45 Proven Remedies for Fast Pain Relief
Whether you stubbed your toe, are in the midst of a migraine, or are suffering from chronic pain, here's how to diminish the discomfort.
Ice is best used for acute pain relief rather than general muscle soreness, says A. Lynn Millar, PT, PhD, FACSM, chair of the department of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University. Her research has shown that ice doesn’t significantly alter muscle damage or inflammation. “Think of ice as a pain reliever or something that can reduce visible swelling, but it may not help the muscle heal,” she says. Still, you can massage the tender area by freezing water in small paper cups and then peeling back the paper to expose the ice; limit the massage to 15 minutes a session.
Capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that gives them their heat, is also found in over-the-counter ointments for pain relief. Rub it on aching joints to diminish discomfort. One caveat: It can burn a bit at first, says Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology. Check out these home remedies for arthritis pain.
Bag of frozen corn
Hurt your hand? Once again, treat it with cold. A bag of frozen peas or corn is perfect for joints and hands because you can mold the frozen veggies around the area, she says. Then, read on for these tips on when it’s best to use ice vs. heat for pain relief.
So, you went too hard playing tennis yesterday. There’s no reason to sit on the sidelines today. A light aerobic activity like cycling will improve nourishing blood flow to your achy muscles; plus activity “stimulates hormonal responses in the brain that reduce the sensation of pain,” says Millar. (Check out these pain quotes that will also help you feel stronger.)
You may know that lavender can help you relax and fall asleep. But one study on pregnant women in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that applying lavender topically reduced bruising and eased pain. It contains linalool and linalyl aldehyde; both act as pain relief and as an antiseptic. You can often find lavender formulated into a salve—just rub it on where needed.
Take in some art
Could Monet make you feel better? In interesting research from the University of California, Davis, researchers took 54 people battling chronic pain on a one-hour art museum tour. The researchers found that nearly two-thirds reported their pain levels dropped by half, in the 2019 study published in Pain Medicine. The patients also felt more connected socially.
“Yoga moves your body in a gentle manner to improve flexibility and strength,” says Millar. While the mind-body practice offers stress relief via relaxation, it can also be nearly as effective as physical therapy at providing low-back pain relief. Here are some great yoga poses for lower back pain relief to get you started.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Restless leg syndrome is one cause of insomnia. Rather than live with the aching, throbbing, or twitching sensations, try a before-bed technique called progressive muscle relaxation. To do it, breathe deeply and then tense the muscles in your feet, relax. Move to your calves and do the same. Work your way up through your body. By the time you’re finished, your mind will be as relaxed as your body.
You’re best off taking this anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain from minor muscular or tendon strains or pulls, like after an ankle sprain, says Timothy Miller, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. (Don’t pop ibuprofen for a bone injury, though, as it can slow healing, he says.) Find out the difference between ibuprofen and aspirin.
You’re so used to grabbing ibuprofen to treat a twinge, but acetaminophen is an option, too. “The downside of ibuprofen is that regular use can lead to GI bleeding. This is one of the more common reasons older adults are hospitalized,” says Millar. Acetaminophen won’t reduce inflammation, but it doesn’t come with the extra side effect. Consider it another option in your pain relief arsenal.
If you’re dealing with pesky inside-of-the-knee pain, let your hands work it out. Physical therapist Karena Wu, PT, DPT, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and Mumbai, suggests massaging the inner thigh and inside of the back of the thigh, as the muscles here connect to the inside of the knee. You can also grab a lacrosse ball to get the job done. Here are some other ways to relieve inside-of-the-knee pain.
Take pressure off
No kidding, but stuffing a big wallet into your back pants pocket can be contributing to back pain. Indeed, it may push on the sciatic nerve, sending a shooting jolt through the back of the leg, says orthopedic sports medicine surgeon John-Paul Rue, MD. The easy fix? Take out the wallet and—voila—pain relief. Who knew? Here are the types of leg pain to take seriously.
A heating pad is nice, but hot water might feel even better. “Heat loosens up stiff or tight muscles,” says Dr. Miller. Use heat before stretching or exercising the muscle. And if you’re short on time, you can let a hot shower do the work for you. If you have time, soak in a hot tub.
Another option for heat therapy—a nice, hot towel. Dr. Miller recommends throwing a damp towel in the dryer for 20 minutes and applying it to the aching area. It’s a great way to address tightness that you may feel more acutely in the morning, he says.
Ice—for bites and stings
Picnics and BBQs are fun until someone gets stung by a bee. It may hurt, but if you act fast, you can decrease the pain and get back to the party. Remove the stinger ASAP, wash the area with soap and water, and then apply an ice pack for 20 minutes. The cold will take away pain and lessen swelling. Find out the best way to treat every type of bug bite and sting.
