking, but together, you can start healing relationships that you may have long neglected.

Science suggests that talk therapy and other non-pharmacological therapies can help ease back pain, arthritis, headaches, fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety, and can help an individual work through negative thoughts and low self-esteem. 16

Contact Alternative to Meds Center

If your pain management treatments are not offering a wider variety of approaches to manage your pain, then it is time to seek a whole other kind of help. If you are ready to try an approach to pain reduction that will take all the factors in your life that may be causing you pain and begin a multifaceted approach to treatment, then reach out to Alternative to Meds today.

We can help lessen your pain, help you heal from any addictions that may have resulted from trying to cure the pain, aid you physically and mentally to withdraw from harmful medication and help you reset your mind and body. If you’ve been asking yourself “What are some alternatives to opioids for pain?” and are ready to explore these natural, healthy alternatives, contact Alternative to Meds today and see what possibilities are available to you today.


1. NIDA/NIH authors, Opioid Overdose Crisis [online] Mar 11, 2021 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

2. NIDA. (2016, April 6). The CDC Provides Crucial New Guidance on Opioids and Pain. [cited 20221 Jun 28]

3. Dowell D, Haegerich TM, Chou R. CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016. MMWR Recomm Rep 2016;65(No. RR-1):1–49. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

4. Canadian Arthritis Society “Emerging Treatment and Research” [online] [cited 2021 Jun 28]

5. Goldberg RJ, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain. 2007 May;129(1-2):210-23. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.01.020. Epub 2007 Mar 1. PMID: 17335973. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

6. Holliday S, Hayes C, Jones L, Gordon J, Harris N, Nicholas M. Prescribing wellness: comprehensive pain management outside specialist services. Aust Prescr. 2018;41(3):86-91. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2018.023 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

7. Vickers AJ, Linde K. Acupuncture for chronic pain. JAMA. 2014;311(9):955-956. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.285478 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

8. Ambrose KR, Golightly YM. Physical exercise as non-pharmacological treatment of chronic pain: Why and when. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2015;29(1):120-130. doi:10.1016/j.berh.2015.04.022 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

9. Vairo GL, Miller SJ, McBrier NM, Buckley WE. Systematic review of efficacy for manual lymphatic drainage techniques in sports medicine and rehabilitation: an evidence-based practice approach. J Man Manip Ther. 2009;17(3):e80-e89. doi:10.1179/jmt.2009.17.3.80E [cited 2021 Jun 28]

10. Thomas D. A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991. Nutr Health. 2003;17(2):85-115. doi:10.1177/026010600301700201. PMID: 14653505. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

11. Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Cairo). 2017;2017:4179326. doi:10.1155/2017/4179326 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

12. Frigstad et al, Pain Severity and Vitamin D Deficiency in IBD Patients. Nutrients. 2019 Dec 20;12(1):26. doi: 10.3390/nu12010026. PMID: 31877637; PMCID: PMC7019855. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

13. Dragan et al, Dietary Patterns and Interventions to Alleviate Chronic Pain. Nutrients 2020;12(9),25.10 Published 2020 Aug 19. doi 10.3390/nu12092510 [cited 2021 Jun 28]

14. Tang NKY. Cognitive behavioural therapy in pain and psychological disorders: Towards a hybrid future. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018 Dec 20;87(Pt B):281-289. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2017.02.023. Epub 2017 Mar 8. PMID: 28284902. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

15. Williams ACC, Fisher E, Hearn L, Eccleston C. Psychological therapies for the management of chronic pain (excluding headache) in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Aug 12;8(8):CD007407. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007407.pub4. PMID: 32794606; PMCID: PMC7437545. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

16. Chou R, Deyo R, Friedly J, Skelly A, Hashimoto R, Weimer M, Fu R, Dana T, Kraegel P, Griffin J, Grusing S, Brodt ED. Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review for an American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Apr 4;166(7):493-505. doi: 10.7326/M16-2459. Epub 2017 Feb 14. PMID: 28192793. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

17. Krebs EE, Gravely A, Nugent S, Jensen AC, DeRonne B, Goldsmith ES, Kroenke K, Bair MJ, Noorbaloochi S. Effect of Opioid vs Nonopioid Medications on Pain-Related Function in Patients With Chronic Back Pain or Hip or Knee Osteoarthritis Pain: The SPACE Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018 Mar 6;319(9):872-882. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.0899. PMID: 29509867; PMCID: PMC5885909. [cited 2021 Jun 28]

18.  Kelly RB, Willis J. Acupuncture for Pain. Am Fam Physician. 2019 Jul 15;100(2):89-96. PMID: 31305037. [cited 2023 June 19]

19.  Yu JS, Zeng BY, Hsieh CL. Acupuncture stimulation and neuroendocrine regulation. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2013;111:125-40. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-411545-3.00006-7. PMID: 24215920. [cited 2023 June 19]

20.  Lin, T. W., & Kuo, Y. M. (2013). Exercise benefits brain function: the monoamine connectionBrain sciences3(1), 39–53. [cited 2023 June 19]

21.  Kong, L. J., Lauche, R., Klose, P., Bu, J. H., Yang, X. C., Guo, C. Q., Dobos, G., & Cheng, Y. W. (2016). Tai Chi for Chronic Pain Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Scientific reports6, 25325. [cited 2023 June 19] [cited 2023 June 19]

Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus and updated Sep 8, 2021.

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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