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Have These Common Ailments? Try These Lifestyle Changes Before Drugs

September 19, 2017

lifestyle changes before drugs

When you get a backache, a headache, or heartburn— you probably head to the medicine cabinet looking for relief. But lifestyle changes may work just as well as medication for some of your most common ailments.

New research also supports non-drug treatments for pain. The growing opioid-addiction crisis is one of the reasons why. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even put out a set of guidelines that define situations that call for a pain pill.

So, whether you hope to avoid the risks and dependency tied to prescription drugs, if you’re concerned about potential side effects from over-the-counter medications, or you just don’t have any over-the-counter remedies on hand, treat some of your most common ailments with lifestyle changes before drugs.

Back Pain

The most recent guidelines from the American College of Physicians emphasize conservative treatment for chronic back. The guidelines strongly discourage the use of opioids and recommend things like:

One study found yoga can also relieve chronic back pain. In fact, researchers say it works as good as physical therapy. Yoga not only helps to stretch and strengthen your spine, it releases tension and helps your posture.

A chiropractor may be another option. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found spinal adjustments providing modest improvements in people with low back pain.

You may also want to try cupping. It’s done to create better blood flow to the areas that are sore.

Knee Pain

The most recent guidelines from the Osteoarthritis Research Society recommend a number of non-drug alternatives for managing knee pain.

Losing weight is a good place to start. Research shows losing just 1-pound reduces the load on your knees by 4 pounds. And dropping about 10 percent of your body weight may even slow the disease process. Talk to your doctor about what diet may work best for you.

Exercise also helps. It strengthens the muscles around your knee- specifically the quadriceps. Good exercises to try include things like:

  • Elliptical machine. A weight-bearing activity (which strengthens bones), that is not high impact.
  • Stationary biking. Biking, stationary biking, or spinning classes provide an aerobic workout without jarring the knees. It’s also good for your heart.
  • Treadmills. Walking on a treadmill is higher impact, but often tolerable.

Low-impact exercises like yoga and tai-chi also improve pain and stiffness.

Physical therapy can also help build strength and balance. Your physical therapist may even be able to teach you how to tape your knee to reduce pain while you’re exercising.


You probably make a move towards the medicine chest every time you get a headache. But there are some headache remedies you can try before taking an over-the-counter medication:

  • Apply an ice pack to the painful part of your head.
  • Take a warm bath or shower to relax, or take a walk to relieve stress.
  • Rubbing your neck and back can help, or treat yourself to a massage.

You may also want to try drinking a glass of water. Dehydration headaches are common. When you are dehydrated your brain shrinks a little and pulls away from your skull, which causes the headache. Once you’ve rehydrated, you’ll feel much better.


One of the best ways to get a handle on your heartburn without medication is to take a hard look at your diet. There are foods you can eat to reduce the symptoms. Ginger, oatmeal, and egg whites have anti-inflammatory properties, or reduce stomach acid. Acidic foods like garlic, onions, and tomatoes are ones to avoid.

You can also pay attention to the time of day your heartburn flares up. This will help you to be more mindful of potential triggers.

Consider talking to your doctor if your heartburn occurs more than twice a week, or goes on for more than a month. It could be the sign of something bigger like GERD or even a heart attack.

If you’d like more information on ways you can take your health into your own hands without relying on medications, download one of our free “Know Your Numbers” guides. You’ll learn how to keep your weight, cholesterol level, and blood sugar in check.

Know Your Numbers