Ten + Natural, Simple, Cost-Effective Solutions for Pain Relief and Management

September is Pain Awareness Month and people with Lyme disease, Fibromyalgia, Epstein Barr or any number of chronic illnesses, are very aware of our pain. There are many kinds of pain and many ways to manage it. Here are a few that I find helpful.

1. Breathing

Breathing is something we don’t have to think about. It’s just done for us. But, because we take it for granted, we often don’t notice how shallow and ineffective our breath can be. When we are in pain, often our breath is even more shallow because we are tense and unable to relax.

Conscious breathing can make an enormous difference to our pain level. It oxygenates the blood, which increases endorphins, which in turn decreases stress hormones and slows down your heart rate.

It’s easy and it’s free. Take a deep breath, expand your belly when you inhale and let all the air out when you exhale. Do this for five minutes at a time, several times a day. If deep breathing makes you dizzy, start with 2-3 minutes and do it sitting down.

2. Hydration

This won’t be the first time you’ve read about the importance of drinking water. When we don’t drink enough water, our body has higher inflammation and toxicity, which will increase any type of pain. Hydration is key to reducing inflammation which is a very important factor in reducing pain. Water also helps flush out toxins.

It’s super simple. Drink 8 glasses of good quality water (spring water is best) a day. Don’t drink tap water, it does not do a good job of hydrating the cells. For the best spring water in your area check out this website: findaspring.com. If you prefer to use filtered water, the best water filter is a Berkey: berkeywater.com/about

3. Exercise

The catch-22 of exercise is that it is integral to good heath but sometimes it makes pain worse or our pain makes exercising impossible. Yet exercise is essential for pain management and relief. Research has shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time can exacerbate all types of pain because it causes decreased blood flow to the brain and the muscles. Lack of activity increases joint and muscle pain and can even cause muscles to atrophy. Because of lack of blood flow to the brain, being sedentary can increase stress, anxiety and depression, all of which can increase pain.

Sometimes we think we have to run a marathon or put in hours at the gym several times a week in to feel like we’re getting enough exercise. But any exercise is good. Do it according to your ability. It can be tricky to figure out the difference between too much and too little, but once you do, you will notice a difference in your pain level. If you can’t play sports or run or work out, do what you can: gentle yoga, simple stretches, light weight lifting, walking to the best of your ability. Even just standing is better than sitting. Get your heart pumping and your blood moving.Do what you can! Here is a link to a video of sitting exercises. These gals are really fit so don’t try to go at their pace if it’s too much!

4. Sweating

When we sweat, werelease toxins, when we release toxins our bodies detoxify, become morealkaline and less stressed. When we’re less toxic, inflamed and stressed, weexperience less pain.

The best way to sweat is through afar-infrared sauna. A regular sauna is good too. If you can’t handle the heat or don’t have access to a sauna, a detox bath with Epsom salts releases sweat and the magnesium in the salts is excellent for pain.  More on magnesium below. If it’s not possible to soak in the tub, try a foot bath with Epsom salts.

5. Music

There is scientific evidence that music helps relieve pain. How? Here are three examples:

1. As the saying goes, “music soothes the savage beast” and that scientifically translates to calming the “primitive” or limbic brain which helps distract from negative feelings around pain

2. Music can promote relaxation which inhibits stress hormones, which weakens pain sensation

2. Music may affect the brain’s opioid system, providing natural pain relief.

There are many articles and studies on music and pain relief; below are two links.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27760797

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-music-moves-us/201111/music-and-pain-relief

There are also many, many apps and videos and websites of music targeting pain management and relaxation, but musical taste is very personal. People with chronic illness are also very sensitive, so certain sounds that are soothing to some may be like nails on a chalk board to others. But music is free or at least it’s inexpensive and provides many benefits so I highly recommend it.

When my husband was recovering from surgery, he was experiencing intractable pain. Nothing helped, not even the prescription medications. I had him put his feet up in a recliner, close his eyes, follow his breath and listen to music on his ear phones. This provided major relief.

6. Laughter

We’ve all heard the expression “laughter is the best medicine”, and while it may not cure all our medical needs, laughter is at least great medicine. Like music, laughter acts on the brain in important ways, releasing pain relieving hormones, reducing stress in the body and stimulating circulation and reducing muscle tension to name a few. This link from the Mayo Clinic details short and long term benefits as well as the systems in the body affected by laughter.

I did a little experiment recently when I was experiencing neck pain and stiffness. I put on a video of Robin Williams and laughed to point of tears. Within fifteen minutes the stiffness was gone and the pain was much more manageable. The pain relief lasted hours.

7. Sleep & Rest

Chronic and acute pain can make it very difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and being sleep deprived can make it harder to manage pain. In our demanding lives, sleep is often a low priority, but getting proper sleep is crucial to all aspects of heath – mental, physical and emotional. Check out this article that goes deeper into the connection between sleep and pain.

