Research-Backed Remedies That Ease Pain If You Don’t Have Medication

Imagine feeling intense pain–in your head, joints, stomach or otherwise–and not having medication for it. This can happen to anyone who doesn’t have the right drug or cannot take them. Although medicine is often the best choice, many remedies can ease the tension in the meantime.

You may be surprised how well simple strategies assuage your pain. Stretching, drinking more water, eating a specific herb, and even laughing can make your pain more tolerable. Here are science-backed home remedies that can relieve different types of pain.

Stretch Out Your Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common disabilities in the U.S. Fortunately, physical trainers have shared many stretches and exercises for back pain. According to Harvard Health Publishing, stretches help by strengthening your back muscles and relaxing strains.

A woman clutches her back in pain.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For a simple stretch, lie on your back and raise your knee to your chest, holding it for a second. You can also try the child’s pose or the pelvic twist. Remember to take your time and breathe while stretching; you want your muscles to relax, not tense up.

Clove Oil Numbs A Toothache

Since the 19th century, dentists have used clove oil to relieve toothaches. But what does science say about it? A 2013 study agrees that clove oil can numb tooth pain because of an antioxidant called eugenol. However, other researchers argue that the method requires needle injection for the best results.

A close-up shows a pile of cloves.

That said, clove oil continues to be a popular home remedy. Ayurveda expert Dr. Ashutosh Gautam says that clove oil reduces swelling and increases blood flow to the area. If you don’t have the oil (do not use the essential oil), you can suck on a raw clove.

Apply Heat For Menstrual Cramps

Researchers report that between 45% and 95% of women use heating pads to relieve menstrual pain. According to studies, this home remedy can work. Scientists from the University of Cincinnati found that heating pads relieve pain over time. Pain reduced 27% in the first hour, 43% in the second hour, and 79% by the fourth hour.

A woman clutches a heating pad to her abdomen for menstrual cramps.

Heat works because it relaxes the muscles. Contrary to popular belief, it does not increase blood flow to the area. But if you don’t want to use painkillers for cramps, buy a heating pad.

Use These Essential Oils For Headaches

Essential oil therapy may sound like pseudo-science, but some studies back its ability to relieve headaches. During a 2013 study, participants who smelled lavender oil felt better after 15 minutes. In The Clinical Journal of Pain, another study saw positive results when scientists mixed peppermint oil with a massage gel.

A woman buys essential oils at a non-prescription drug store.
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Why do some essential oils work? According to Phytomedicine, they can relax muscles in your head. For some headaches, smelling or massaging essential oils could relieve some pain. If you apply them topically, dilute the oils in a carrier oil or lotion first.

A Hot Bath Can Heal All Of These Symptoms

A hot bath can relieve many types of pain. In 2018, scientists reviewed 21 studies in Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. They discovered that baths help muscle pain, improve blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress-related pains such as migraines.

A man floats in a bath.

Why do baths work? According to dermatologist Bobby Buka, the hot water releases endorphins that assuage the pain. It also relaxes people, which can improve breathing. If you need to breathe more easily during a cold or panic attack, try a warm bath.

No Joke–Laughter Helps

We all know that laughing elevates our mood, but did you know that it also relieves pain? In 2011, researchers from Oxford University observed how hospital patients felt after watching comedies. People who laughed more were less likely to rely on opioid medications. It releases endorphins, which gives people a euphoric “high.”

Students in a classroom laugh.
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Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Also, the more people laugh, the more pain they can withstand. A study by the Royal Society B discovered that laughter raises peoples’ pain thresholds. In other words, you can handle pain better after watching a comedy or stand-up routine.

Eat Ginger When Nauseous

If you’re suffering from nausea or vomiting, eat ginger or drink ginger tea. According to 2015 research, ginger’s anti-nausea abilities comes from its bioactive component, gingerol. It speeds up the stomach’s digestive response, which relieves nausea.

Multiple pieces of ginger roots are in a basket at a market.
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In 2019, scientists analyzed over 100 studies on ginger in Food Science and Nutrition. They concluded that ginger alleviates nausea, even for pregnant women or people undergoing chemo. For this reason, some stores sell candied ginger that’s not as harsh-tasting and can be eaten raw. You can also drink ginger tea.

To Prevent Migraines, Drink More Water

When you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to get migraines. In the European Journal of Neurology, a study linked hydration to less frequent and less intense migraines. People who have migraines are more likely to become dehydrated, which in turn makes their head hurt.

A woman takes ibuprofen for a migraine.
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Can drinking water cure a migraine? Probably not. Research demonstrates that water can reduce the pain, according to a 2015 study. If you stay hydrated throughout the day, you will be less likely to develop a migraine. Water can’t help medicine, but it can certainly help.

Musical Therapy Is Real

Music doesn’t only ease emotional pain; it can also tackle physical pain. Music therapy is a real technique that scientists have studied. For instance, research in the Frontier of Psychology found that music soothed people with Fibromyalgia, relaxing their muscles and allowing for greater mobility.

Two girls joyfully listen to music on an ipod.
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When you select the right music, the body releases endorphins to pull you away from the pain, says the British Journal of General Practice. Oddly enough, participants felt better from music selected by a friend than their preferred music. Perhaps the community aspect plays a role.

How Applying Heat And Cold Can Help Earaches

When ear infections occur, the canal swells. This inflammation can cause earaches, says ENT-otolaryngologist Dr. Anh Nguyen-Huynh. To reduce the swelling, you can use heat or cold presses. This should lend you some temporary ear relief.

An older woman clutches her ear in pain.
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Depending on the type of ear pain, heat, cold, or a combination of the two may worst best. The Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates recommend applying a heating or ice pack for 20 minutes. Make sure the temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. If you’d like, you can alternate the two.

