12 pain management techniques that don’t require a doctor’s visit


I was a “young” 41 years old when my back went out on me. I didn’t fully understand what happened at the time, but one minute I was out in the yard working on our fence and the next minute I was collapsed on the ground--completely knocked off my feet due to the pain. And while it would take me months to begin to understand what happened, it was over two years before I received any relief.

I’ve spent my life as a fairly active person. I’ve enjoyed the outdoors, even spent years as a personal trainer. I’ve maintained my weight as best I could and lived an overall healthy lifestyle. So suddenly being incapacitated was something I could never have anticipated. But there I was, on the ground, barely able to move. When I finally got up and made my way to the house, I found that as long as I didn’t put my body (more specifically my lower back) into a fully upright position, I could hobble along--like a 90 year old man. 

I spent the rest of the weekend in bed almost completely unable to find a comfortable position. I applied ice for fifteen minutes and a heating pad for the next fifteen minutes--rotating them time after time. And yet I got very little relief. 

After a weekend of rest I was well enough off that I could make it to the doctor for an appointment. I went in, got a bunch of X-rays and received the news that there was nothing structurally wrong with my lower back. No burst disks, no arthritis, no anomalies whatsoever. The doctor prescribed some muscle relaxer pills and told me to get some rest.

I was astounded. There was no way I could be suffering so much pain, and yet have nothing structurally wrong. My doctor suggested that I might want to see a chiropractor or physical therapist to help me with flexibility and muscle fatigue. So as I left his office I hopped on my phone to find the highest-recommended chiropractor in the area. Within minutes I had an appointment for the next day and a heart full of hope for some miraculous treatment that might get me relief. To be sure of a miraculous recovery I booked an hour-long massage appointment the office offered me for after my treatment with the chiropractor. 

That night, loaded up on my muscle relaxer pills I went to bed hoping for a zonked out night’s sleep in pure comfort and bliss. But sleep didn’t come easily. My back was still killing me and I tossed and turned all night long without any relief.

The next morning I barely made it out of bed and into the bathroom. I still felt like a 90 year old man with a bad back and could hardly hobble across the room. Now, this is really hard to admit, but I’ll just put it out there. I literally fell off the toilet. My pain was so bad that I found myself lying on the bathroom floor, writhing in the fetal position. I thought I would pass out and it took me a few minutes to compose myself. It was horrible--definitely the lowest of lows.

But eventually I got up, got ready and made it to the chiropractor’s office. After an initial consultation with the doctor an assistant connected me to a TENS unit to shoot electrical pulses through my muscles in order to get them to settle down. Then the chiropractor came in and adjusted me. He recommended I come back in two days for another treatment and set the expectation that it would be weeks before I found much relief. I was then ushered into a massage therapy room and receive an hour-long rubdown. I’ll admit that as I left the chiropractor’s office I was hopeful that my back was well on the way to recovery.

The next morning I felt like I had been hit by a bus.

My head hurt. My muscles ached. And my back was...maybe only slightly better.

I continued to go to the chiropractor for the next four weeks--sometimes twice per week. I spent $420 on visits (chiropractic care isn’t covered by my insurance) and another $200 on massages (including tips). And while I could sit through a full day at work, most days I had to go straight to bed after work.

Over the next two years I would spend thousands of dollars and countless hours looking for a solution. Nearly every weekend was spent in bed and I was quickly becoming the type of husband and father that’s a burden on his family as opposed to being a strength and leader to those he loves.

It was horrible.

But instead of giving you the play-by-play of months and months of treatments, let me share twelve of the things I tried to relieve the pain and especially the one thing that worked the best.

I’m thrilled to report that my back pain has been almost entirely gone for the past six months and I don’t ever expect to have it return again.

12 things I tried for back pain--and the one that worked:


TENS Units

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. TENS units are electric impulse generators that use silicon patches to attach to the skin. The premise is that by sending low voltage electrical signals through your skin and muscles you’ll stimulate the nerves so that a tingling sensation is felt and pain is decreased.

The National Institute of Health has published a comprehensive list of studies and applications of TENS units. Unfortunately their conclusions align with my own personal experience. Their report states, “the effectiveness of TENS on individual pain conditions, such as low back pain, is still controversial…”

After trying a TENS unit at the chiropractor I decided to buy one myself. I hopped on Amazon and was surprised at how inexpensive they were. I selected the one with the highest rating and two days later it arrived in my mailbox. 

