Natural Approaches to Pain
As you are likely aware, it is now possible to buy codeine based pain relief medications only with a prescription from the doctor. While this may or may not affect the people who are addicted to, or abuse these medications, and who need help one way or another, it also has a huge impact on people who have relied on these effective medications for either chronic or occasional pain management. I have already heard from clients who are being refused codeine-based prescriptions from their doctors, for chronic pain.
So I thought it was a good time to write an article on some more natural ways to help manage pain. Many people in chronic pain are not managed well by their GP’s and specialists, and are not taught the many possible ways to support themselves to live better despite their pain, because it is easier to prescribe medications. There is a lot of evidence to support natural therapies for pain management, but what I would like to encourage is that you do not suffer alone. There are a variety of healthcare practitioners who work with pain, and no one approach works for every type of pain, or every person with a particular condition. Some practitioners even specialise in pain. Please don’t give up or feel you have no hope for improvement.
Of course, pain can come from many causes, and natural therapies always seek to address the underlying cause of any condition, but I will discuss some alternatives to pain management which you may not realise can be very helpful.
1. Manage inflammation with diet. A diet which is high in inflammatory foods such as bad carbohydrates (white flour and sugar), will contribute to pain. An anti-inflammatory Mediterranean or vegetable-based Paleo diet including probiotic and prebiotic foods, and herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric, can help with pain. Being overweight can contribute to inflammation as excess fat in the body is pro-inflammatory. A healthy gut contributes tremendously to the health of the whole body, lowers inflammation and helps the body produce appropriate endorphins to moderate pain.
2. One friend who had chronic arthritic pain to the extent he could barely use his hands, and who tried many things for his pain, has changed his life with detoxing his liver, gallbladder and bowels. He now has restored most of his function that he thought was lost. Detoxing can have a powerful effect as hyperacidity and toxins in the body contribute to pain causing inflammation.
3. Omega 3 fatty acids, either as a supplement or in the form of fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds and linseeds, have been shown in many studies to lower inflamation and help with arthritic and inflammatory driven pain. Omega 6 fatty acids tend to be more pro-inflammatory, so it is important to balance these with Omega 3s.
4. Exercise is an underutilised method for managing pain for many conditions. While those in pain often shy away from exercising, studies show that resistence training, yoga, pilates, and even walking, can all benefit people in pain. Exercise decreases the inflammatory and pain response, it releases feel good endorphins in the brain which relieve pain, it lowers stress, and it makes sure your organs and tissues all receive enough oxygen and nutrients.
5. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine have a lot of evidence behind them for reducing pain, and acupuncture is used in hospitals in China and other places around the world for pain management.
6. Chiropractic and Osteopathy have helped many people with pain for centuries, and I highly recommend you find a practitioner you resonate with, and get regular treatments the same way you see the dentist. I see my chiropractor once a month and it is so worth it. These modalities affect and balance the whole nervous system.
7. Massage has obvious benefits for many in pain. Whether its a skilled therapeutic or deep tissue massage to iron out the knots and perhaps release underlying emotions, or a relaxation massage to soothe away stress, massage has many benefits. To be touched when in pain, appropriately, can release many endorphins that relieve pain, for long after the touch has finished.
8. Experiment with heat and cold to find what works best for your pain. Traditional Naturopathy uses Hydrotherapy, which means warm and cold water treatments, to help with pain and inflammation. While a warm bath can soothe and relax, especially with the addition of epsom salts and essential oils, suprisingly it is normal cold tap temperature water that is most effective therapeutically to bring circulation to a particular area and relieve pain. Many can testify that cold water showers and ocean, lake or river swims can be very helpful to the aches and pains they suffer.
9. Studies into Mind Body Medicine have revealed immense benefit from meditation, mindfulness, relaxation and stress management to support those in pain. It is all about finding what works for you, and becoming more aware and grounded in your body, while refocusing on what is calming and soothing to your nervous system.
10. Herbal medicines- I have left this till last because I wanted to share a bit more here, as it is an area that I am skilled in. There are many herbs that have been studied internationally that have been shown to help with pain in different conditions. It is a case of trying different things and finding what works for you. Don’t give up if one herb, product or approach doesn’t immediately work. Some herbs that are used for pain are:
- St John’s Wort for pain that is related to nerves, such as sciatica
- Valerian root and cramp bark are useful for cramping and spasms
- Boswellia, Willowbark and Devil’s Claw can be useful for arthritic and back pain
- Ginseng for fibromyalgia
- Ferverfew for headaches and rheumatoid arthritis
- Jamaican Dogwood for nerve pain, headaches and as an antiinflammatory
- Californian Poppy to help with sleep that is disturbed by pain
- Turmeric to lower inflammation, and for arthritic pain
- Ginger for joint and muscle pain
- Kava kava for any pain that is related to, or worsened by, tension or anxiety, and for toothache and mouth pain.
I frequently use professional strength herbal products for clients with pain, in particular one called TherActive Pain. I used it myself last year when lower back pain and inflammation was waking me at night and was so grateful for its effectiveness. One client has weaned himself off an addiction to codeine-based pain killers with this product. I find it very effective for many people, if they take the right dose. One of the important things with pain is to stay on top of it, if possible, because it is much easier to treat before it is bad.
For those with pain that is caused by or made worse for tension, I use AnxioCalm, which contains Kava Kava, which is a powerful relaxant and anti-anxiety medicine.
I also make individualised herbal remedies for people depending on their circumstances. Many people are discovering the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and this is another area in which I am trained.
As you can see, there are a variety of methods and approaches that can be helpful in pain management. I will mention here that even something as simple as too much coffee can cause pain that may then be attributed to something else. I myself am sensitive to coffee and find if I drink it too often, such as when I start getting into a daily habit, within a couple of weeks my joints all start to ache. I have learned that coffee has this effect on me so I do not drink it regularly. I have also mentioned this to many people who never considered their daily coffee habit may be behind their joint aches, and some have found they feel much better without it.
Pain can often be helped by sharing about it, to feel that someone cares, and to be touched while in pain. Also, there are many non-ingestive modalities which can help such as warm and cold water treatments, acupuncture, exercise such as yoga, and meditation. And then we have the herbal medicines, some of which can be very effective for different conditions- for some in tiny doses, and others need strong therapeutic doses. We are all different, and respond differently to pain and to pain medicines and therapies. I hope this article has been helpful in reminding you, or informing you, of many different avenues to explore to help manage any pain you may experience.