These wearable devices are good for pain relief, as they use electricity to target affected muscles. (TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.) “They address nerve-related pain and stimulate muscles that are being inhibited by pain,” says Dr. Miller. They can be used with chronic pain or to help recover after surgery.
A specific TENS unit, FDA-cleared Quell, uses electrical stimulation that targets nerves in your upper calf. “The result is that it activates the brains’ ability to downregulate pain,” says Shai Gozani, MD, PhD, president and CEO at NeuroMetrix, Inc, which makes Quell. Most people wear it for at least a half-day, but the good news is that wearing a small device in this location is not only discreet—but it won’t get in the way of what you’re doing. Some people notice benefits within hours, for others it may take 30 days.
Finding a new mattress might be a hassle, but your body will thank you. Not only do mattresses wear over the years, but the one you have now may be too soft to properly support you. As you age, pick a firmer mattress to keep pesky pains at bay. Here are the other things that could happen if you sleep on an old mattress.
It’s an unfortunate reality that pain decreases your ability to sleep—yet sleep is necessary to reduce pain. “The theory is that impaired sleep prompts your brain to perceive a much stronger pain signal compared to getting a sufficient amount of sleep,” says Dr. Gozani. Adults should aim for at least seven hours per night. Here’s how to manage chronic pain without medication.
Your mental outlook greatly impacts your level of discomfort. “The brain centers that regulate pain and mood overlap. The same neurotransmitters that modulate pain also affect behavioral responses,” says Dr. Gozani. Having a bright outlook when you’re in pain is tough, but even small improvements in your mood can have a profound effect on your physical comfort. Here are 10 things optimistic people do every day.
A healthy attitude
Those who catastrophize pain often find that no treatment offers relief, says Dr. Gozani: “You have to take control.” Simply feeling like you can win the battle against chronic pain will help turn down the dial on your discomfort, he says. Tell yourself that you may have pain, but you can still do the things you love, like spend time with friends and family.
When you’re dealing with aches and pains, it’s often all you can focus on. Rather than trying to wish away the pain, dive into something distracting, like a puzzle or funny TV show. Research has found that getting your mind off the discomfort could help you feel better, per Psychological Science. Find out the times your joint pain is actually alot more serious.
Calcium + vitamin D
Popping this supplement combo won’t turn down pain, but it is necessary for both proper bone health and muscle function, says Dr. Miller. Staying well-supplied with these nutrients will help decrease your risk of injury and prevent small problems from becoming big ones. These are the vitamins and supplements doctors take daily.
A combo of ibuprofen and acetaminophen was found to be as effective at quelling short-term pain for leg and arm injuries as prescription opioids, according to research in JAMA. Opioid addiction is a serious issue—ask your doctor if you can begin with non-opioid treatment. These are the 10 signs that you’re in danger of a pain pill addiction.
Once a migraine headache hits, there are few things that can pull you back from the brink of extreme pain. Behold the power of cooling: Research in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health has found that placing a frozen wrap on the front of the neck over the carotid arteries can ward off a headache. If you’re a regular sufferer, keep a wrap in your freezer so it’s ready when you need it.
Yes, you heard that right. Don’t be afraid to unleash a string of your nastiest words. A study in NeuroReport found that swearing could up your pain tolerance. The research shows that repeating a swear word helped people keep their hands in freezing water longer than those saying a non-curse word. So, don’t fear expressing how you really feel when you stub your toe.
If you’re limping and wincing because of a calf or Achilles tendon problem, a shoe insert that provides arch support or a heel lift will help relieve strain, says Miller. Proper biomechanics “can help from your foot and ankle all the way up the kinetic chain to your lower back,” he says.
Many running shoe stores offer gait analysis, something Miller recommends if you are recovering from an injury or have a history of injuries from running. The experts there can deduce whether your issue is a structural problem in your feet or legs or something abnormal with your stride. Orthotics or instruction on proper gait can pay off with pain relief. Make sure you’re not doing these things that just make pain worse.
Lace up your sneakers and head out the door for a good walking session. A 2017 Cochrane review concluded that cardio can lessen pain in people with fibromyalgia. Why? Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that make your mind and body feel good. Learn about more natural ways to fight fibromyalgia.
If tooth pain is your problem, the quickest way to manage sensitivity is with your toothpaste, says American Dental Association spokesperson Kim Harms, DDS. Brands such as Sensodyne and Colgate both have toothpaste that contains fluoride to strengthen enamel and ingredients that desensitize teeth to extreme temperatures.
Combined with aerobic exercise, strength training helps reduce pain and improves function in people with arthritis, says Millar. “We see inflammatory markers decrease as someone does more physical activity,” she says. Strength training, in particular, will improve muscle strength to absorb the forces impacting your joints.
