PAIN – /pān/ – noun – physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.
Pain can be debilitating; some people have higher thresholds for pain and can tolerate degrees of pain higher than others and lead normal lives. If you experience pain that is beyond your tolerance, you know how difficult it can make life. It can effect every aspect of your life including relationships and your job. Some struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction to help – which only exacerbates the problem in the long run while causing additional physical and mental suffering. And while it is easy to take over the counter NSAID pain relievers and unfortunately, it may even be easy for you to access stronger narcotic based pain relief via your doctor; these are not ideal methods of pain relief. In fact, both of these types of pain relievers cause more damage to your body and ultimately, more pain in the long run! And ultimately just mask your pain symptoms. When it comes to finding solutions to your pain, it is best to look to more natural pain relief remedies. But first, it’s important to know the source and type of pain you are experiencing to find the best solutions for you.
In this article I am going to touch on why some of the most common pain relief methods are harmful – pain myths – sources and types of pain – and natural pain relief remedies and methods to incorporate. As a sufferer of pain myself since I was 18 years old (scoliosis, sciatica and fibromyalgia) I feel I am at a good place finally to share what I’ve learned to help. Please remember that I am not a Doctor and nothing I post is intended to treat, cure or replace the recommendations of your Physician. Always consult your doctor first.
*No Pain, No Gain! This is a motto many people have adopted – especially body builders. But I am here to tell you PAIN IS NOT GOOD. Whenever you are doing any exercise, it’s good to remember that discomfort is good, pain is bad. Discomfort is your limit and a warning that if you go further, pain will occur and most likely, injury.
*It’s all in your head! I’m sure if you suffer from chronic pain, this is something you have heard – especially if you suffer from Fibromyalgia, a very misunderstood condition by the medical profession as it is very “case by case”. While your mental state can play a huge role in how you feel (it’s true – if you smile, you’ll automatically feel happier! If you think negative, you will only see and experience the negative etc), pain is very real! Your mental state can exacerbate pain, but physical pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Whether others want to believe you or not – it’s there and it’s frustrating!
*You have to live with it. While you may never be completely pain free if you suffer from chronic pain – you certainly do not have to live with debilitating pain. There is help and ways of reducing it – please don’t feel like you need to just “suck it up”. It’s okay to not be okay! I know men especially deal with this myth. It’s okay to ask for help. Remember pain can be a chronic condition like any other and may be a life long problem that requires life long lifestyle changes – but relief is possible.
PAIN RELIEF THAT DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD
1. NSAIDS – such as aspirin, Tylenol, Naproxin (aleve) etc. Works by blocking the production of prostaglandins,
chemicals in the body that cause pain and inflammation. NSAIDs can cause severe or life-threatening gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding and ulcers in some people. NSAIDs have also been linked to a higher risk of strokes, heart attacks, and heart-related deaths, especially when used for a long period of time. Additionally, the drugs can worsen high blood pressure, and may cause kidney damage in people over 60 years of age. While occasional use for acute pain is okay, daily use can be damaging to the liver and is not recommended.
2. Narcotic opiods – such as hydrocodone, percocet, vicodin, oxycontin etc. Works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain and reduce feelings of pain. The extent of their efficacy in the treatment of pain when utilized on a chronic basis has not been definitively proven. Common side effects of opioid administration include sedation, dizziness, nausea, decreased sense of pain (dangerous!), vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression. Some opiods like morphine can decrease the effectiveness of several functions of both natural and adaptive immunity, and significantly reduces cellular immunity. In addition, narcotics actually make pain worse long term! Your body reacts by increasing the number of receptors to try to get the pain signal through again. So when the drug wears off, a person will experience more pain for about three days. If they continue to take opioids, the pills become less and less effective. The pain keeps increasing not because of an injury, but due to the opioids themselves.
