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Managing Chronic Pain

Finding natural solutions to ease chronic pain. What helps?

Many people struggle with finding ways to cope with their chronic pain. They go to their family doctor and oftentimes they are given one (or more) of a variety of drugs designed to block the pain signals temporarily, but there is no lasting relief from this approach. What's worse, the side effects of these drugs can be just as disabling as the pain they are trying to get relief from. Most of these medications cause fatigue and foggy-headedness which makes it more difficult to function, even if the pain is lessened somewhat. And some of them can cause dependency and tolerance. What then, is a person to do? After all, most have jobs or families or other obligations that they need to deal with too, and adding pain to the mix makes life feel overwhelming at times!

It can be helpful to understand what pain is, and why and how it works. Simply stated, pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong, and the location of the problem. It is also your body's attempt to prevent further injury by limiting your ability to overuse the area where the pain is located. For example, if you injured your shoulder, certain movements will increase your pain and you will immediately stop the movement or activity that increases the pain. When you take certain medications or get a cortisone shot to limit the pain, this in effect overrides your body's ability to protect itself and leaves you vulnerable to further injury. Taking medications to limit the pain can be helpful, but only if you recognize that the injury is still present and that you need to continue limiting the activities that caused the pain while your body is healing.

But what if your pain is not limited to a certain area, as is the case with Fibromyalgia? First of all, whole body pain indicates a systemic condition, meaning that it is not from an injury but rather there is something going on internally. While medications can sometimes dampen the pain that you feel, they will never address the cause. And there is a price to pay for this approach as many drugs have side effects that are just as troubling as the thing they are trying to treat. A thorough evaluation with exam and blood work can oftentimes get to the underlying cause which is where the only hope of lasting relief can be achieved. But sometimes, even when the source of pain is identified, as is the case with certain genetic conditions or degenerative disc disease, there are no therapies that will "cure" the problem and pain management becomes the only goal of treatment. What can you do then, especially if you do not want to rely on the many medications that are currently being prescribed?

A practical theory when dealing with pain is that it is produced by or accompanied by inflammation. With that being the case, therapies or supplements that can reduce inflammation, can also help to reduce pain. Below is a list of things that have been shown to lessen pain and inflammation:

Myofascial Release or Deep Tissue Massage:

Therapeutic massage is a tried and true way to reduce muscle pain. The reason for this is that when muscles become chronically spasmed, inflammatory chemicals tend to build up and the muscle is not able to pump those chemicals out through the contracting and relaxing of a properly functioning muscle. The massage helps to manually pump out those chemicals (think lactic acid) and also helps to stretch out the muscle fibers so they are looser and can work better. It is important to find someone who is skilled in working with muscle pain though. Too little pressure doesn't help very much and too much pressure can cause more pain.

Epsom salts baths:

Did your grandma ever talk about Epsom salts baths to relieve achy pain? Yes, it really does help! The reason for this is that 1- the moist heat of the bath will help to relax muscles; 2- Epsom salts has magnesium in it and magnesium has been shown to help relax muscles 3- the osmotic pressure difference between your body and the Epsom salts water helps to pull some of the inflammation from your tissues

Yoga / Stretch routines:

The importance of stretching spasmed muscles cannot be over emphasized, but it must be done correctly. If you attempt to stretch so vigorously that sharp or severe pain is produced, you will only produce more spasms. Effective stretching is a gradual process but CAN be done, even with the most severe forms of sprains, strains, or spasms. Regular stretching will help loosen the muscle fibers so that the muscle fibers can contract and relax more easily. So the motto is: Easy does it, but DO it!

CBD oil or creams:

This is fast becoming an effective alternative to pain relieving drugs! While research is still being done on the benefits of CBD oil, many are reporting that with regular use it can minimize or even eliminate pain! CBD oil is currently being used to treat a wide variety of conditions including chronic pain, seizures, insomnia, anxiety and even cancer! What's more, it does not have the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs and it doesn't get you high because the THC from the cannabis plant it is extracted from has been removed.

Infrared Saunas:

Infrared sauna heat works by penetrating joints, muscles and tissues, increasing circulation and increasing oxygen flow, reducing soreness on nerve endings and reducing muscle spasms. Infrared saunas are also used for many other things, such as detoxing the body, improving sleep, weight loss, clearer skin, and more!

Fasting and / or nutritional detox:

There are many types of fasting, and I am not a proponent of starvation fasting where the only nutrient taken in is water. Many people with chronic illnesses are in a weakened state and their bodies need nutrients to heal. That said, fasting and nutritional detoxing is very helpful in ridding your body of excess toxins and helping your organ systems to function better. Try a 3 - 5 day juice or protein drink fast instead. It will give your body the nutrients it needs while giving your organ systems a rest.

Chiropractic Adjustments:

Chiropractic care can be a safe and effective way to reduce nerve irritation and pain. Many causes of pain are biomechanical in nature and can be greatly helped by aligning the body and reducing irritation on the nerves.

Quality mattress / bed:

If you find yourself waking up in more pain than you were in when you went to bed, your mattress could be contributing to your pain! Old saggy mattresses need to be replaced. Memory foam mattresses have been shown to be of benefit as they equally distribute your body weight on the mattress, thereby decreasing strain in any localized area. Even better, they are hypoallergenic and dust mites can't live in them!

Helpful supplements:

Turmeric - Turmeric is an herb that is found in many Indian foods and gives curry its yellow color. It has been shown to help with inflammation and is rich in antioxidants. It is also helpful for stomach ulcers and indigestion. Not all Turmeric supplements are created equal. Turmeric needs to be ingested with fats or pepper to be bioavailable in your system. Therefore, when purchasing this supplement, be sure that it has one of these ingredients in the product.

MSM - MSM is a compound that used to be in rich supply in the produce we ate. Due to current agricultural practices, the amount of MSM found in our foods had decreased sharply. Since it is a food based product it is extremely safe to consume. Benefits of MSM are many, but it has anti-inflammatory effects and can help repair soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons). It is even helpful for lung issues! Many products contain MSM along with Glucosamine Sulfate for joint pain to give helpful nutrients to the entire joint.

Cloves - Cloves are a common spice found in most kitchens. It's not just a great spice for cooking, it also has anti-inflammatory effects and can help with intestinal parasites as well.

Willow Bark - Willow Bark has been used for centuries for relieving pain and inflammation. The bark of the white willow contains the chemical salicin, which is similar to the main ingredient in aspirin. It can cause an upset stomach though, so use with care.

Devil's Claw - Devil’s Claw may be effective for reducing back pain because its chemicals may decrease the inflammation and swelling that cause pain.

Fish or Flax Oil - Both of these oils contain essential Fatty Acids and are generally necessary for good health. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and are a great addition to any daily supplement regime.

Capsaicin - The agent that gives hot peppers their heat, capsaicin has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. Although it comes from food, isn't a just a nutritional supplement but also comes as a cream, typically applied three to four times a day, or a single-use patch. It works by desensitizing channels that send pain signals to receptors in your brain.

Calcium & Magnesium - These two minerals are found in multivitamins, but because they are macronutrients (too large to fit in a small pill) only a small percent of the RDA for these nutrients is in your typical vitamin. Calcium in combination with Magnesium act as a natural muscle relaxer and can be very beneficial in relieving muscle pain and cramps. When purchasing these in combination, the ratio of Calcium to Magnesium should be 2:1 to get maximum benefit.

While the above is quite a list, there are many other things people have tried to help with chronic pain. Please feel free to share therapies and remedies that have worked for you below.

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