I have to admit that I really liked the TENS unit at first. It really felt like it was doing something for my pain. I would crank up the current to the highest level I could handle and boy did it feel better. But soon enough I realized that it wasn’t providing any lasting benefit. My muscles never felt like they had returned back to normal and my back would still go out on me whenever I got into the wrong position or overworked it.

So my experience was positive in that it helped temporarily soothe my pain, but I can’t recommend using a TENS unit for long-term relief of chronic pain.

And for that, eventually my TENS unit ended up in a drawer collecting dust.


Ice/Heat Therapy

After visiting with doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists I can report that the most common recommendation from these professionals is to use ice/heat therapy to help with pain and muscle recovery.

Unanimously, these healthcare professionals recommended I apply ice to my lower back for 10-15 minutes and then switch to heat for 10-15 minutes and then alternate between the two up to four times. They all cautioned that I shouldn’t apply the ice or heat directly to my skin and that I should take care not to freeze or burn my skin in the process.

The premise of alternating ice/heat therapy is twofold. First, applying ice and heat will stimulate nerves, decrease pain and even cause muscles to relax. Second, that the increase and subsequent decrease in blood flow to the area will stimulate the body’s natural healing response so that over time the body will heal itself and normal activity can resume.

In my experience with alternating ice/heat therapy I did find that it would temporarily stimulate my skin and relieve pain while I was resting during the application. But I didn’t notice any long term benefit. I found that after treatment my back would continue to hurt under normal or even decreased activity. 

So after a few weeks of trying with alternating ice/heat therapy, I gave up on it. Even after a particularly active weekend and the back pain that followed, I rarely turned to ice/heat therapy for relief.


Methyl Salicylate & Menthol-Topical Creams

Now that we’ve talked about ice/heat therapy, let’s discuss methyl salicylate & menthol-topical creams. These are the creams that are more commonly known by their name brands; brands such as Icy Hot, Ben Gay and Biofreeze.

These methyl salicylate & menthol-topical creams function very similarly to TENS units and ice/heat therapy in that their primary purpose is nerve stimulation. The hope is that by stimulating the nerves, the body will respond by relaxing muscles and initiating its own healing response. The experts over at WebMD state the effects with this tongue-in-cheek comment, “They work by causing the skin to feel cool and then warm. These feelings on the skin distract you from feeling the aches/pains deeper in your muscles, joints, and tendons.”

When I first started struggling with back pain I tried Deep Blue by doTERRA as well as PastTense from the same company. The combination was definitely stimulating! But I didn’t see anything beyond the initial stimulation and “numbing” effect. After a visit to a massage therapist I tried a small sample pouch of Biofreeze on display in her office. Similarly, I felt the icy/hot sensation and numbing on the skin, but I didn’t experience any long-term relief or muscle relaxation.

I also didn’t like walking around smelling like menthol. 


Essential Oils

Just a few years ago, essential oils started to become a common household item. Touting healing properties for all sorts of ailments, essential oils have proven to be handy for anyone looking for alternative health options.

Having experimented with essential oils since 2012 I turned to them early on looking for help for my back. My wife, a true essential oils expert, cracked open every reference book we had to discover which oils to use and how to use them to change my life.

We tried frankincense, peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood and just about every proprietary blend of essential oils that exists including the two doTERRA products mentioned previously.

Just like the other topical products we’ve discussed, some of the essential oils helped with nerve stimulation, but even after weeks and weeks of use I didn’t notice any measurable difference. 

And, unfortunately, just like with methyl salicylate & menthol-topical creams I ended up smelling like menthol. After a few weeks, the essential oils joined the other products in a drawer while I continued to suffer.


CBD Oil

CBD oil is another remedy that’s been getting a lot of attention in the news lately. Controversial when it was first released, CBD oil is now legal to use throughout the United States as long as it has little to no THC in it (THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces the “high” associated with pot use).

CBD is gaining in popularity because it interacts with the body’s cannabidiol receptors to produce a soothing effect by blocking certain synaptic signals--especially those associated with pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, these receptors, “are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.”

With cannabidiol oil being so new to the market, quality and potency of CBD oil products varies significantly. As I researched CBD oil brands and applications (which range from oils to CBD-infused sodas) I selected the most-reviewed and highest quality oil I could find. I followed the use instructions and took it faithfully for four weeks.

Frankly, I saw no difference in any of the benefits touted by CBD oil companies. I didn’t notice a decrease in pain. I didn’t even experience some of the positive side effects praised by other users--like decreased stress levels or better sleep. For me, CBD oil simply didn’t work. And because I chose a premium brand and product, I was out $150 with no noticeable benefit.

