Two hands outstretched, each finger adorned with a silver ring splint. The thumbs and pointer fingers are connected in the middle, forming the shape of a heart.

Content warning: description of medical symptoms

One of the hardest things about being in chronic pain is the sheer amount of time we are expected to spend waiting around without adequate relief. We wait for a doctor’s appointment, to get a referral, to wait for a specialist appointment, to wait for test results, to wait for a follow up appointment, to wait for the pharmacy to fill our scripts, to wait and see if the prescribed treatment actually works without too many side effects or if we have to start this entire. process. again.

I am a big believer in investing the time in trying different doctors, medicines and other treatments as much as possible, but sometimes the partial relief we may get from things we can do ourselves is just what we need to get us through the wait. I’ve gradually incorporated many small things into my daily routine which have overall given me a much better quality of life. Here are 10 non-pharmaceutical things have that helped me cope with chronic pain.

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. These aids have been tailored to my specific health needs and may not be suitable for everyone. None of these ideas are intended to treat or cure underlying medical conditions, they are simply suggestions that may make your life a little easier if you suffer from chronic pain 🙂

Please note that I have no commercial arrangements with any of the companies linked below. I am simply recommending products that I have personally benefitted from using.

1. Ring Splints

I find these fantastic for two reasons. The first and most obvious one is that they prevent the subluxation and lateral deviation of my finger joints. I’m quite fortunate in that this only happens to me from time to time, but when it does, it is extremely painful and can lead to bruising, swelling and an inability to pick up or hold things normally. The second reason is that they prevent the more subtle hyperextension of my upper finger joints when downward pressure is applied to them. For example, when chopping vegetables or pressing pills out of their little foil pockets. I found that without the repeated hyperextions of my fingers througout the day, my hands felt much better overall. I get my ring splints from Splint Life. The founder Rebecca Mooney suffers from Osteoarthritis Arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome herself, so she is able to provide excellent advice and customer service. The splints also look beautiful like jewellery; no one will know they are medical devices unless you tell them!

Close up of a thumb and forefinger holding a silver, swan neck ring splint.
Swan Neck Silver Ring Splint – purchasable from splintlife or from Rebecca’s Etsy store

2. Compression Garments

I was a little skeptical about these when a doctor first recommended them for Fibromyalgia pain. Previously, I had only associated compression clothing with highly athletic people who took their sport very seriously. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much compression sleeves for the feet and knees have helped me with my day to day pain levels. They add a little bit of extra stability to my joints when I don’t need to go as far as wearing a brace and also seem to just generally reduce pain in those areas during incidental day-time activity. There are tons of options for these online, try to look for ones where your measurements fit neatly within the brand’s size chart, good fit is essential to reap the benefits of compression. Here are examples of the knee compression sleeves and foot compression sleeves I use from AVIDDA.

3. Percussive Massage Gun

This one is the “splurge” item, but I can’t recommend it enough if you can make the investment! Massage guns work by using a combination of repeated percussive strikes and vibrations to deeply massage muscle tissues. Having one has greatly reduced the level of stiffness I wake up with, as well as how frequently I need to go to the physiotherapist for massage. It’s also been a great alternative to the dreaded post-workout foam roller session. (Foam rollers are a fantastic tool, but sometimes my wrists and shoulders just can’t handle holding my body up on one.) It’s also very relaxing and great for getting those endorphins flowing in those of us for whom deep stretching or vigorous exercise can be risky. My fiancé and I decided to get Therabody Theragun Prime for its ergonomic handle, but there are a couple of more budget options on Amazon such as the Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun that also have great reviews.

The author, Jess, using a percussive massage gun on her forearm.

4. Elbow Crutches

After struggling with nasty wrist pain from my cane for about 6 months because I “didn’t want to make a fuss” (rolls eyes at past Jess) I plucked up the courage to ask my physiotherapist about elbow crutches. These have taken the strain off my wrist significantly and also seem to provide me with a greater level of stability than a traditional cane. I also started using two crutches at the same time which has made me feel like I have better circulation and more energy when I walk, they also seem to be doing a better job at taking the strain off my knees which have near constant tendonitis. I have a whole post about taking up the use of mobility aids and how much they have helped me here.

( It’s important to get properly fitted for size with crutches or a cane and have a professional ensure you are using them with the correct technique and posture. )

5. Pain Psychology

Finding the right therapist is key here. You are NOT looking for someone who is going to try to convince you that your pain is all in your head or that they can cure you. You are looking for someone who understands the difficulty that your pain causes you and looks at ways that they can help you cope with the psychological impact of that. I have really benefited from understanding how my pain affects my mental health and self-image, and how certain situations or emotions can affect my pain levels. Ask for recommendations from a doctor that you have a good rapport with, or if you are part of a hospital treatment program ask your coordinator if they offer psychological services.

