Updated: Mar 14
5 ways to relieve your pain that don’t involve reaching for the painkillers
You’ve probably heard of endorphins. They’re often cited as the reason why you feel so good after a hard workout or exercise session. Aerobic exercise will release a flood of endorphins that make you briefly feel happy or even euphoric – the “runner’s high” you may have heard about.
Did you know that endorphins are also a natural painkiller? They’re released by your brain whenever you’re in pain or stressed, since they act to block pain by binding to opioid receptors in the spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. This is also why they’re sometimes called “feel-good” chemicals.
Unfortunately, the level of endorphins in the human body varies from person to person, so if you suffer from chronic or ongoing pain, you can be forgiven for reaching for the painkillers as a first resort. But supposing I told you that there are easy things you can do to help enhance your endorphin levels to help manage your pain more naturally?
Here’s a list of five simple endorphin-boosting activities that are accessible to most people, are inexpensive, and have the potential to reduce your pain.
1. Get outside in nature
With working from home directives, we’ve been forced to spend entirely too much time indoors lately, and you may have forgotten what “outside” feels like. The immune system works best when challenged regularly and just 10 to 15 minutes of being out in the fresh air does just that. It can slow your body down, making it more able to repair itself and making you feel calmer and more peaceful at the same time. 10 minutes a day in even weak sunshine also boosts your body’s production of vitamin D which can help reduce chronic pain.
2. Have a warm bath
Soaking your body in warm water can alleviate many forms of muscle pain and muscle spasm, as well as various types of arthritis. Water makes you naturally buoyant, supporting your body and taking the weight off your joints, helping to improve your flexibility and range of motion. Throw in a handful of scented bath salts and lie back to breathe in the aromas, relaxing your tense muscles and reducing inflammation. If a bath doesn’t appeal then you can try a whirlpool tub, or warm pool for water therapy.
3. Heat and ice
If soaking in a tub isn’t for you but you like the idea of heat, then you can try a heat pack or an adhesive wrap that provides continuous low-level heat. Or using ice and/or a cold gel pack can help reduce inflammation and numb pain by slowing your nerve impulses. In general, limit ice therapy to 15 or 20 minutes with a rest of at least 2 hours between applications—and keep a layer between the ice and your skin to reduce the risk of “ice burns” or skin damage. The main benefit of either of these methods is that you can target the point of your pain directly.
4. Massage therapy
Massage therapy is defined as the manipulation of soft tissues—muscles, tendons, and ligaments—through hands-on massage by a qualified massage therapist. A high-quality therapeutic massage promotes blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and boosts overall feelings of wellness. Plus many massage therapists specialise in the types of treatments that target specific areas of your body, so you may need to try more than one approach to find what works best for you.
5. Assisted Stretching
Almost everyone can benefit from stretching the soft tissues, especially if your motion is limited because you are in pain. With assisted stretching, another person is working with your body movement in the water and triggers a release. It’s like a massage and it feels good, partly because the water does the work! Often you will notice after the first session that the stretch therapy improves your range of motion, leading to improved movement patterns, fewer injuries, and reduced pain.
If your pain has overstayed its welcome, you should know that you have more treatment options today than ever before. So, the next time your pain drags you down, and you're desperate for relief, why not try one or two of these methods before you reach for the painkillers?