A recent study by the federal government reports that more than one in three people in the United States—36 percent—were given painkiller prescriptions by healthcare professionals in 2015. That’s more than more than 97 million Americans aged 12 and older.1

While prescription painkillers may be a reasonable choice for those who aren’t experiencing a substance use disorder, if you’re in addiction recovery then you’ll need to find other, safer ways to manage your pain. Alternative pain management techniques do exist. Let’s review some of the options you have to manage pain and avoid opioid painkillers.

1. Ibuprofen and Aspirin

High doses of ibuprofen and aspirin can be effective in relieving pain after surgery or to treat pain resulting from chronic inflammation. This type of pain management should be done under the supervision of a doctor, because repeated high doses can damage kidneys or the gastrointestinal tract.2

2. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy has been shown to reduce chronic pain after surgery. It’s also a good idea to have exercise-based therapies before surgery to strengthen the body and improve its ability to heal.

Exercise-based physical therapy can also reduce pain from osteoarthritis and improve functioning immediately after treatment. Improvements in osteoarthritis symptoms can last from 2-6 months.3

3. Meditation

Meditation is an excellent, no-cost way to manage pain.4 Mindfulness meditation that combines focused attention on breathing, along with a reduction in the awareness of external sensations and resulting thoughts, has been shown by research to have a moderate effect for pain relief.

4. Counseling

Participating in sessions with a counselor who trains you on how to activate specific brain regions that interpret the meaning of pain can help you replace the fear of pain with a non-threatening interpretation of it. Studies show that repeatedly performing certain mental exercises can lead to a significant improvement in overall pain perception.

5. Electrotherapy and Cryotherapy

Two methods worth considering for managing pain are electrotherapy and cryotherapy. Electrotherapy uses electricity to gently stimulate nerves and muscles. Cryotherapy is a process of applying extreme cold to an area to relieve pain.

6. Stay Healthy

Keeping your body in the best shape through regular exercise and a nutritious diet goes a long way toward avoiding conditions that can cause pain. Keep a food diary, and if you develop physical symptoms like headaches or an irritable bowel, reference your recent diet to see if symptoms are possibly related to the foods you’re eating.

Nutritional supplements can also help offset pain and treat minor symptoms of some of the more chronic conditions. Consider consulting with a dietitian to find out what vitamins and minerals can help your specific conditions or what can help you heal faster after surgery.

Work Closely with Professionals to Avoid Opioid Painkillers

Before you make any pain-management decisions, it’s important to talk with your counselors and doctors. You’re a unique person, and a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t the goal. A tailored plan that combines some or all of the methods discussed here should be implemented after you’ve consulted with your mental and physical health care providers. Then, you can work on using the therapies and techniques that will work best for you—and avoid opioid painkillers that may cause more problems than they solve.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR2-2015/NSDUH-FFR2-2015.htm
  2. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/03/halt-hurt
  3. https://www.apta.org/PTinMotion/News/2016/01/15/CDCOpioidsAPTAComments/
  4. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/blog/mindfulness-meditation-pain