3. Alcohol – such as beer, wine and liquor. In real life, many people still turn to the use of alcohol for pain relief due to its ability to depress the central nervous system. By slowing down the brain and nervous system, alcohol delivers a certain amount of relief. It’s legal and very easy to access over the age of 21. Short term effects of alcohol include slurred speech, drowsiness, G.I. upset, headaches, breathing difficulties, impaired judgement, decreased perception and coordination, anemia, black outs, unconsciousness or coma. Long term effects include Increased family problems and broken relationships, alcohol poisoning, high blood pressure and risk of stroke and other heart-related disease, liver disease, nerve damage (which causes pain!), sexual dysfunction, permanent damage to the brain, Vitamin B1 deficiency, mouth and stomach ulcers, gastritis, malnutrition and cancer of the mouth, throat and stomach. Personally, I enjoy a glass of wine frequently during the week without fear of issues but never use alcohol as a pain reliever.
4. Illegal drugs – such as cocaine, heroine, PCP etc. These types of drugs can alter perception of reality and dull symptoms of pain but overall are extremely bad for your overall health causing a myriad of health problems aside from just addiction.
WHAT IS PAIN?
Pain is an inflammatory response by the body to a potential threat; Every part of our body is designed to feel pain, thanks to specialized pain receptors called nociceptors. They have the very important job of responding to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending pain signals to the brain and spinal cord. Once the brain detects a threat, an inflammatory process is ignited to begin repairing the damaged issue. Inflammatory chemicals, such as PGE2 (prostaglandin E-2), TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor), and IL-6 (Interleukin-6) are released as part of the repair process. These sensory pain receptors are found in every tissue in the body except the brain and are activated by chemicals that are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. This process is our bodies way of protecting us and helping to repair our bodies in times of acute injury. This is usually a very efficient process of the body that is very necessary to our survival, however, it can be “too efficient”. When certain inflammatory markers remain present whether due to physical trauma, chemical agents, drugs, infections, or diet – it causes our bodies to remain in a state of chronic inflammation and therefore, chronic pain. Until you remove the inflammation – you will remain in pain!
TYPES OF PAIN
- Acute – pain that typically lasts less than 3 to 6 months, or pain that is directly related to soft tissue damage such as a sprained ankle or a paper cut. Acute pain is distinct from chronic pain and is relatively more sharp and severe.
- Chronic – pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain may arise from an initial injury, such as a back sprain, or there may be an ongoing cause, such as illness.
SOURCES OF PAIN
- Tension/stress – when you are stressed and tense, you cause muscle tension and teeth grinding/clenching. This can lead to headaches and muscle pain and fatigue.
- Overuse – repetitive use of a muscle can cause discomfort and even pain – possibly even damage
- Injury – depending on the injury, pain can vary and may be short or long term
- Physical Disability – things such as scoliosis, MS, fibromyalgia, depression etc can cause chronic pain
- Illness or Infection – when you are sick – whether it be the cold, the flu or you have an ear infection etc – this causes an inflammatory response in your body which causes systemic pain
- Medication – many medications including antibiotics, anti-depressants, pain medications, asthma inhalers and medications used for things such a cholesterol, acne, and blood pressure can cause joint and muscle pain
- Mental Disability – There are indeed mental illnesses that can cause people to experience pain, numbness and a variety of other “physical” symptoms. They are known as Somatoform Disorders. A good example is depression.
- Bad Posture – while sitting, standing and moving – posture and proper ergonomics plays a vital role in your health. Bad posture can result in pain, sub-luxations, poor digestion and bowel elimination, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and nerve constriction.
- Poor Diet: Diets that promote inflammation — such as those high in sugar and saturated fats – promote pain due to that inflammation. Poor diet can lead to things like leaky gut syndrome. – a leading illness in causing inflammation (want to know the best diet to follow? check out my article)
- Inactivity: living a sedentary lifestyle can have major impacts on your health. Among the many aspects of your health it can negatively affect – causing pain and chronic illness is at the top of the list. So, get moving!
NATURAL PAIN RELIEF
Now to get to the part you are most likely here for – natural pain relief remedies!
You can rest assured that these tips and products are safe and will provide some degree of pain relief for you. Remember to listen to your body when using anything new. Not everything works well for everyone.