Consistent Exercise Helps Chronic Pain

People who are in pain may not want to exercise. But ironically, exercise can assuage aches. In 2016, scientists concluded that aerobic exercise could relieve chronic pain. Physical activity releases endorphins that help the body feel better.

A woman outside jogs during sunset.
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TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The key to this treatment is consistent exercise. A study from the Cochrane Library says that, on its own, exercise only has a “small‐to‐moderate effect” on pain. But the more you do it, the stronger your body will become and the more endorphins you’ll receive. Plus, some workouts are better at relieving pain than others.

Eat Chocolate To Suppress Coughs

In 2016, research in The BMJ reported that cocoa could relieve a cough better than cough syrup. Dr. Sarah Jarvis explains that the sticky coating, along with a substance called theobromine, reduces an itchy throat. But there’s more to this study than meets for the eye.

A boy eats a bar of chocolate.
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For one thing, the researchers analyzed cocoa-based medication, not chocolate bars. For another, downing a lot of chocolate won’t help. Your best bet is to get dark chocolate with a high cocoa count. Instead of eating it, let it dissolve on your tongue. The longer chocolate coats your throat, the better you may feel.

Mindfulness Meditation Heals The Body And Mind

Mindfulness meditation does more than relax people; it can also lower chronic pain. In 2018, the National Institutes of Health discovered that meditation could ease pain more effectively than standard medication. Mindfulness concentrates on your breathing and being in the present.

A man meditates on a bench in New York.
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Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Why does meditation work? Scientists from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center discovered that meditation opens a new neural pathway to alleviate pain. In other words, the body doesn’t rely on opioids; it releases other hormones to tackle pain. The bad news: it can be hard to meditate while in severe pain.

Can’t Sleep From A Cough? Eat Honey

As an antibacterial, honey can relieve mucous and irritation in the throat. It’s perfect for a persistent cough that makes people lose sleep. According to a 2012 study, children slept better and coughed less after eating two teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before bed.

A jar of honey is seen next to a honey dipper.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Researchers said that the honey relieved sinus congestion and postnasal drip in children. Eucalyptus, citrus, and Labiatae honey worked the best during the study. For less throat irritation, mix the honey with an herbal tea such as ginger.

Peppermint Oil Eases Abdominal Pain, Gas, And Bloating

Many researchers have explored how peppermint influences the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Several studies in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies agree that peppermint can relieve gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. You can thank menthol, one of the ingredients in peppermint.

Peppermint oil stands next to a cup of water with fresh peppermint.
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Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The catch: all of the studies have focused on peppermint oil capsules. Peppermint tea has not been thoroughly studied for gastrointestinal pain. WebMD recommends capsules with an enteric coating to avoid heartburn. Talk to your doctor before relying on peppermint oil for your pain.

This Herb Can Heal Eczema, Wounds, And Rashes

Calendula is an herb extracted from marigold flowers. As a topical, calendula can heal wounds, irritation, and sunburns on the skin. In 2013, researchers discovered that calendula oil improves the healing rate of episiotomy wounds. In the Journal of Clinical Oncology, another study said that calendula relieves eczema and dermatitis pain.

A woman holds up skincare products made with calendula.
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K. Y. Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

After reviewing 68 studies, scientists concluded that calendula could aid the skin in the journal Antioxidants. Although it is not nearly as effective as medicine, calendula topicals can relieve some skin pain. Don’t use calendula if you are allergic or take any sedative drugs.

Itchy Scalp? Use Apple Cider Vinegar For Dandruff

If your scalp is itching and flaking, you can substitute dandruff shampoo with apple cider vinegar. In test-tube studies, apple cider vinegar destroyed fungus, according to the Microbiological Research. Yale dermatologist Mona Gohara says that the vinegar can effectively kill yeast on your scalp.

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Apple cider vinegar can also relieve scalp itching and irritation. “Apple cider vinegar also has natural anti-inflammatory properties, so it also calms while it prevents yeast overgrowth,” Gohara told Cosmopolitan. To use it, mix one part of vinegar with five parts of water. Otherwise, the acidity could harm your hair.

How Turmeric Relieves Arthritis Pain

Turmeric’s bright color comes from a compound called curcumin. Researchers have learned that curcumin lowers inflammation, which can relieve arthritis pain. In 2019, a study in The BMC claimed that curcumin could ease osteoporosis of the knee as effectively as ibuprofen.

Women reach toward turmeric powder on a plate.
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But don’t start grinding turmeric root yet. Turmeric is only 3% curcumin, which was far less than the studies used. Taking curcumin supplements for a few weeks will yield better results. Before you start, talk to your doctor to ensure that curcumin won’t interact with any medications.

To Sleep Better, Practice Yoga

If you have sleep apnea or insomnia, practice yoga. In 2013, scientists found that yoga can improve sleep quality and quantity in insomnia patients. It relaxes the body and improves oxygen flow that can aid peoples’ breathing. Plus, light exercise can assuage muscle strain and joint pain.

Women practice yoga in a forest.
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Anastasia Rowland-Seymour, a Johns Hopkins sleep expert, says that the benefits of yoga mainly stem from the meditation. However, experts say that some stretches work better than others. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the Lying Butterfly, Corpse Pose, and Legs Up the Wall.

The Many, Many Benefits Of Probiotics

Probiotics are a combination of bacteria and yeast that naturally thrive in your gut. By replenishing your stomach with these healthy microbes, you can aid a vast array of medical conditions. According to Cleveland Clinic, studies have linked probiotics to helping constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and yeast infections.

A person removes kimchi from a mason jar using chopsticks.
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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

By feeding your gut, probiotics may relieve some pain. In 2010, researchers discovered that probiotics assuaged stomach pain in children with IBS. You can buy probiotic drinks or eat it through foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and pickles.