Pain is an unfortunate and often devastating symptom many must face when chronically ill. At its worst, it can leave you on the sidelines instead of living your life to the fullest. Coming up with a plan to manage this pain with chronic illness can be a frustrating task, especially when you struggle to find something that works. If you’re like me, then you prefer natural pain relief options over pharmacological ones when possible. So, here’s a list of 12 ways to manage pain with chronic illness naturally–all of which I have tried or currently use.
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1. Wear Compression
Because I suffer from blood pooling in my abdomen, legs, and feet, it often causes pain in these areas when I’m upright for too long. Honestly, I loathe anything that requires extended periods of standing, especially standing still, because it’s a guaranteed pain trigger. I shift my weight constantly out in public in a desperate attempt to counteract the pooling. So, if you see a girl out and about who looks like she’s doing the potty dance while admiring art at the MET, it’s probably me!
However, there’s good news here! Compression has been a huge help in relieving this pain while standing.
Personally, I’ve used both Copper Fit Energy Knee High Compression Socks and VIM & VIGR compression socks. Both types of compression socks are easy to get on, and they provide enough compression to ease my symptoms. More specifically, I can stand longer, walk farther distances, and exercise upright with minimal or no pain. Wearing compression even lowers my standing heart rate! That’s a major success for a POTSie like me.
I can highly recommend either of these options. If you want a more sporty look and are looking for something inexpensive to try, I’d go with Copper Fit. However, if you want more stylish compression socks for everyday wear out and about, then I’d say you’ll love VIM & VIGR. It’s all up to your personal style and budget!
Your doctor may also prescribe you waist-high, thigh-high, or knee-high medical compression stockings that you can get at your local pharmacy. My doctor did offer me these as an option and suggested I try them if I’m in a difficult flare.
Compression doesn’t work as well for everyone. I feel very lucky that it’s helped me manage pain with my chronic illness. The general recommendation for compression levels is 20-30 mmHg, but some people may need only 15-20 mmHg or may need more such as 30-40 mmHg. If you haven’t already, give compression a try and see if it brings you the same relief!
2. Ice After Exercise
Throwing an ice pack on an injury isn’t anything groundbreaking. We all know how ice reduces inflammation and numbs some of the pain. However, something that I do quite often to manage pain with my chronic illness is icing after exercise or prolonged physical activity. I like to call it preventative therapy. Even if my vulnerable areas aren’t sore, I ice them anyway. For me, this means my feet got a ton of icing action.
I love Elasto-Gel Hot & Cold Therapy Wraps because they make ice wraps in all different sizes and shapes depending on the body area you need. This is great for tricky areas like the shoulders, neck, or feet when you need an ice wrap specifically sized and contoured to fit that area for the most efficient icing. Plus, the gel is soft and flexible, and it can stay cold (or hot!) for up to 20-30 minutes!
Also, for those with POTS and other circulation problems, icing will aid in constricting blood vessels. So, it should drive away some of the blood pooling in the lower limbs. Sometimes, I’ll even make an ice bath for my feet on really hot days in the summer to help this process. There’s nothing better than that ahhh feeling when you first dip your hot toes in the icy water.
3. Use Heat to Ease Pain
I have a “heat sack” as I so lovingly call it, which is basically a fabric sack filled with rice. Heating this up in the microwave for two, one-minute intervals (no longer than two minutes!) provides moist heat for stiff or sore muscles. Using heat is one of my top methods to manage pain with chronic illness because it rarely fails me.
[Side note: Ladies, this also works wonders for menstrual cramps! It helps me survive the agony when painkillers don’t.]
If you don’t have one or don’t want to buy one, you can easily make a DIY version at home! Just get an old sock–at least calf-high or knee-high–and fill it with rice and tie it closed. Voila! Moist heat sack!
Heating pads are another option for delivering soothing warmth to your sore spots. Just don’t put them directly on your skin, or fall asleep with them on high. I know how tempting it can be to doze off amidst the cozy warmth. I’ve made this mistake many times and have woken up completely overheated and feeling dehydrated, which isn’t good for POTS. Look for one with a timed shut-off feature to avoid this altogether.
