18 OTC Pain Products that Work

After 16-years in pain treatment, I have tried just about every product. Pain patients are becoming a target market and I know it can be daunting to find products that actually work. With so many pain patients losing our prescription medications, we are desperately testing OTC options, so I thought I would share my favorite pain products. You will find every one of these tried and true products in my home. I wish I could say each one will relieve your pain forever, but I can say that a combination of them keeps me functioning and as comfortable as I can be without my prescription pain medication.

PEA Supplement (Palmitoylethanolamide):my functional doctor recommended PEA to me for pain and energy. I take 1-2 a day and have seen good results. Watch out for bedtime, if you take PEA too late in the day you will not sleep well.

Young Living Deep Relief: this is my go to for essential oils. Topically provides relief from pain and headaches. I like to put it on the back of my neck for migraines.

Aspercreme with Lidocaine: helps reduce body aches and restless leg symptoms.

Voltaren Gel: I first started using Voltaren when it was still a prescription medication. Now you can get it OTC. It works well for arthritis and nerve pain.

Heat Wave: clicker heating pads. One click and they heat-up in about 60 seconds. Great for quick pain relief. They come is several sizes and travel well.

BioFreeze: I’ve been using this cooling gel for 20 years, it really works on muscle pain and tension. I like the travel size packets and always have a handful in my purse. Another good one for travel.

Boiron Arnicare Gel: this gel is great for nerve pain. Sometimes I wish I could just bath in it.

Classic Hot Water Bottle: sometimes you cannot improve on a classic. I live in a very cold climate and the wintery weather makes my whole body hurt. I hug my water bottle most nights, or I tuck it under the blankets by my feet.

Warmies: if you want something cuter to snuggle, my oldest loves their Mircat Warmie. They heat up in the microwave and are infused with essential oils. I have the French Bulldog one on my wish list.

Tiger Balm: I use Tiger Balm for tension and migraine headaches. When the headache is moving in I put it on my forehead, temples and the back of my neck. It helps me sleep-off the pain.

Trigger Point Ball: I keep one of these balls at my desk, in my purse and in my car. My pain is exacerbated by sitting, so when it kicks in I tuck the ball between my chair and my back, it provides just enough pressure to release some of the pain. It is a life saver on long drives and in endless meetings.

Foam Roller: my PT recommended this roller for my back tension and slipping rib cage. I spend a few minutes most days rolling out my back, which relieves my pain and tension. Works well for tension headaches too. Highly recommend.
Keychain Pill Holder: these little cylinders are perfect for always keeping a dose of your medication or Aleve with you. They are subtle, I keep one on my keys and in my purse/work bag.

Timer Caps: when you take multiple supplements/medications each day, it can be easy to lose track of your doses. These caps tell you when you opened the bottle last, helping you to avoid doubling-up or missing a dose. A Godsend for brain fog.

Door Organizer: when you are in pain it is hard to remember what tools you have. I have a “pain center” on the back of a closet door in my bathroom. I’ve put everything my family uses for pain in the see through pockets. It makes for a very handy reminder of all the treatment options we have and we can always find what we need.

Thirty-one Caddy: when I’m going through a really tough time I try to keep some of my pain options nearby. I fill my carry-all with extra supplements, gels and heating pads. I also keep a few essentials, like a protein bar, lip balm, phone and hair clips in it so that I don’t have to get-up over and over again when I’m hurting. I carry it with me throughout the day and set it next to my bed at night.

Swell Wide-Mouth Bottle: these are my favorite water bottles. Mine keeps my water or iced tea cold all day and the top is wide enough to put ice cubes, supplements or fruit in. I carry it everywhere and always have liquid to take my pills. AND, it is very pretty!

I would love to hear about the OTC pain treatments you use. Please comment below.

Also, learn about the Target products I used to manage my withdrawal in this post.

Massage, YES! Wanna Foot the Bill?

I am five days Lyrica-free! Now I just have to finish 8-months of pain medication tapering. The main question I am getting from friends is “So what will you take for pain now?” or “What do your doctors recommend for treatment without pain meds?” My answer, “Nothing.” Which is, for all practical purposes, true.

