Sometimes at the clinic, we see patients who just need a little bit more support with pain relief. Some patients might be allergic to something, are restricted because of surgery or don’t want to take stronger pain medications. There is much more to pain relief than just paracetamol, and most of them are cheap and easy to do. Non-pharmacological (non-drug) pain relief can help reduce pain and provide comfort when used alone, or when used with analgesia drugs.
Start with a Pain Assessment
Knowing what kind of pain relief will be effective starts with a pain assessment. An easy one that most people are familiar with is rating pain on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most pain. If the pain is fairly low, you might feel comfortable with just a cold pack, or if the pain is a little stronger, you might want to use analgesia and a non-pharmacological method of pain relief.
Types of Non-Drug Pain Relief
Who doesn’t love things that smell lovely? Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to bring about changes in mind, body and spirit. The science behind the efficacy of aromatherapy can be difficult to prove, as it is hard to control the air we breathe. That being said, there are some essential oils that have some good science behind them.
Lavender and peppermint oil have several properties: calming, analgesic and anti-emetic. There are several ways of enjoying aromatherapy: oil burners, diffusers, inhalers, compresses and massages. If you can’t get a hold of the pure essential oils to have on a burner or diffuser, try grabbing some peppermint or tea with lavender.
*Some essential oils are dangerous to use around surgery or with certain health conditions. Never take essential oils orally.
Using ice packs is a very effective way at reducing inflammation and pain. If you have hurt a limb, follow the rule of RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you have had surgery on your nose or sinuses, try filling a glove with ice chips and lightly draping it across your face for 10 minutes. Had a tonsillectomy? Suck on an iceblock or sip some cold water.
As humans, we are living beings in nature- nature has not moved in on us! Our brains are wired to see green, and now there is science to prove that our health does better in green spaces. Research shows that people, who move to less urban areas, reap the increased health benefits and suffer less illness. Those benefits are shown to last for 2 years after moving back to urban areas.
Like most of us, are you living in an urban area? Take some time to walk to a local park. Not only are you reaping the benefits of the green space, you are also getting some gentle exercise!
Heat packs are great for muscle aches and pains. Do not use heat packs on fresh surgical wounds as it can cause harm. If you are using a hot water bottle, never use boiling water. Also be especially careful using heat if you have had strong pain killers- you might not feel that it is too hot!
Some patients also get sore muscles after certain types of surgery. For example, patients who have had thyroid surgery often get tense neck muscles. After doing the prescribed neck exercises, try applying a heat pack on the back of your neck.
Music therapy can combat pain by activating the brain’s reward centre. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, and is the chemical associated with pleasure. So take some time out to listen to some of your favourite relaxing music and just feel the pain melt away.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Meditation
Progressive muscle relaxation and meditation trigger the relaxation response. The relaxation response comes from the parasympathetic nervous system, which combats the stress response from the sympathetic nervous system. There are many guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, nature sounds and meditation guides on YouTube and iTunes.