4. Take Warm Baths With Epsom Salts or Magnesium Salts
Who doesn’t love to take a nice warm and relaxing bath every now and then? Well, if you’re a POTSie like me, baths can sometimes be a challenge because of the warm environment. However, they are easier than showers for most because at least you’re not standing. I digress…
Baths, when you’re careful, can provide instant pain relief, as well as some TLC for when you’re in need of self-care time. I love to add Magsoothium Joint & Muscle Recovery Bath Salts to my baths. The magnesium and arnica in this product temporarily reduce inflammation, pain, and aches caused by overuse or minor injury. Plus, this one smells like peppermint, which I find to be so relaxing! It makes me feel like I’m at an actual spa and not just inside my bathroom.
You can also add Epsom salts to your bath instead if that’s your jam, but I personally love the magnesium salts because they soothe my pain so well.
5. Try Magsoothium Body Spray With (or without) CBD
To piggy-back right off the last tip, this is a product that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!! Magsoothium body spray has been the best thing I have ever used for pain relief, and I cannot go without it. I’ve been using this product for five years, mainly on my feet because that’s where most of my chronic pain resides.
Using this spray whenever I get an ounce of pain in my arches nips it in the bud before it can develop into something worse. I truly believe it’s another reason why I’ve avoided relapses of plantar fasciitis. It’s allowed my arches to heal and grow stronger by minimizing pain from strengthening exercises. Now, I run 4 days a week without any sidelining pain.
There’s also a newer version of this spray that has CBD oil in it. This version, I’ve found, somehow works even better for rapid pain relief. I mean, I’ve heard the rumors of how great CBD oil is for alleviating pain, but I didn’t realize how true that is until I tried it for myself.
The only downside to this version is that I find the CBD smell to be pretty strong. Even when I layer two socks over my feet I can still smell it. I try to use it at night when my feet are sealed under the covers and then I shower in the morning to get it off. Although, it works so unbelievably well for pain relief that it’s worth it for me! But if strong smells or perfumes bother you, I’d try the first version I suggested without CBD oil.
6. Apply Biofreeze
Similarly, this is another natural pain relief product you can use for your chronic pain management plan. I first learned about Biofreeze Professional Pain Relief Gel from my chiropractor close to ten years ago. However, I’ve also had my physical therapist use it during treatment as well.
This product contains natural menthol, so it feels a bit icy when applied. The menthol is super effective in numbing the pain and providing instant relief. Whenever I experience acute pain, I’ll slather Biofreeze on the area to numb it right away.
For example, two weeks ago I got up too fast from a nap and passed out, falling into a side table before tumbling into a wall and smacking my head. First of all, I am OK! Second, I whacked my head pretty good and knocked my neck out of alignment. I had sharp pains straight up my neck into my head and even felt pain through to my eye. So in this instance, I slathered Biofreeze all over my neck to numb that pain enough to get by until I could see my chiropractor.
Pro tip: Apply this before bed and wrap a towel around the area (the smell is very strong, I will warn). I find that the cooling sensation (or maybe the smell?) helps me fall asleep. Bye-bye insomnia!
7. Seek Out a Chiropractor
Speaking of chiropractors, I’m fully in support of seeing one for correcting alignment and to help manage pain with chronic illness. I’ve met some people who are a little skeptical about chiropractors, but I’m here to tell you that they are miracle workers! As long as you find one who is rated well, I would encourage you to seek out chiropractic care. I’ll share a few personal stories to illustrate how miraculous they can be for musculoskeletal health.
When I was around ten, I started seeing a chiropractor for scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine that often happens during a growth spurt before puberty. With continued adjustments, my chiropractor was able to correct my spine enough to where I didn’t need a corrective brace for my back, nor surgery. I still have a slight curvature of my spine, but chiropractic care keeps it from getting worse and reduces secondary pain–like the dreaded sciatic pain!
If that doesn’t convince you, then here’s a true miracle story for you. If you’ve read my story, you know that I suffered from an unknown nerve injury in my lower back. I couldn’t walk or even stand on my feet for an entire summer because of the electric pain that only manifested in my feet.
Long story short, when I finally learned that a nerve had been compressed in my lower spine, I went to see a homeopathic doctor. I call this man the miracle man because he had me standing–albeit very wobbly–on my feet after just one treatment of repositioning my shifted pelvis. My parents cried. I was in shock. He later told me how he shares this story with other patients who come in, hopeless of ever getting better. I hadn’t stood in two months and honestly thought I never would again. Now I can say I’ve experienced a miracle.
Don’t underestimate the power of chiropractic care. Research good providers in your community, or ask around for local recommendations. It just may be a miracle for you too.