Of course, your results may vary. You may experience massive pain relief, and I hope you do. But for me, CBD oil didn’t help my back pain.


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CDC Pain Statistics

The CDC recently published a report showing that over 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. 19.6 million of them suffer from “high-impact chronic pain”--pain severe enough that it frequently limits life or work activities. That’s over 20% of U.S. adults suffering from pain that persists year-in and year-out. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care.

Chronic pain has been linked to:

  1. Restrictions in mobility and daily activities
  2. Dependence on opioids
  3. Anxiety and depression
  4. Poor perceived health and quality of life

Chronic pain is significantly more prevalent in women, adults who worked previously but were not currently employed, adults living in or near poverty, rural residents, non-Hispanic white adults, and veterans.

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Low-level Laser Therapy

With lasers used for everything from tattoo removal, hair removal and wrinkle removal you might not be surprised that companies are promoting lasers for pain removal--and that you can even purchase devices for use at home, without a doctor. Well, that’s exactly what low-level laser therapy (LLLT) promises to deliver. But as with every other pain management remedy, your results may very.

While most LLLT devices are promoted for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, some are sold as a solution for lower back pain. Invented in 1960 by Endre Mester, low power lasers have been used based on the premise that they add enough light to support a respiratory enzyme that is involved in supporting mitochondria function. As we all learned in high school biology, mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, so the idea is that better functioning mitochondria will improve the body’s ability to heal and eliminate pain.

I bought a LLLT device from a Chinese website and waiting 8 weeks before it arrived. This device promised to heal lower back pain via intranasal irradiation. After adding a couple of AA batteries and placing a red-light-emitting probe up my nostril and letting it run a full cycle I should start to feel relief begin.

As ridiculous as it sounds, with my nose glowing bright red, I felt the LLLT warm up and I let it do its thing. But after following the instructions and repeating treatments week after week, I noticed no change in my pain.

Experts say that the effects of LLLT may be comparable to other methods of placing a low amount of heat near the body. After my experience I concluded the same thing. LLLT wasn’t a solution for my lower back pain.

Is LLLT for you? Make sure you check with your healthcare professional before giving it a try. You may save yourself $20 and 8 weeks of waiting for the mail to come.


Acupuncture

Used for thousands of years, acupuncture has been the go-to treatment for arguably billions of people. If you’re not familiar with acupuncture, it’s a form of ancient Chinese therapy that involves inserting tiny needles into the body. The needles are inserted at points that tend to coincide with nerve pathways and are sometimes stimulated with an electric current.

For my acupuncture treatment, I went to a local chiropractor who also specialized in the ancient Chinese practice. First, I was evaluated in the same way the other chiropractor evaluated me. Next, he performed a chiropractic adjustment. Then, he had me disrobe and started poking the needles along my spine, my lower back and even my feet and ankles. 

Did it hurt? Yes, about as much as you would expect it to hurt. Dozens of tiny pinpricks got my adrenaline pumping and my heart racing. After all the needles were placed, the practitioner added electric stimulation to a few of them. Finally, he added a regular TENS unit to the mix and left the room whilst my muscles pulsed and my skin crawled to the beat of random electric pulses. 

After 40 minutes, timers went off and the chiropractor came in and disconnected me. He plucked the needles out (which did hurt a bit) and booked me for another appointment.

Just like with my other chiropractic appointments, relief was fleeting. The nerve stimulation seemed to temporarily remove the pain, but the relief wasn’t lasting. I kept a month’s worth of appointments and ultimately left $500 poorer with no difference in pain levels or flexibility.


Massage

As a former personal trainer and athlete, I’ve been a regular recipient of massage for muscle therapy and recovery. I enjoy a rigorous massage and have had results from professional massage therapy in the past.

Generally, massage can be used to increase blood flow to injured tissues. And some massage focuses on breaking up hardened myofascial tissue surrounding muscles--increasing lymphatic circulation and stretch reflex.

After so many attempts to rid myself of lower back pain, massage held the highest hopes for me. I booked massages almost weekly for over a year. I tried different types of massage--from deep tissue to hydro massage. I visited the most expensive massage therapists I could find in my area. Some of them worked on range-of-motion. Others worked on progressive muscle relaxation.

Unfortunately, again, massage provided temporary relief and even helped with flexibility somewhat. But a few hours after treatment, my lower back pain returned. I spent thousands of dollars on massage therapy to no avail.