The CDC and other agencies (including the MN Opioid Advisory Council who has received million$ to cut opioid use in our state) have plenty of advice for pain patients. Their solutions include: massage, acupuncture, biofeedback and relaxation therapy. They fail to mention how we are supposed to pay for these treatments. Insurance pays for our medications and most doctor appointments, they do not cover the therapies they are shoving down our throats these days.

On top of that, many chronic patients are parents who also work full time, or as much as they possibly can. I’m sure many of you work and have families. How much time do you have each week for massage, acupuncture, therapy and PT appointments, plus 4 visits to the gym? Yeah, that is how much time I have too, none. It is near impossible to get short-term or long-term disability for a pain condition, which would help us focus on getting our bodies back on track. And most jobs are just dying to give you 2-hours off between the hours of 8 am-5 pm, when these practitioners are taking appointments. The experts might as well be saying “pain patients can improve their symptoms with annual trips to Mars.”

The experts might as well be saying “pain patients can improve their symptoms with annual trips to Mars.”

The tone of the media focused on these alternative therapies for chronic pain patients is usually insulting, insinuating that we are not using these therapies because we are just too lazy. We spend all of our time laying around, watching Netflix and waiting for our next pill. I have built relationships with hundreds of patients like me and no one is just laying around. We do fifty things every day to manage our conditions, including supplements, exercises, sleep strategies, special diets, sending questions to our doctors, seeking new specialists, finding reduced rate therapies, reading research, essential oils, and therapy. For comparison, remember that time you did Weight Watchers and it took half your life to manage your diet? Multiply that time and energy by 10 and then you have some idea how much it takes to manage our health every day.

For comparison, remember that time you did Weight Watchers and it took half your life to manage your diet? Multiply that time and energy by 8 and then you have some idea how much it takes to manage our health every day.

I have tried most alternative therapies over the years with mixed success.

  • I use several supplements daily, they cost a ton and insurance does not cover any of it.
  • I love thai massage, it really helps my pain. It is also very expensive and to get real, long term impact I need to book weekly appointments, which I cannot afford.
  • My insurance pays for Physical Therapy and I’ve finally found a practitioner who specializes in EDS, I have weekly appointments & daily exercises. Up to this point, the six other physical therapists did not make any impact on my pain.
  • I’ve used acupuncture successfully, thanks to a friend who provides it to me at a reduced rate. I’ve been unable to see her during COVID-19.
  • I also do bi-weekly therapy with a Polyvagal Therapist, it is incredibly helpful. Biofeedback was not helpful in any way.
  • As a former dancer, I love yoga. I’ve tried a couple of classes for chronic pain which have been fantastic. It is so expensive. Video yoga is not recommended for EDS patients because we need someone to help keep an eye on our positions, to make sure we aren’t damaging ourselves.
  • My oldest kiddo also has a handful of chronic conditions and uses many alternative therapies. It is a full time job just trying to schedule and attend all of our appointments and make sure our supplements/prescriptions are refilled on time.

All of this is to say that, although the alternative recommendations seem reasonable, they are not. We need to insist that health insurance start covering the things that they themselves recommend for chronic pain patients. We also need to expand the ability for pain patients to receive disability support. I suspect these initiatives will take a bit longer than it will take me to lose my pain medications entirely.

Late Night with Mom

I’m not your typical 7 am-9 pm kinda mom. At first I felt guilty about that, like any good mom. Then I flipped it and discovered that it is still possible to mom with insomnia. And you can too.

Possibly the worst symptom of withdrawal is the insomnia, which is accompanied by raging restless leg syndrome. I just don’t sleep before 4 am any more. You can go to sleep that late and get up to parent at 7 am for one, or even two days. You cannot survive that way for months.

My kids are old enough to get up, grab a protein bar and begin their classes on Zoom without me—especially when I prep everything in the middle of the night. So I can sleep until lunch, or whenever our puppy drags me out of bed. This solution is working for us.

On the weekends I catch-up on extra sleep while my husband gets time with our kids. However, I started missing my fun time with the monkeys, feeling pretty lame for sleeping all day. So we instituted “Late Night with Mom.” We pick a night or two each month and one of my kids stays up late with me, watching movies, doing our nails or playing games. It is far from typical, but I live for these middle-of-the-night play dates.

Families managing chronic illness don’t function like most families. The key is to rethink everything—to find your own way to connect, work and play.