1. Ice – helpful in reducing pain associated with inflammation – best for acute injuries
2. Heat – helpful in relaxing sore muscles and providing relief – best for chronic pain not associated with inflammation
3. Stretching – Stretching exercises help to elongate your muscles and prevent injury. Stretching not only improves circulation to the muscles and joints, but it increases your range of motion so that movement is easier
4. Exercise – exercise in general can strengthen muscles and provide better support for your musculoskeletal system. Be careful with injuries however – both acute and chronic. You may need to modify exercises to take injuries into consideration. Physical rehab is recommended for exercise in those areas.
5. Diet – eating healthy foods all work together to reduce inflammation and chronic pain and certain foods can even control insulin and cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation
6. TENS – One of the most common forms of electrical stimulation used for pain management is trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy, which provides short-term pain relief. Electrical nerve stimulation and electro-thermal therapy are used to relieve pain associated with various conditions, including back pain due to muscle spasms. Chiropractors have the more advanced units but you can find units online for reasonable prices that deliver quivical results. The unit I use is the TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit. It comes with 4 pads for 4 different points of contact – is user friendly – has a safety cover so you don’t accidentally hit the dial and crank up the unit too high! It also auto-shuts off after 30 minutes.
7. Foam rolling – one of the most common and effective methods of relieving muscle tension, myo-fascial release, and deep tissue massage is foam rolling.
8. Spinal decompression – Nonsurgical spinal decompression is a type of traction that may help relieve back pain. Spinal decompression works by gently stretching the spine. As a result, bulging or herniated disks may retract, taking pressure off nerves and other structures in your spine. There is the DRX 9000 a lot of Chiropractors use or many spinal decompression home devices.
9. Good posture – Your spine is strong and stable when you practice healthy posture. But when you slouch or stoop, your muscles and ligaments strain to keep you balanced — which can lead to back pain, headaches and other problems. If you need help with practicing good posture and getting your spine comfortable with normal alignment, you can try a Posture Corrector – a simple, comfortable device you wear that brings your shoulders back and helps keep you up right.
10. White willow bark – The bark of white willow contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). In combination with the herb’s powerful anti-inflammatory plant compounds (called flavonoids), salicin is thought to be responsible for the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of the herb. You can get it in capsule or liquid form – personally, I prefer the liquid as it’s more easily and readily absorbed.
11. Massage – Therapeutic massage may relieve pain by way of several mechanisms, including relaxing painful muscles, tendons, and joints; relieving stress and anxiety; and possibly helping to “close the pain gate” by stimulating competing nerve fibers and impeding pain messages to and from the brain. It increases blood flow and aids in elimination of toxins that can contribute to pain and inflammation.
12. Good sleep – Exactly how more sleep can help improve pain is not fully understood. It is thought that sleep loss and pain both increase levels of inflammatory markers, but getting more sleep may help decrease this inflammation.
13. Water! water can help support joint pain relief. Drinking more water may not cure your joint pain, but it can help to improve the health of your joints. According to “The Food and Nutrition Board”, it is recommended that women drink 91 ounces of water daily and men, 125 ounces on average.
14. Location/weather – warmer weather is better for relaxing tense muscles. Dry, warm weather helps relieve joint pain. Arthritis patients tend to feel an uncomfortable pressure in their joints on days of high humidity and low barometric pressure, especially just before a storm. A drier climate means a minimum of pressure.
15. Movement/activity – Being More Active, Less Sedentary, Affects Pain Perceptions in Older Adults. Older adults with higher levels of physical activity have pain modulation patterns that might help lower their risk of developing chronic pain, reports a study in PAIN®, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). Movement increases blood flow – stretches and strengthens muscles and helps produce serotonin.
16. Medical Marijuana – Marijuana may ease certain types of chronic pain, including pain resulting from nerve damage and inflammation. There are distinct types or strains of marijuana available, and each may have slightly different effects on the user. It is recommended to search for a strain of Indica vs. sativa for pain management.
17. CBD oil – Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is used by some people with chronic pain. CBD oil may reduce pain, inflammation, and overall discomfort related to a variety of health conditions. CBD oil is a product made from cannabis but does not contain THC – the compound that gets you “high”. Be careful when searching for CBD oil as there are many fake products out there or products that don’t live up to the hype.
18. Cryotherapy – Sudden and intense cold exposure makes you release cold-shock proteins, a special class of proteins that decrease inflammation and speed up recovery. To get the benefits of cold therapy, you can take an ice bath or use a cryotherapy chamber.
