Natural Alternatives to Opioids

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por

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Natural Alternatives to Opioids

 

With the opioid epidemic still raging across the country and having gained even greater traction in recent months, it has become more apparent than ever that an alternative painkiller is needed. As doctor-shopping and painkiller use continue to rise, it is important to consider the alternative options that we have for relieving pain, and natural alternatives to Opioids.

 

Opioids Vs Natural Alternatives

 

The most popular type of opioids used as pain relievers include codeine, fentanyl, morphine, tramadol, OxyContin, and heroin; and can be prescribed legally or obtained illegally. The legality of obtaining an opioid does not make it any less addictive, only easier to get hold of.

 

There is hope, however, as alternative ways to relieve pain are available. The ease, commonality, and relatively fast-acting nature of opioids mean that we don’t often consider alternatives at the moment, particularly when in a traditional medical setting, such as a hospital.

 

There are two categories of non-opioid pain relief – practical and medicinal relievers. Practical pain relief refers to the movement of the body as a means to combat pain, while medicinal relief includes other types of medicines that can be used, including other kinds of traditional medication as well as herbal, holistic medication.

 

Common types of practical pain relievers include physical therapy, exercise, chiropractic therapy, and acupuncture; although it is worth noting that practical pain relief is not always possible in the long term for some people, depending on their pain levels11.L. S. Penney, C. Ritenbaugh, L. L. DeBar, C. Elder and R. A. Deyo, Provider and patient perspectives on opioids and alternative treatments for managing chronic pain: a qualitative study – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390355/.

What are the Natural Alternatives to Opioids?

 

We have outlined what these alternative pain killers are, but to understand why they are effective, we must look at them each individually.

 

Physical Therapy as a Natural Alternative to Opioids

 

Physical Therapy is particularly recommended for any pain or injuries involving the hips, lower back, knees, or those who have conditions such as fibromyalgia. All physical therapy should be undertaken with a trained physical therapist who can help you regain or increase mobility gradually, without putting excess pressure on any damaged muscles.

 

Exercise has always been praised as a natural mood booster thanks to the endorphins that are produced, but exercise is also a natural pain reliever. The endorphins released during exercise send a burst of dopamine to the brain, which bind to the brain’s opioid receptors in much the same way opioid medications do, meaning that they help relieve pain in the same way22.A. L. Nicol, R. W. Hurley and H. T. Benzon, Alternatives to Opioids in the Pharmacologic Management of Chronic Pain Syndromes: A Narrative Review of Randomized, Controlled, and Blinded Clinical Trials – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5785237/.

 

Yoga

 

Some types of exercise such as yoga, which focus on deep breathing and sound therapy as part of a routine, also mean you can use the breath to help measure and bear any pain and focus your attention and energy on something other than how the pain makes you feel.  However, exercise should be gentle when in pain, and you should not overexert yourself, as if not careful you could cause more pain rather than reduce it.

 

Chiropractic Therapy

 

Chiropractic Therapy is similar to both the above, as it uses the body’s natural abilities to help heal – chiropractors use their hands to massage a patient’s spine and surrounding muscle tissue. Allowing all the vertebrae to realign and muscular pressure to lift in this way helps to relieve muscle, spinal, tissue, and joint problems caused by poor posture, falls, or exercise strain.

 

Acupuncture as a Natural Alternative to Opioids

 

Acupuncture is an ancient east and south Asian practice where long, thin needles are inserted into the skin over the body’s pressure points, which releases endorphins, and therefore dopamine, easing pain.

Non-Opioid Medicinal Pain Relievers

 

Non-opioid medicinal pain relievers, alternatively, come in more varied forms than practical relievers, all of which rely on redirecting the chemicals in the body through some sort of movement. Some medicinal pain relievers can be just that – using tablets to get rid of the pain that does not contain opioids as ingredients, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or serotonin.

 

Some standard oral medications are also said to be made more effective by being taken with caffeine, as caffeine stimulates painkillers entering the bloodstream and causes your mood to be boosted, therefore easing pain swifter than painkillers taken without caffeine.

 

Alternatively, topical medications such as gels, patches, or creams, are effective ways of taking painkillers as they desensitize the nerve receptors in the skin for a short period. Topical pain relief is best used for joint or muscle strain, or arthritis, but can help ease any pain that comes from somewhere close beneath the skin’s surface. It is also important to remember that many natural pain relievers have been used for centuries – often herbs, roots, or minerals, many of which are boiled into a tea to be administered, eaten or applied topically.

 

Common herbal pain killers include capsaicin, turmeric, ginger, MSM, and magnesium. Many of these, such as turmeric and ginger, are natural anti-inflammatories,  and so aid in strengthening the body’s immune defenses.

 

Lastly, it is important that when talking about non-opioid pain relief we also discuss Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. While not able to directly impact pain itself, techniques learned through CBT can help those suffering with long-term pain to manage their pain, and their approach to pain better on a day-to-day basis. CBT is useful, though it should be noted that mental therapy cannot remove physical pain and that treatments such as CBT should not be used as a means to negate the strength of genuine physical pain anyone is in, whether it be you or someone else.

 

So, even though the use of opioid painkillers, both legally and illegally, is on the rise, for those looking for a way to combat the epidemic, or who have been turned away from using opioids by the way they have been portrayed throughout the epidemic in the press – as purely addictive substances – and who don’t want to take the risk, there are many natural alternatives to opioids.

 

There are both practical and medical alternatives available that can help relieve pain without a threat of potential addiction, from exercise and physical or chiropractic therapies to non-opioid medications, natural remedies, or topical creams. The options are out there and can be as easy to obtain as many believe opioid prescriptions are, you just need to ask for something other than the default.

 

 

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  • 1
    1.L. S. Penney, C. Ritenbaugh, L. L. DeBar, C. Elder and R. A. Deyo, Provider and patient perspectives on opioids and alternative treatments for managing chronic pain: a qualitative study – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390355/
  • 2
    2.A. L. Nicol, R. W. Hurley and H. T. Benzon, Alternatives to Opioids in the Pharmacologic Management of Chronic Pain Syndromes: A Narrative Review of Randomized, Controlled, and Blinded Clinical Trials – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5785237/
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