8 self-care tips to treat pain without medication

14th December, 2022 • 5 min read

Headache hit just when you want to go out? Period pain ruining your focus at work? Back pain stopping you from sitting comfortably? Whatever pain you’re dealing with, there are self-care tips that can help – either alongside the pain relief you get from your medical team, or on their own.

Find the self-care pain relief that works for you

“Everyone is different and has different experiences of pain,” says Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert.

And even if you have a condition that causes pain – such as

or another of the conditions that cause pain more commonly in women – that pain can be different on different days.

“This means pain relief methods will vary, too,” says Dr Ann. “You may need prescription medication from your doctor, physical therapy, or surgery – or your pain might be mild enough to manage yourself.”

There are some self-care tips you can use on their own, or alongside any medical treatment. “You need to find what works for you,” says Dr Ann. But here’s what the latest research says is effective.

1. Distract yourself

Try distracting yourself from your pain by getting deep into a hobby or task that you enjoy (or need to do).

Research shows that if it’s something you need to concentrate a bit harder on, it can help even more. It sounds simple, but it’s been proven to work!

Try it!

  • do something fun that requires concentration – such as painting, sewing, reading, crosswords/puzzles, photography, adult coloring books, listening to new music, knitting or gardening
  • do something you know you’ll be happy you ticked off your to-do list, even if it’s not your favorite thing – for example, a cost comparison on insurance providers, or a tax return

2. Take some deep breaths

Even the way you breathe can help you manage pain. Breathing slowly and deeply can help you relax, and has been shown to ease pain or help you cope.

It can also help you to avoid or reduce muscle tension or anxiety, which could make your pain worse.

Try it!

Set aside 10 minutes to try these

5 breathing exercises for instant calm
, and see which works well for you.

3. Use heat

Heat therapy can help reduce pain, ease stiffness, increase muscle relaxation and reduce muscle spasms.

Try it!

Something as simple as a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel may help with

period pain
when placed on your tummy – or consider getting a wheat pack or heat patch from the pharmacy.

4. Get into guided meditation

Buddhist monks have been saying for centuries that meditation helps change the perception of pain, and now science has proved that it’s true.

Studies have shown meditation can help with fibromyalgia, migraines,

irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
and chronic
pelvic pain
, as well as other pain conditions.

Remember, however, that it’s not a quick fix. It usually involves practicing mindfulness over a period of time – around 8 weeks or longer – to start seeing the benefits.

Try it!

See if you can start to change your relationship to pain with this

free guided pain management meditation

5. Keep moving

It might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re in pain – but exercise has been shown to improve pain, both in the moment and over the longer term. “It doesn’t need to be hard aerobic exercise – just any activity you can manage,” says Dr Ann.

Exercise can not only reduce pain perception, but also lift your mood and ease feelings of stress and low mood.

Research suggests regular activity can help with period pain, rheumatoid arthritis,

, fibromyalgia and low back pain, among other pain conditions.

Try it!

  • get into the habit of doing some stretching exercises every day to help stop your muscles tightening up and relieve tension
  • walking, swimming, gardening, dancing,
    are all good exercise options, which may help block pain signals to the brain

6. Get into a good sleep routine

If you’re in pain, it can be harder to sleep well – getting comfortable is more difficult, and pain levels might wake you up, as well as stop you drifting off. Being sleep deprived can then make your pain worse, setting up a vicious cycle.

Getting into a good ‘sleep hygiene’ routine alongside pain management can help improve your sleep and reduce the levels of pain you feel during the day.

Try it!

Check out our

sleep guide
for more information and science-backed tips, including
self-care tips for better sleep

7. Keep up with friends and family

Being in pain can make it hard to socialize – you may feel like canceling when you have a flare up, or too exhausted from trying to cope with your pain to make any plans at all.

But research shows it's important to stay connected – spending time with people you love will help with your mood, while isolation can lead to

, which can make your pain worse.

Try it!

  • if you don’t fancy going out, try a phone call or video call to chat to a friend
  • invite someone to your home for coffee or to watch a movie
  • if you do feel like going out, talk to your friends or family about what might be manageable – perhaps a walk instead of a noisy bar, or whatever feels right for you

8. Get support online

Sharing your pain story and hearing how others have coped with their pain can help you find more tips and ideas for coping, and ease stress.

Try it!

You can read about other people’s stories, get tips and share your own experiences through these pain organizations:

You can also watch the video below for how to manage chronic pain.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.