By Kate Harveston — A few years back, I did something truly regrettable. The daytime temperatures soared into the 100’s. I wanted to expend as little energy outside as possible, so instead of walking around the block to visit a friend, I decided a bit of fence hopping would save time and sweat.
While attempting to lower myself down over a concrete block fence using primarily my triceps, I suddenly felt something tear. I felt as though someone had shoved a red-hot poker in my chest. I gasped, dropped to the ground, and in doing so, landed by hitting my lower back right against a large, decorative rock. My entire torso became one blazing inferno of agony.
Turns out I tore some of the cartilage connecting my ribs to my sternum. As if that wasn’t enough, I also suffered damage to my spine. As I grew older, the pain from that old injury became chronic. Simply twisting the wrong way sent white-hot bullets through my body. I could no longer sit, let alone stand, in one position for longer than five minutes or so without pain.
Sadly, it didn’t take long to build up a tolerance to pain medications. I had to take more and more to feel any relief. Knowing the addiction epidemic that has hit millions of other chronic pain sufferers, I knew I had to do something differently, and quickly, before my entire world crumbled. So I started researching natural alternatives to prescription pain medications. Today, I remain opioid-free and feel better than I have in ages. Here are some tips for reclaiming your life from chronic pain.
The first step on my journey back to health began with medicinal herbals. I’ve long been a fan of the “Earth’s Children” novels by Jean M. Auel, and I decided to see if Ayla’s healing remedies really worked. They do!
Throughout the novels, the characters use willow bark to combat pain. I already knew that willow bark contains the same compound manufacturers use to make aspirin, but I wanted to go even more natural than that. I ordered some willow bark tea online, and while it didn’t eliminate pain, it definitely helped. Because willow bark contains salicin like aspirin does, it’s important to exercise caution with this healing herb. Like aspirin, it can cause stomach upset and make you bruise more easily.
Since I couldn’t rely on willow bark alone, I expanded my herbal repertoire to include curcumin/turmeric. Turmeric comes from the root of an Asian plant highly valued in Ayurvedic medicine. Curcumin refers to the anti-inflammatory compound turmeric possesses. If you adore Indian food like I do, you no doubt know turmeric as a spice used in curries. However, if you don’t particularly care to consume tandoori chicken every time you need an anti-inflammatory boost, you can purchase pure curcumin drops or powders to sprinkle in your favorite tea or to use sublingually.
While not technically an herb, resveratrol — found in red wines, grapes and grape juice — aids in pain management. Add even a single glass of sugar-free grape juice to your days to see if it helps — it seemed to for me!
Additionally, following a recent bout of patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee), I discovered I had arthritis in those joints. While it hasn’t bothered me to date, I added in a fish oil supplement to prevent joint pain. So far, so good!
Changing Your Diet
Much pain stems from inflammation in the body. Diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis occur due to inflammation.
If you suffer from an inflammatory pain condition, try switching to an anti-inflammatory diet. Eliminating foods that cause further inflammation should bring you some relief.
Focus on eating fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins such as salmon and chicken, gluten-free pseudo-grains like amaranth and quinoa and healthy fats like olive oil. Avoid processed flours, foods containing gluten (a well-known inflammatory-causing protein) and foods containing simple sugars, like colas.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body contains energy meridians through which chi, the body’s vital life-energy, flows. When these channels become blocked, pain results.
Acupuncture involves the use of micro-thin needles to stimulate and clear energy meridians so that chi can flow. The needles truly are tiny and shouldn’t bother many people — I hate needles, and I survived acupuncture just fine.
If the thought of needles turns your stomach, consider acupressure. It works on the same principles as acupuncture, only without the pokes.
I personally didn’t experience much pain relief from trying acupuncture, although curiously, once the needles were inserted, I fell immediately into a deep and refreshing sleep. However, one of my friends suffers from multiple sclerosis, and she swears by acupuncture for pain relief. Different techniques work for different bodies.
Finding a Good Chiropractor
Because the nature of my injury involved some serious back pain, I decided to also try chiropractic assistance. I quickly discovered that some chiropractors incorporate better practices than others. Seek one who practices myofascial release prior to adjusting you. When you’re in pain, the muscles surrounding the injured area become extremely tight, making it difficult to receive full benefit from treatments, as taut muscles prevent proper adjustment.
Finding a great chiropractor has worked wonders for me. My chiropractor spends about 10 to 15 minutes pre-treatment practicing myofascial release around the injured area. As an added bonus, this process can sort of feel like a relaxing mini-massage.
Warm It Up
Chronic back pain often responds positively to heating pads. The heat loosens tight muscles and inflamed fascia, the connective tissue holding your muscles to your skin.
