Natural Pain Relief- Part 1

Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced plans to curb US citizens’ addiction to opioids, a class of drugs that includes oxycodone and heroin. Opioid-related deaths rose beyond 28,000 in 2014, and have quadrupled since, which was why plans to amend the way pain is managed there were mooted.


It seems impossible, but celebs are only human, judging from how many of them suffer chronic pain. Here are three:

  • Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross has been getting debilitating migraines since she was 14.
  • Chronic back pain almost forced Tobey Maguire to decline donning the Spider-Man costume a second time.
  • American Idol judge Paula Abdul suffers from regional sympathy dystrophy that developed from a cheerleading accident when she was 17.


It seems like conventional medicine advocates the popping of pills for almost every health and medical issue that arises. If you’re searching for natural, holistic, and possibly pharmaceutical-free ways to manage your pain, here are two.

In the Ayurvedic tradition, pain is a mind-body experience unique to each person. Ayurveda understands that the brain secretes numerous pain-relieving chemicals that can be mentally released, which is why it encourages patients to practise meditation and other mind exercises.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), pain is “mainly a result of qi and blood stagnation or deficiency,” explains Physician Lin Jia Yi of Eu Yan Sang, a brand synonymous throughout Asia with premium TCM products and services. Qi (say “chee”) is the Chinese term for life energy or spirit that flows through all living things. With the Rio Olympics taking place this month, interest in TCM has surged. That’s because a number of athletes, including star swimmer Michael Phelps, were spotted with circular bruises all over their shoulders and back. That’s the result of a therapy known as cupping, which has been a TCM practice for ages. Another TCM therapy, acupuncture, has been endorsed by the World Health Organization for the relief of various types of pain.


Understanding pain and how it is classified will help you describe your suffering more accurately to whichever type of medical practitioner — conventional or CAM — so that they can better prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Pain is an unpleasant sensation that warns you something is wrong with your body. It can be diffused or confined to a particular area, and comes in different levels of intensity.


Ranking the intensity of the pain on a numeric scale provides an easy reference point. There are many such tools, but one of the simplest is the 11-point Numeric Rating Scale (NRS-11), which is applicable to any normal person above 10 years of age.

0 = no pain

1-3 = mild pain; little interference with daily living

4-6 = moderate pain; significantly interference with daily living

7-10 = severe pain, unable to perform daily routines

Pain has physical and emotional components. The physical part we feel through nerve stimulation. Chronic pain may arise from psychological states; it doesn’t tell us anything about our bodies — it has no biological purpose.

Pain can also be acute or chronic. Acute pain is self-limiting (burns, cuts, sprains). Chronic pain (back pains, migraines) is long-term and may not end, which could lead to psychological problems.

Pain can also be divided via its origins. Nociceptive and neuropathic pain arise from tissue and nerve damage respectively; psychogenic or mixed pain is a combination of the other two.


It’s important to encourage people experiencing pain that there are many ways to manage their problem. These methods can be divided into three approaches:

  • There are several classes of pain-relieving drugs, such as analgesics (paracetamol, aspirin), anticonvulsants (carbamazepine, gabapentin), COX-2 inhibitors, and opioids.
  • Meditation isn’t the only way to stimulate the brain to release pain-relieving chemicals; consider also biofeedback, relaxation techniques, or hypnosis.
  • Physical manipulations to relieve pain include massage, physiotherapy, and chiropractic. There are also various electrical stimulation techniques, which require some sort of surgery. We’ve already mentioned cupping and acupuncture; another TCM therapy is tui na.

Speaking of acupuncture, it is now offered in many reputable pain management clinics. Explaining the widespread acceptance of this practice among the conventional doctors, Physician Lin says, “Research has consistently shown positive results on acupuncture and pain management. The World Health Organization recognises acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating pain in controlled trials.”

If this has made you curious about the pain-relieving practices in TCM, there are more details in Part 2.


7. "Pain Intensity Instruments". National Institutes of Health – Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center. July 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-14.
12. Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. World Health Organization 2003.