Last year I wrote about finding pain relief that doesn’t contain animal products, but as we know, no medication is completely vegan due to animal testing laws. That got me thinking about medication-free pain relief. Whilst I believe that we sometimes have to take medication, I’m a huge advocate treatments that don’t rely on pharmaceuticals. So I thought I’d compile a list of therapies that can work well for painful conditions, but don’t involve you putting animal tested, potentially non-vegan medicine into your body.
Ice packs are great for acute (new) injuries like sprains and strains. It is recommended that you wrap ice in a damp towel and apply it to the injury for 15 minutes every couple of hours for the first 2-3 days. Ice shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin, as it can cause damage. The effect of ice is to cool down the inflammation from a fresh injury, and to numb some of the pain. This can be a simple way of relieving pain at home without medication.
Using heat for pain is usually best for muscular aches, cramps and stiffness. Heat can be applied in the form of a hot water bottle, a microwaveable heat pack, heat pads, and even creams/gels (although these may not be vegan and probably will have been tested on animals). Even sitting in a nice hot bath can help with general aches and pains. Problems such as low back pain, period pains and arthritis often respond well to warmth.
Some conditions which cause pain in the muscles and joints can be helped by treatments offered by physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors. The can manipulate or massage parts of the body, move limbs around and teach you exercises to manage your own condition at home. These kinds of therapies are often used for mechanical back pain, neck pain and other joint problems. Whilst physiotherapy is available on the NHS, osteopathy and chiropractic clinics often have to be accessed in the private sector, but check with your GP, as some areas do offer osteopathy as an NHS treatment.
Acupuncture is the ancient practice of inserting very fine needles into the body. Traditionally, it was done for all kinds of ailments, but the NHS only recommends Western Medical Acupuncture, a modern version of the practice, usually used for painful conditions. Insertion of the needles encourages production of the body’s own natural painkillers, and it can be very useful for musculoskeletal pain, but NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) only recommends its use for migraine and tension headaches. Some GPs and physiotherapists will offer this treatment for headache and other pains, but it isn’t always readily available on the NHS.
Meditation and Relaxation
Meditation can often seem daunting to those who haven’t tried it before, but think about how your breathing changes and your muscles tense up when you are in pain. Meditation (also known as mindfulness) is increasingly being recognised by the medical profession as a way of managing chronic (longterm) pain which doesn’t respond well to pain relief. It’s also good for pain that is related to low mood and depression. Managing stress and tension with mindfulness/meditation can often help relieve some of the pain, and learning to do breathing exercises can benefit. If you don’t know where to start, there is a great app called Headspace, which a gentle introduction to meditation.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of talking/psychological therapy which is very useful for mood disorders like depression, but has also been found to help with chronic pain conditions. In simple terms, it helps you to change the way you think about something, in this example that would be pain, helping it to become more manageable. It might not take your pain away completely, but it could help you to cope with long term pain. CBT is available on the NHS for this type of problem, and it is worth asking your GP about it.
If you have any unexplained pain that is persisting, please see your doctor for a diagnosis before trying to manage this at home. And if you do have a health condition which requires more pain relief that these more natural remedies, just remember that we can only avoid animal products ‘as far as is practicable and possible’.
Thanks for reading,
The Vegan Doctor