Physical Therapy

As chronic pain becomes more persistent, physical therapy is becoming the go-to recommendation from healthcare professionals. My doctor suggested that physical therapy has become so prevalent because of our modern society’s sedentary lifestyle. The idea is that our bodies weren’t made to sit still in front of computer monitors all day or commuting for long hours to and from work. Recent studies show that only 21 percent of adults are meeting physical activity guidelines (150 minutes of physical activity per week) and only 5 percent perform 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

My experience with physical therapy included a brief visit, some instruction and papers with illustrations and instructions that I could take home to practice exercises on my own. I was to perform the exercises morning and night until I found relief. I was also told that I would probably have to perform the exercises for the rest of my life because my symptoms were likely to be persistent now that my muscles had experienced such severe injury.

As with the other treatments I’ve described, I was consistent in doing my physical therapy exercises. And, as with the other treatments, I didn’t see any significant improvement from the.

In addition to the exercises the physical therapist gave me, I watched numerous videos online for stretching, yoga and calisthenics that were suppose to help with lower back pain. Unfortunately, none of those helped either.


Hypnosis

Hypnosis promises almost miraculous results for everything from the fear of flying to quitting smoking. It’s been used as entertainment and tested as mind control for intelligence agencies. Could it be used to help with back pain?

Years ago, my wife and I took hypnotherapy prenatal classes in hopes that hypnosis would help alleviate pain during labor. We ran the entire course and used what we were taught during labor and delivery. And while I reported a marked difference in my wife’s labor experience, she said that it actually made it more difficult for her.

But with that experience I decided to give hypnosis a shot. I first turned to YouTube and watched hypnosis-for-chronic-pain videos. I made it a regular practice to listen to these pre-recorded sessions as I drifted off to sleep at night. I also used some of the techniques we had previously been taught in that prenatal class.

I found that hypnosis was very similar to the other treatments. While I was lying in bed, focusing on hypnosis, my pain decreased. But as soon as I had to perform the everyday tasks of life, my back pain was as persistent as ever.

While I didn’t actually go visit a hypnotherapist for treatment, my self-treatment didn’t yield the results I hoped for.


Meditation

Also, as old as time itself, and with claims of solving everything from broken marriages to physical ailments, meditation appeared to be a plausible solution for my back pain. Without much experience in meditating, I took to YouTube for instruction. I also read up about it online--looking for as much valid instruction as I could find.

I settled on starting with a few beginner meditation practices that I could listen to. My focus would be to get my body and mind on the same page--with a focus on healing my lower back.

Eventually, I graduated from guided meditations to meditating on my own. My intent was very clear and my practice became pretty good. During my meditations, back pain wasn’t an issue. I was, after all, sitting comfortably and peacefully.


And while I enjoyed meditation, unfortunately, just like the other approaches I tried, my back pain didn’t go away when I was sitting at my desk at work or while I was working in the yard on the weekends.


Nanotechnology 

Nanotech is a relatively new concept. Being first identified in the 1980’s nanotech is certainly the most modern concept of all the remedies I tried for my back. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that nanotech products started to hit the market. 


Nanotechnology is so promising that the U.S. government has instituted a federal research and development program called the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The NNI exists to support the advancement of nanotech applications in multiple federal agencies and consumer-focused industries. The initiative is working along with private industry and as a result over 1300 nanotech products are now publicly available with 3-4 new products being introduced to the market every week.


My experience with nanotech started with Kailo. Kailo is a thin film of plastic with embedded nanocapcitors that promises to impact the way electrical signals pass through the nervous system. 


I first applied Kailo by myself on my lower back, and didn’t notice any difference in my pain levels. But, after learning more about how important placement is, I had a friend help me find the right placement. I couldn’t believe it, but within less than a minute my back pain had nearly disappeared. I used adhesive patches to stick the Kailo in that spot and I kept it there all day, and all night, and even the next morning in the shower. In fact, I left the Kailo in place for five full weeks--only removing it to replace the adhesive or make minor adjustments in placement.


Not only did my pain immediately decrease upon applying the Kailo, but the pain actually stayed away the entire time I wore Kailo. And, almost miraculously, after five weeks of wearing the Kailo I was able to remove it--and my back pain was gone.


Since my experiment with Kailo I’ve used the device for headaches, wrist pain and knee pain and it’s worked every time. And, even four months after no longer needing Kailo for my back, I’m still pain free. 


Summary

Unlike all the other therapies and products I tried, the nanotech in Kailo was the only one that produced immediate and long term results. On top of it actually working, I spent far less on Kailo than I did on all the other therapies and other products.


Now, while I recommend Kailo because it worked for me, your results may vary with it and any of the other therapies discussed in this article. And, before you start any treatment program, make sure you check with your healthcare professional to make sure it’s right for you.