19. Curcumin – Curcumin is the bio-active compound in turmeric that gives the herb its healing properties. It’s one of the safest anti-inflammatories you can take, and is an effective natural pain reliever too — even for severe pain. Curcumin is not easily absorbed by the digestive tract, so choose high-potency curcuminoids and combine with oil, since curcumin is fat-soluble. You can find it in powder or capsule form.
20. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) – Physical therapists use PEMF to heal fractures and torn cartilage faster, and surgeons recommend it as a post-op way to minimize soft tissue inflammation. PEMF machines send electromagnetic pulses through your tissue, gently stimulating anti-inflammatory and repair compounds.
21. Cloves – May help relieve the pain associated with headaches, arthritic inflammation, and toothaches. Cloves can also be used as part of a topical pain reliever. The active ingredient in cloves is eugenol, a natural pain reliever that’s also used in some OTC pain rubs. I personally try to use anything organic and GMO free.
22. Acupuncture/Acupressure – Acupuncture and acupressure may relieve pain by causing the body to release serotonin, a “feel-good” chemical that eases pain. Acupuncture I recommend professional assistance with but you can do acupressure in the comfort of your home or anywhere really. A good book to learn where acupressure points are is Acupressure’s Potent Points: A Guide to Self-Care for Common Ailments. A neat product I have personally tried (and do not recommend for people with Fibromyalgia or skin sensitivities) is the Nayoya Back and Neck Acupressure matt and pillow set. It’s gotten rave reviews and I believe if my skin wasn’t sensitive to pin point pressures, I’d reap the benefits too!
23. Trigger Point Therapy – A trigger point is “ a hyper-irritable locus within a taut band of skeletal muscle, located in the muscular tissue and/or its associated fascia.” (Travell and Simons, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction, 1:12). Trigger point therapy helps to release this tightness.
24. Chiropractic – Chiropractic is a system of therapy focused on the structure of the body, particularly the spine. Chiropractors manipulate the body’s alignment to relieve pain and improve function and to help the body heal itself. While the mainstay of chiropractic is spinal manipulation, chiropractic care may also include other treatments, including manual or manipulative therapies, postural and exercise education, and ergonomic training (how to walk, sit, and stand to limit back strain). I can account for a lot of my pain relief and pain management due to chiropractic therapy! Finding a good chiropractor is essential.
25. Menthol – Menthol can help soothe muscle and joint pain temporarily, in many areas of the body and for many ailments. Many cooling external pain relievers use menthol as the active ingredient (in varying percentages). … So when you apply a topical pain reliever with menthol in it to your skin, the pain of your sore muscles and joints is quieted with the cooling sensation associated with menthol. Be careful with using straight menthol – it can cause a burning effect.
26. Quit smoking! As if you needed another reason to drop this nasty habit. Smoking causes chronic back and neck pain by contributing to osteoporosis and the deterioration of spinal discs.
27. Omega-3 – get more fatty acids in your diet! Mainly, the anti-inflammatory fatty acid known as omega-3 which has been proven to reduce inflammation in the body and therefore, reduce pain associated with arthritis. It’s been proven to have the same results as NSAIDs on arthritis relief. (tip: do not mistake with omega-6 which has actually been proven to increase inflammation!)
28. Essential Oils – Essential oils are concentrated, aromatic plant extracts that have been used for thousands of years for emotional, cosmetic, medical and even spiritual purposes. One of their most popular uses is also for relief of chronic and acute pain. Some of the best oils to use for pain include indian frankenscence, boswellin, lavendar, myrrh, peppermit, ginger, sandalwood, and spruce. (caution: use a small amount as is very concentrated and take care that some oils are not favorable for pets)
THE TAKE AWAY
If you or someone you know is dealing with pain – know you are not a lone! Just over 20% of the adult population inAmerica suffers with chronic pain. It is a quality of life issue and not something to take lightly. You do not have to live with it. There is hope and relief out there for you. I pray the information in this article helps you or someone you know find relief as it has for me. If you have any questions or more tips for natural pain relief – please comment below. 🙂