6. Symptom Tracking App

Bodies are weird. Maybe you get migraines when the barometric pressure drops? Maybe those vitamin b supplements make you nauseous? Maybe you’re like me and all your joints fall out of their sockets right before you get your period?!
If you have complex symptoms, identifying these patterns can be very challenging. I have found that using a symptom tracking app makes this much easier and gives me information that helps me better plan to get the most of out my life with chronic pain. It also helps me identify correlations that I can later discuss with my doctor to help us adjust treatment plans to better suit my needs. My favourite tracker is Painless Journal because you can choose which health factors you want to track (including adding your own) and then graph them against one another at will. Painless Journal is still in its Beta testing stage but is already available in the Apple and Google Play stores. There are many other trackers out there, tailored to a variety of different health needs.

7. Pregnancy Pillow

This is the ultimate comfort for side sleepers! Recommended to me by my physiotherapist, this is a large U shaped pillow that supports your entire body. I love it because it holds my body in a neutral position all night long and prevents me from subluxing my hips while I sleep. The one I use is the SnuggleUp U Shaped Pillow because it provides a really good level of neck and head support without being too bulky for the lower body. There are tons of other options available online. Just be sure to check the dimensions of each product, some of these are ENORMOUS and may literally be too big for your bed.

A large, U shaped pregnancy pillow propped upright on a bed, taking up the majority of the space and pushing a second, regular pillow off the edge.
Bonus tip: Establish dominance over your partner by taking up as much of the bed as possible

8. Adjustable Height Stool

Do not underestimate the power of:

1. being able to sit down during tasks

2. sitting with good posture during said tasks

My life changed the day I realised I didn’t need to continue sitting on the chairs that came with our dining table to make dinner. With an adjustable height stool I could sit up high enough to take the strain off my shoulders while working at the table and then carry my stool downstairs with me and put in front of my mirror while I did my makeup or literally anything else. When shopping for a stool be sure to measure the height of any tables or surfaces you intend to work at, as well as how much higher than the surface you need to be for your wrists to naturally rest in a neutral position. A good stool will usually have a reasonable height range, allowing you to use it for multiple different purposes.

9. Heat and Cold Packs

You’ve almost certainly heard of these before and have probably even used them. I had been using heat and cold packs for years as a band-aid solution for pain before my health declined. The difference now is that they are a part of my routine rather than something I only use for injuries. I use heat packs every morning to warm up my muscles before I get up and start doing things. Mornings can be an exhausting and painful time and using heat first thing ensures that I won’t have an accidental sprain or strain from poor posture or stiffness when I start moving. It also helps me differentiate what pain is just from temporary morning stiffness and what pain requires further attention. I now also keep multiple ice packs in the freezer at all times and immediately use them if I have a bad dislocation. This reduces how much bruising and swelling is able to form around the affected area, helps my body to bounce back faster and reduces how frequently my joints need professional attention.

10. Bed-Desk

I love bed. Bed is great. I love to read in bed, eat in bed, work in bed…and a few other things I won’t mention here. Sometimes on a bad day when every inch of me hurts, nothing else will do but the comfort of bed. One problem I had with embracing the bed-life was that my back and neck were constantly sore from looking down at my books or computer. This is where the bed-desk comes in. These are effectively small, folding tables that have an adjustable top, allowing you to change the angle to ensure good posture regardless of whether you are working with a computer, tablet or book. When choosing a bed-desk, make sure you sit in the position you want to sit in in bed and measure the length and width of your legs in that position. You don’t want to feel cramped up when you start using your new desk. Ideally, you would also make an approximate measurement of the minimum height you need to keep those wrists in a neutral position again. Here is an example of one that I like from Songmics :

The author, Jess, sitting on a couch. She is working comfortably on her tablet which is propped up on a bed-desk.

I hope you found some of these suggestions helpful. I would love to know if you have tried any of these things to alleviate your own pain and whether or not you found them helpful. I am also ALWAYS on the lookout for new ideas to make my life easier, so let me know YOUR go-to techniques are for when times are tough in the comments below or via the contact page .

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4 thoughts on “10 Non-Pharmaceutical Things That Have Helped Me With Chronic Pain

  1. This article is so spot on! Having EDS and pretty hateful OA, I have used a lot of the same techniques and will try the ones I haven’t. Fantastically written!

  2. Wonderful, detailed, educational article! This has given me great ideas thank you <3

    My question I have is, my shoulders are one of my weakest joints, would elbow crutches cause too much pain and pressure to use?

    1. Hi Tara,

      You do definitely need to use your shoulder muscles to use elbow crutches, but you have a good level of control over how you distribute the weight between your arms and legs. Unfortunately, I would have to say there probably is a risk of getting shoulder pain though if you are looking to take a lot of weight off of your legs. In Belgium, we have something called a “Bandagiste” where we can go to try medical equipment like crutches, walkers etc. Maybe you could look for something like that where you can try them out first? Or maybe the orthopaedist could suggest a different mobility aid for you that might be less strain on the shoulders?

      Thank you for writing! I’m glad you find the article helpful 🙂

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