When you have to reimagine your approach to life, you open yourself to
beautiful solutions.

No, I’m Not Addicted.

I’m crawling my way through the winter in withdrawal because I am tapering my Lyrica and opioid pain medication. The fact that I have withdrawal does not mean that I am, or was, an addict in any way. Confusing, right? If you get debilitating withdrawal from quitting a medication, you must be addicted!

Wrong. Most adult Americans take at least one medication a day––things like antidepressants, allergy medications, insulin and blood pressure medications. All of these medications cause physical dependence, you will feel some withdrawal with discontinuation.

Looking at my own experience, we can breakdown dependance. When I began taking my pain medication 16-years ago I experienced side-effects which included fatigue, lightheadedness and nausea–what some may call a high. However, after a couple of months on the same daily dose, my brain/nervous system started to adapt itself ––reducing the side-effects of the medication.

Let’s define physical dependence: physical dependence can manifest itself in the appearance of both physical and psychological symptoms which are caused by physiological adaptations in the central nervous system and the brain due to chronic exposure to a substance. 

My medication increases dopamine, so my own system slowed dopamine creation to keep me balanced. My medication no longer makes me feel tired or dizzy, I can function like a normal person. The physical process of dependance can also cause tolerance, a reduction of the effectiveness of the medication over time. In order to get the same pain relief, a patient needs to take a higher dose. Dependency/tolerance are not addiction. They will happen to anyone who takes daily medications.

Now, let’s define addiction: Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. 

Addicted patients will increase their medications when they become tolerant because they need more to feel “high.” When I settled into my first dose of medication, I was happy to be done with the “high” feeling because I could continue functioning as a mom, wife and employee. I have never taken any of my pain medications to cheer-myself-up, for social occasions, or to feel high. It just isn’t how my brain works and I am extremely grateful to have avoided the disease of addiction.

The one thing addicts and dependent patients share is withdrawal. When my doctor reduces my medication, I run low on the dopamine it was providing me. It can take days to weeks for my own body to start producing it again. In the meantime, I hit the wall of withdrawal: restless legs, headache, nausea, chills, sweats, insomnia, and mental fatigue. I’m miserable, but I don’t crave my medication. An addict will have the same withdrawal hell, but they also have cravings for the medication itself, the urge to get high.

Instead of using the accepted terms for addiction, dependence and tolerance, the CDC confused the issue by using the term “Opioid Dependence Disorder” in their prescribing recommendations. The term actually means opioid addiction. I suspect this confusion was purposeful, as they were trying to convince all chronic pain patients to quit their opioids. I’ve met a handful of patients who thought the fact that they had withdrawal symptoms when they missed their dose meant that they were addicted. Their doctors did nothing to explain dependency, just yanked their prescriptions.

Chronic pain patients have been betrayed by the medical system and made to look like criminals for taking their medications as prescribed. The CDC’s confusing rhetoric only serves to befuddle our friends and family, providing reason for them to question our experiences and conditions. I guess when you are looking to scapegoat millions of patients, you have to muddy the waters.

A Parable from the Book of Pain

I’ve lost 45 lbs while tapering my opioid medications in the last few months. My pain condition is digestive in nature and, now that I’m down to half the medication I used to take, the pain is excruciating when I eat—not to mention the growing nausea. So I don’t eat meals anymore. My recent blood work shows that I am now anemic and lacking normal levels of most nutrients.

I had a tele-appointment with my GP and explained this to her, saying that I am keeping my pain at a 3 (out of 10) by fasting. She looks through the screen at me and says “it sounds like a good thing, now you know how to control your pain without opioids.”

She looks through the screen at me and says “it sounds like a good thing, now you know how to control your pain without opioids.”

I have been with my GP for 25 years. We have an honest relationship and she has been a very strong advocate for prescribing my pain medications until 2020. She’s never been concerned that I was at risk of addiction or overdose. This conversation demonstrates how powerful the anti-opioid lobby and punishment for doctors who continue to prescribe are. It doesn’t take a doctorate to know that people need to eat.

This is the heartbreak pain patients are living with every day. The war on opioids is just more important than our health and well-being.

* More about artwork and how to purchase here: https://februarystars.co.uk/chronic-pain-art/