If you live in a state with legalized medical marijuana, talk to your doc if you can use it for your pain management protocol. Cannabis is particularly effective for controlling pain in inflammatory conditions, according to Harvard emergency physician Jordan Tishler, MD, founder of InhaleMD. You just may find that cannabis helps relieve stiff joints, and ultimately help you live your life to the fullest. Here’s everything you need to know about using CBD oil for pain.
Pain education is critical for patients, says Millar. “Pain is part of the normal healing process,” she says. Speaking with a pain specialist may be helpful in understanding why your pain may be an important part of your recovery; the knowledge may help you endure the discomfort and help you be more open to what you can do to break the cycle.
If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor may suggest taking a daily fish oil supplement. Fish oil is a major source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. “All forms of arthritis have an inflammatory component to them,” says Millar; these healthy fats can help calm that inflammation. Omega 3s are also found in abundance in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. These are the pain symptoms to never ignore.
The mind-body modality is a proven pain reliever. One review of 18 randomized controlled trials found that tai chi was able to immediately treat discomfort in those suffering from low back pain and osteoporosis, suggests research published in Scientific Reports. It also happens to be one of the 8 proven ways to prevent stress and heart disease.
If you have low-back pain but don’t want to practice yoga, try basic stretching instead. Research shows that a weekly intensive stretching class in addition to 20 minutes of daily stretching at home reduced pain almost as well as yoga did after six weeks—and the patients were able to take less medication, according to research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Check out more lower back pain relief treatments that really work.
For many years, people questioned if acupuncture’s benefits were solely due to the placebo effect. However, a meta-analysis in 2018 in The Journal of Pain concluded that the ancient therapy makes a significant impact on pain in chronic sufferers.
One of the reasons why yoga and tai chi may be so useful for pain relief is because they focus on breathing. “Breathing alone helps reduce the sensation of pain,” says Millar. Here’s how to use breathing techniques to control chronic pain.
Placing pressure on various points on the body may help relieve tension—and research suggests it can be particularly effective for women dealing with painful periods. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology on more than 200 women found that using an acupressure app lessened cramps compared to those receiving usual care—and the benefits only got better as the months went on.
With back pain, it’s always tempting to hit the couch or bed and lay there until you feel better. Some rest is important, but so is movement, says Millar: “You lose muscle mobility, strength, and health if you don’t utilize your muscles,” she warns. Start with a ten-minute walk twice a day to help loosen up your back and alleviate aches. Here are some other home remedies for back pain you should know.
Staring at your computer screen all day is bound to cause neck pain. Doing a series of five simple strength-based moves, including shoulder shrugs, upright row, one-arm row, reverse fly, and shoulder abduction, can help cut neck pain by 50 percent. Check out these posture correctors you can wear while you work, too.
Rosemary and thyme essential oil
When you’re dealing with head pain, all you want to do is lay down in a dark room and be left alone. You might also try rubbing drops of thyme and rosemary essential oil on your temples and forehead; the fragrant blend has been shown to work in a similar way as over-the-counter pain relievers.
Once again, your brain is a powerful thing. Take a few minutes every day to practice mindfulness—where you focus on your breath while observing (without judgment) bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in lowering pain intensity while undergoing a painful heat compared to a control group, suggests research published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
You type at the computer all day, so it’s no wonder you’re wringing your hands in pain. Set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to take a break every hour. During that time, rest your hands with palms up on a wrist rest. Then, check out these home remedies for carpal tunnel.
Sip your favorite smoothie—and don’t forget to add a good source of dairy-like milk or yogurt. The amino acid tryptophan can help lower pain sensitivity in as quickly as one hour. If that doesn’t work, add a turkey sandwich for lunch; turkey is another good source of tryptophan. Here are the foods that help fight inflammation.
- A. Lynn Millar, PT, PhD, FACSM, chair of the department of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University
- Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology
- Pain Medicine: "The Art of Analgesia: A Pilot Study of Art Museum Tours to Decrease Pain and Social Disconnection Among Individuals with Chronic Pain"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Yoga Similar to Physical Therapy in Helping Low-Back Pain in a Diverse Urban Population"
- Timothy Miller, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- Karena Wu, PT, DPT, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and Mumbai
- John-Paul Rue, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon
- Shai Gozani, MD, PhD, president and CEO at NeuroMetrix, Inc
- Jordan Tishler, MD, emergency physician and founder of InhaleMD
- Scientific Reports: "Tai Chi for Chronic Pain Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- The Journal of Pain: "Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis"
- American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: "Effectiveness of app-based self-acupressure for women with menstrual pain compared to usual care: a randomized pragmatic trial"
- The Journal of Neuroscience: "Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids"
- NeuroReport: "Swearing as a response to pain"
- Clinical Journal of Pain: "Effects of Music Engagement on Responses to Painful Stimulation"
- National Institutes of Health: "Yoga or Stretching Eases Low Back Pain"
- Cochrane: "Aerobic exercise for adults with fibromyalgia"