I have dealt with a fair amount of acute and chronic pain due to Lyme disease and injuries, and I have never been a very good sleeper. But I finally had to accept the reality that, in order to truly get better, I had to learn how to rest. I’ve never liked napping but when I don’t get a decent night’s sleep, I take the time to lie down. I may not actually nap but the rest relieves pain.

8. Diet

Pain is all about inflammation. In fact, most if not all, illness is about inflammation. The standard North American diet is highly inflammatory and that’s why even those of us who do not have a chronic illness are chronically achy and tired. By now, most of us are aware of the importance of eating a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet with no fast food or processed foods. For good reason. We really are what we eat.

The key to reducing inflammation through diet is to eat foods that are as close to their original source as possible. As Michael Pollan would say: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. And, don’t eat food that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize. I highly recommend Pollan’s book “Food Rules”, which is concise, sensible and funny (laughter being another pain-reliever). Here is a review which will give you an idea of his philosophy.

I had a lot of resistance to giving up my favourite foods. I was happy to include herbal remedies, supplements, salves and exercise into my routine, but I only got temporary relief or no relief at all. Plus it got expensive. But finally giving up gluten and sugar made the difference and provided consistent pain relief. Changing my diet was a game changer for me. The benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet far outweigh the short-term gratification of inflammatory foods. I still have the occasional piece of delicious fresh bread or dessert as a treat, but not as a daily habit. After all, Michael Pollan’s rule #64 is “Break the rules once in a while”. Eating a healthy diet is not about deprivation, it’s about feeling good.

9. Body & Energy Work

Massage, Acupuncture and Reflexology are all extremely beneficial. For every individual there is a unique form of bodywork. For those of us who prefer energy work, Reiki can be a very powerful pain reliever too. Bodywork is effective in many ways: it can be used to target specific pain sites but it also improves mood, stimulates circulation, creates relaxation and reduces inflammation; all important aspects of pain relief and management.

I have tried and benefitted from pretty every type of body work known to humanity. I love Reflexology because it I find it extremely effective for all the reasons I just named, plus it targets the feet which literally carry all our burdens and hold an immense amount of tension and pain that we are often not even aware of. As someone who has Bartonella foot pain, which is often mistaken as plantar fasciitis, Reflexology has made an enormous difference. I have been a Reflexologist for over 20 years and I’ve seen amazing results in my Reflexology clients.

10. Herbs & Supplements

There are probably thousands of natural remedies, including herbs and supplements that help with pain, so I’m just going to name a few of my favourites. Pregnant women and people taking medications need to be mindful that not all of these remedies are safe for them.  

Rescue Remedy: known for crisis situations and emergencies, Rescue Remedy also eases physical pain by relieving tension and helping the body breathe. It has helped me cope with some very strong pain on many occasions. Rescue remedy is safe for everyone; and has no contra-indications with medication.

Magnesium: marvelous magnesium is indispensable for pain relief. It targets muscle pain, nerve pain and cramping pain. It also relieves constipation, and helps us relax and sleep. There are many forms of magnesium, but I prefer Orotate, Glycinate and Citrate. Here is an article explaining each form. Don’t forget about Epsom salt, which is magnesium that can be dissolved in a warm bath or foot bath.

Arnica: is a homeopathic remedy for physical trauma, bruises and muscle aches. It can be taken internally in granule or liquid form or used as an ointment or salve. It is often combined with other homeopathic remedies to help with all kinds of pain. I use it all the time for my arthritic pain and it works immediately.

St John’s Wort: is known as an anti-depressant, especially for Seasonal Affect Disorder but it is also used for nerve pain. Nerve pain, also known as neuropathy, can be very difficult to treat but I have had great results with St John’s Wort. I have successfully treated people with sciatica and neuralgic foot pain (a common symptom of diabetes). St John’s wort oil can be used topically and the homeopathic remedy, known as Hypericum perforatum, can be taken internally.

Feverfew: is an excellent herb for headaches, particularly migraines. It comes in a tea or a tincture. Not only does feverfew help with migraine headache pain, it can be taken to prevent migraine and is useful for other symptoms such as insomnia, nausea and anxiety. I take it before bed to help me relax and to prevent morning headaches.

Clove: has been used since before the advent of dentistry for toothaches. The oil can be used topically on the pain site or you can chew on clove bud. Clove oil provides relief for skin irritations, such as poison ivy and it is effective first aid for tick bites. Clove also improves circulation which helps with tension headaches, stomach pain,. Bonus! – insect repellent and first aid for tick bite.

Curcumin: is one of my favourite supplements. It is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and I recommend it to all of clients for pain. The active ingredient in curcumin is turmeric, the spice that gives curries their gold colour. It is best taken with pepper and a fat of some kind like avocado or coconut milk. Curcumin is great for headaches, arthritis, and fibromyalgia pain.

And last but not least – CBD oil: this is a whole article in itself, but CBD oil is a wonderful source for all types of pain. I have a salve that I use for my arthritic pain, muscle pain and nerve pain, and it helped clear up an itchy, burning, very painful rash. CBD oil stimulates the endocannabinoid system in the body to reduce inflammation. It is legal in all 50 states in the US and can’t get you high so it is very safe.