Skip to main content

Non-Pharmacological Pain Management Therapies for Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What are non-pharmacological therapies for pain?

Non-pharmacological therapies are ways to decrease pain without medicine. Your healthcare provider will help you choose therapies that are right for you. Your provider will explain the advantages for each treatment and which may work best for the cause of your pain. Non-pharmacological therapies may help decrease your pain or give you more control over your pain. This can improve your quality of life.

What are some common therapies to help control pain?

  • Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat to the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Massage therapy may help relax tight muscles and decrease pain.
  • Physical therapy teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is a portable, pocket-sized, battery-powered device that attaches to your skin. It is usually placed over the area of pain. It uses mild, safe electrical signals to help control pain.
  • A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is an electrode implanted near your spinal cord during a simple procedure. The electrode is connected to a stimulator (a small box). The stimulator sends mild, safe electrical signals to the electrode. The electrical signals help relax the nerves that cause your pain.

What other therapies may help control pain?

  • Relaxation techniques can help you relax, relieve stress, and decrease pain. Common relaxation techniques include any of the following:
    • Aromatherapy is a way of using scents to relax, relieve stress, and decrease pain. Aromatherapy uses oils, extracts, or fragrances from flowers, herbs, and trees. They may be inhaled or used during massages, facials, body wraps, and baths.
    • Deep breathing can help you relax and help decrease your pain. Take a deep breath in and then release it slowly. Do this as many times as needed.
    • Tense your muscles and then relax them. Start with the muscles in your feet then slowly move up your leg. Then move to the muscles of your middle body, arms, neck and head.
    • Meditation and yoga may help your mind and body relax. They can also help you have an increased feeling of wellness. Meditation and yoga help you take the focus off your pain.
  • Guided imagery teaches you to imagine a picture in your mind. You learn to focus on the picture instead of your pain. It may help you learn how to change the way your body senses and responds to pain.
  • Music may help increase energy levels and improve your mood. It may help reduce pain by triggering your body to release endorphins. These are natural body chemicals that decrease pain. Music may be used with any of the other techniques, such as relaxation and distraction.
  • Biofeedback helps your body respond differently to the stress of being in pain. Healthcare providers may use a biofeedback machine to help know when your body is relaxed. You will learn what your breathing and heart rate are when you are relaxed. When you are in pain, you practice getting your breathing and heart rate to those levels. This may help you feel more control over your pain.
  • Self-hypnosis is a way to direct your attention to something other than your pain. For example, you might repeat a positive statement about ignoring the pain or seeing the pain in a positive way.
  • Acupuncture therapy uses very thin needles to balance energy channels in the body. This is thought to help reduce pain and other symptoms.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH
    Information Clearinghouse
    PO Box 7923
    Gaithersburg , MD 20898
    Phone: 1- 888 - 6446226
    Web Address:

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain does not get better, or you have new pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.