8. Incorporate Massage Therapy
Nothing says relaxation quite like a massage does. According to Harvard Health Publishing, therapeutic massage can relieve pain by reducing tension in tendons, muscles, and joints, interrupting pain signals being transmitted by nerves to the brain, and easing anxiety and stress.
So go ahead! Treat yourself to a therapeutic massage once in a while. Or, ask a family member to loosen up your sore spots. If you’re able to reach your sore spots, massage the area yourself. I do this with my feet, and I’ll simultaneously rub in some of the magsoothium spray I mentioned earlier. It’s a double attack on pain!
9. Roll Out Your Muscles
I’m always very honest with what does and does not work well for me. That doesn’t stop here. Foam rolling is something that works wonderfully for a lot of people, including my mom, who rolls out her muscles faithfully every day. However, for me, it doesn’t always work as well. When I roll out my calves, it feels amazing, but when I try to roll out my hamstrings or glutes, it can sometimes flare up my sciatica.
So I would say, try it with caution if you never have before, and make sure to look up videos on the proper techniques for each muscle group. You never know, it could become a permanent part of your routine to manage pain with a chronic illness!
10. Try E-Stim or a TENS Unit
You may be familiar with electrical stimulation (e-stim) therapy if you’ve ever gone to physical therapy. These large machines typically come with four pads that are placed in particular locations on the body, depending on where the pain is and conducts small impulses to the nervous system that interfere with pain signals.
A TENS unit (which stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a battery-operated type of e-stim that you can buy and use at home. I use these quite a bit at home as part of my pain management protocol. In fact, I’m wearing an iReliev TENS Unit right now as I write this because my hip is letting me know it needs some attention.
Personally, I’ve had much success with these machines for managing pain with my chronic illness, particularly for back, hip, IT band, and sciatic pain.
Last summer, I flared up my sciatica and pulled my IT band from too much biking and not enough stretching during my time completing the Levine Protocol. I wore my iReliev TENS Unit three times a day and left it on for 20-30 minutes at a time because it worked so well to ease the pain while both areas healed. Just make sure to look up proper pad placement for the area you’re treating! It can be a bit confusing, so you’ll definitely want a visual guide until you get the hang of it.
11. Exercise, Stretch, and Strengthen
Any kind of movement is therapeutic for the body. Exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream, which can help with blunting pain signals. Plus, as Elle Woods says, endorphins make you happy!
Stretching can also alleviate pain by increasing flexibility and range of motion. For example, if you also experience the joy of sciatic pain, some gentle stretches can provide quick relief. Stretching on a regular basis will also keep your body loosened up, which can lessen the frequency of painful flare-ups.
Strength training also shouldn’t be ignored, so don’t let your dumbbells or resistance bands accumulate dust. Try a program for strengthening the parts of your body that may be weak and thus, contributing to your pain levels. There’s a reason they give you targeted exercises at physical therapy!
12. Buy Shoe Inserts For Foot Pain
It’s really hard to find both comfortable AND stylish shoes. Sometimes, you get really lucky and come across a pair that satisfies both criteria, but that’s rare. Now, I buy shoe inserts so that I can purchase stylish shoes. That way, I don’t destroy my feet or worsen my foot pain from blood pooling because I wanted to get boots with a lil’ baby heel.
However, shoe inserts are also helpful for back pain! How you treat your feet reflects in your back. If you find that your back is aching more than usual and you can’t find a cause for it, you might want to take a look at what you’ve got on your feet.
Do your shoes fit well? Are your arches supported? Are the soles too hard or too flat? Do your toes have room to breathe? These are all questions you should be asking yourself when you select a pair of shoes to wear.
My favorite inserts so far are Sof Sole Women’s Memory Plus Shoe Inserts. I bought a pair of gorgeous booties, whose soles are very hard, and cut these inserts to fit inside them. Now it feels like I’m walking on marshmallows!
So fear not! It’s still possible to have stylish shoes and be comfortable, too. It’s a win for all fashionistas out there with chronic pain to manage.
Pro tip: Take the inserts with you when you go shoe shopping so you buy the right shoe size. Sometimes, I have to buy a half-size bigger or a wide-width so that the inserts fit.
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I know how badly chronic pain affects our quality of life. It’s distracting, miserable to endure, and sometimes even debilitating. With that, I hope something on this list brings you relief and can be added to your chronic pain management plan!
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