Heating pads quickly become a godsend for those with chronic pain who work primarily at a desk, because sitting still for long periods causes muscles to clench up. Plus, you can find heating pads in just about any drug store, and they’re relatively cheap to boot! I personally suggest buying one for home use and one to keep in your work desk.
If you’re plagued with menstrual discomfort, remember that discreetly slipping your heating pad against your stomach under your outer layer of clothing can calm cramps — an added bonus no woman should miss out on.
Cool It Down
For acute injuries that recently occurred, ice may bring more relief than heat. When you injure an area, fluid builds up as your body sends additional lymph to the affected area to aid in healing. This fluid can put pressure on nerves, causing pain, and ice prevents too much of it from building up in the impacted area.
In addition, if you suffer from migraines, using an ice pack on the back of your neck may help. Some research implicates the vagus nerve, which runs from the gut to the brain through the back of the neck, in causing migraine pain. Cooling this area may break the migraine cycle. It works fairly well for me.
When you suffer an injury, the simple act of putting body weight on the damaged area can lead to excruciating pain. Yet sitting idly can exacerbate pain from injury or disease and gradually lead to ataxia — the wasting away of muscular strength. When the muscles weaken, it becomes harder and harder to move the affected area.
Hydrotherapy can work wonders for anyone recovering from a sports-related injury or car accident. It also makes it possible for people with diseases such as osteoarthritis, other forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and even Parkinson’s disease to get a good workout.
How does it work? When you submerge yourself in water, the liquid environment supports 80 percent of your body weight, making exercising far easier. If you’re recovering from a painful injury, seek out hydrotherapy or aquatic aerobics classes in your area.
With this strategy, you can gradually begin to rebuild your body’s strength and muscle mass without putting undue stress on the impacted area. I’d recommend trying to locate an indoor facility so that you can continue hydrotherapy year-round, not just in the warm summer months.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
A TENS unit works by sending a gentle electrical current through muscles and connective tissues. This current stimulates the body’s natural healing process and helps to alleviate pain. You can purchase fairly inexpensive TENS units at many major drug stores. Some research suggests that using a TENS unit can also stimulate the brain, clearing cobwebs and depression and making you more productive.
I know, I know. When you’re feeling lousy, the last thing you probably want to do is hit the gym. You should avoid skipping your workout if at all possible, though, no matter how tempting it may seem. Research tells us that exercising releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. You don’t need to pound the weights to feel the effects. Find a form of exercise you absolutely love, such as a dance class — or if you prefer something more gentle, Tai chi.
I’ve been a runner since the age of 12, and once I recovered from the worst of my injuries, I found that on days when I skipped my run, my pain levels actually soared. I try not to miss now.
In addition, since sitting or standing in any one position tends to trigger a flare in me, I make it a priority to stand up from my desk at least once every hour to do some gentle stretches. The movement heats up my muscles and calms my nerves.
Anyone who suffers from any chronic pain condition has heard the advice to practice yoga. Physicians and others recommend practicing yoga for a reason — it really works! And you don’t even need to hit the gym to start.
The magic of the internet has blessed us with a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, and on the internet, you can find a veritable cornucopia of yoga videos, all for free! I recommend starting slow by searching for videos showing gentle yoga or short yoga routines. By practicing just five minutes of yoga at the end of each workday, I alleviate the built-up and painful tension of the day.
Some experts recommend meditation to treat pain, and I have to admit, it makes sense. After all, pain comes from your nerves, and your brain is the biggest organ in your central nervous system.
Various forms of meditation exist. Some schools of thought advocate sitting quietly in a comfortable position and letting your thoughts roam free. Others center around a focal point or sound to build awareness. Personally, my favorite method of meditation centers around love — as I sit in meditation, I visualize myself sending warmth and caring like a pink light to the affected area. While not always effective, it does help me calm my mind and accept what is.
When Your Best Pain-Relief Measures Fail
Just like no medical form of pain relief is 100 percent effective, natural remedies have their flaws too. When these remedies fail to sufficiently alleviate your pain and you feel your quality of life draining away, consult with a qualified medical professional. Express your desire to steer clear of medications, and ask about holistic options you haven’t tried yet.
Partly due to the opioid crisis, medical science has invented many new ways to deal with chronic pain. In certain cases, for example, nerve blocks can temporarily numb painful areas without the use of addictive substances. In addition, cortisone shots may alleviate the suffering of those with severe arthritis or other joint pain disorders. If you live in a state with legal medical cannabis, you can also inquire about this method of pain relief.
Benefits of Natural Pain Relief
The benefits of switching to natural pain relief just can’t be understated. Since eschewing pain meds in favor of natural remedies, I’ve embarked on an exciting new path and managed to rehabilitate my body just as well as any person with a prescription — in fact, arguably better. I’ve never looked back since ditching the drugs, and my guess is, once you go natural, you won’t either. Here’s to a healthy, pain-free life!
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.
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