Is It Possible to Achieve Pain Relief Without Using Painkillers?

An young woman feels well.

One would hope we were approaching a point where the American people and the medical industry is fully aware of the risks and dangers connected with opioid painkillers.

“Opioids are a last resort for chronic pain management.” That’s the Mayo Clinic in an article on the many options that patients have in pain relief. The Mayo Clinic openly cautions patients against even considering opiates as a first option for pain relief, and we can see why.

The Mayo Clinic is not the only recognized medical group that is warning the public about opiates. Quoting Medline Plus on their summary of such drugs: “The most powerful pain relievers are opioids. They are very effective, but they can sometimes have serious side effects. There is also a risk of addiction. Because of the risks, you must use them only under a doctor’s supervision.”

Clearly, there is a fair degree of risk in using opiate painkillers. And it is not just their addictive nature that we should be concerned about. These drugs can be lethal. According to a graph published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 17,000 people died from overdoses on prescription pain relievers in 2017. And anywhere between 12,000 and 18,000 people have died from prescription opioids every year since 2007.

Given the risks attendant with the current pharmaceutical route in pain relief, why are these drugs still being prescribed for pain that is likely manageable with less risky solutions?

Alternative Remedies in Pain Relief

While they do not get much attention, there are several alternatives to opiates. For example, here are a few natural, non-addictive remedies for physical pain that have the full support of the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Boswellia Serrate. Boswellic acids are the active components in Boswellia Serrate, also called Indian frankincense. Boswellia Serrate has both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
  • Capsaicin. Capsaicin has the simple effect of reducing “substance P,” a pain transmitter. A 2010 Phytotherapy Research report indicated that patients experienced a 50 percent reduction in joint pain after three weeks of Capsaicin use. Capsaicin is available as a topical cream, gel, or patch.
  • Turmeric/Curcumin. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Curcumin is the chemical in turmeric that can reduce joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. A 2010 clinical trial using a turmeric supplement showed long-term improvement in pain and function in patients with knee OA [osteoarthritis].”
  • Cat’s Claw. Cat’s Claw is an anti-inflammatory that reduces joint pain and swelling. The substance also contains compounds that may benefit the patient’s immune system.
  • Fish Oil. One of the many health benefits in fish oils is their anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s from fish oils block inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins, both of which contribute to inflammation.
Cutting ginger.
  • Ginger. Something as simple as ginger has been found to have similar properties as ibuprofen. Studies were done which compared several ginger extracts taken per day as compared to several ibuprofens taken daily. After three months of treatment, patients using ginger extract experienced similar pain relief efforts as the patients who were taking daily ibuprofen.

Most opiate painkillers are prescribed for back pain, jaw pain, achy muscles and joints, etc. What’s crazy about that is that the above alternatives will almost always be more than effective in reducing those types of pain. It’s time we shifted our focus away from opiate painkillers. It’s time we focused on safe alternatives which reduce pain without creating potential addictions and overdoses.

On the Rare Occasion When Pain Meds Are Necessary…

In February of this year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released a report on an experimental compound. The compound might be the beginnings of a new pain-reliever drug that could offer potent pain-relieving properties, but which would do so without the harmful side effects attributed to opioid pain relievers.

This report could be a glimmer of hope for people who require powerful pain medications.

Addicted to Pain Meds?

We can and should spend a lot of time getting ourselves and our loved ones educated about alternatives to opiate painkillers. We should bear in mind the devastation of the opioid epidemic. We should remember that the epidemic was brought on by the mass production and prescribing of opiate painkillers. We should be very suspicious of these drugs.

But if you or someone you care about nevertheless falls prey to an addiction to opiates, the right thing to do is to seek help from a residential drug treatment center. At this point, the physical pain is no longer the most critical factor. At this point, the addiction is priority number one for resolving.

Residential drug treatment centers have the tools, resources, and staff necessary for helping people overcome addiction. Some rehabs even have the tools and know-how for addressing physical pain. Get help from a treatment center first, and then get connected with alternative and non-opioid based pain-relief options.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, iCAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.