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Prescription pain medication is the most widely-used treatment for chronic pain, but long-term use of opioids–3 months or longer–carries significant risks. Not only can opioids cause dependence and addiction, research indicates that long-term use increases the risk of depression, sleep apnea, bowel dysfunction, immune dysfunction, and hormone dysfunction. Not only can these cause the problems mentioned above, they’ve been proven to actually increase the sensation of pain, a condition called opioid hyperalgesia.

The best way to prevent these risks is to minimize the dose and duration of any treatment that includes pain pills. One way to do this is to ask your doctor to consider natural pain relief alternatives. A word of caution: not everything sold as a natural pain relief solution works. Some that have been scientifically proven to reduce pain are:

Capsaicin, the spicy chemical in hot peppers, helps reduce pain associated with arthritis, neuropathy and migraines when applied to skin or nostrils daily. It is sold as a cream or ointment in pharmacies and health food stores.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to work better than standard treatments for body-wide pain. Researchers say it’s because it not only helps you make positive lifestyle changes to reduce pain, but it helps you feel more competent and optimistic when you experience pain.

Yoga. The mental and physical benefits of yoga have been proven to help patients with lower-back pain, arthritis and migraines. Not only does it strengthen the muscles, skeleton and connective tissues, it works like meditation to help you achieve calm and focus during painful episodes.

Chronic pain is a daily challenge; while opioid medications may seem like the best solution, they are also the most dangerous. Ask your doctor about the suggestions above, as well as other natural pain relief alternatives.