Pain is the debilitating bane of our lives. It comes in all shapes and sizes and at various times and places. Sometimes, the reason for pain is identifiable; at other times, it is not so easily pinpointed. Statistics indicate 25 percent of all adult Americans suffer chronic pain, making it the leading reason people visit their primary care physician. The conventional medical establishment, unable to explain the precise reasons people feel pain in multiple places, coined the term fibromyalgia. With this term, it neatly categorized a whole spectrum of pain under the guise of a disease label. But there should be no mistake: Pain is no disease. It is a symptom of imbalance.
The problem with pain, especially chronic pain, is that it is debilitating and restrictive. Pain tires not only the body but also the mind and spirit. It deflates your mood, ruins sleep, derails work and blocks the experience of life’s joys. Too much pain causes people to take medications and pills to kill the throbbing, dull the aching, reduce the inflammation and loosen the spasm. These are fine for short-term relief; but over the long haul, they do more harm to the body than good. Natural solutions are best, and there are plenty.
Experts admit they don’t know the root cause of fibromyalgia. And since it is a term applied to non-specific chronic pain at different locations on the body, it is hard to pin down. Theories of links to viruses and infections, emotional disorders associated with decreased opioid receptor activity, and physical trauma are in abundance. Some posit fibromyalgia as the body’s reaction to stress or its abnormal response to it. And like classic migraine sufferers, those with fibromyalgia are sensitive to sounds, an indication of a possible abnormality in sensory processing by the central nervous system.
If we forget the label applied to this disorder for a moment and instead focus on its symptoms, we see pain, imbalanced nervous system, insomnia and a disquieted mind, leading to low mood. Chinese medicine and other natural wellness perspectives view these as symptoms of several imbalances, like sluggish blood flow, hyperactivity of the nerves and emotional trauma. If each of these symptoms is addressed naturally, then the overall symptoms and continuity of chronic pain decrease.
Let’s look at ways to treat these problems:
Exercise: Yes, using exercise may seem counterintuitive. When you’re in pain, especially chronic musculoskeletal pain, it is difficult to even think about exercising. But there are exercises that are gentle, like slow walking, yoga, tai chi, qi gong and stretching. When dealing with body pain, moving the body is essential.
Movement helps maintain range of motion that shortens from lack of use. Those tight shoulders and hips that make you strain when retrieving the plate from the cabinet or getting into and out of the car feel a whole lot better if their range of motion is restored or normalized. Walking or waving the arms moves fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. It also makes you sweat, releasing toxins that otherwise stagnate and cause pain. And movement prevents connective tissue from adhering and “gluing” muscles together, like scar tissue.
Getting up and moving, even slowly and gently at first, should be the first step for decreasing pain and removing the symptoms of chronic pain and/or fibromyalgia.
Water aerobics are often especially useful. Research from Spain has shown that patients who engage in water aerobics are able to reduce fibromyalgia pain. The study consisted of 33 women diagnosed with fibromyalgia between the ages of 37 to 71. It found that water exercise “enhances the health-related quality of life in women with fibromyalgia.” Water aerobics is a form of low-impact exercise that should be considered a viable alternative to walking or yoga if these prove too painful at the start.
Meditation: The benefits of mediation have been documented in dozens of studies. Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, which can help decrease pain. It relaxes the central nervous system, which helps decrease pain. It slows breathing and the thought process, which helps clear mental and emotional issues to help ease pain. And it relaxes the body to induce sleep. It is in deep sleep that the body relaxes and repairs, which is needed to reduce and prevent pain and inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory diet: Diet plays a major role in pain and fibromyalgia. It is important for those with chronic pain to avoid too much sugar, fats, trans fats, acidic foods, hydrogenated oils and dairy. In turn, it is best to increase foods high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. These include fruits, vegetables (especially the green leafy variety) and whole grains (especially oats).
Supplements: There are several supplements that naturally help reduce inflammation and pain while elevating mood. These include:
- Omega-3 fats: that are high in the fatty acids DHA and EPA, which help reduce inflammation and acidity, thus reducing pain.
- Turmeric: contains curcumin (its active component); helps reduce inflammation and pain.
- Feverfew: reduces vasoconstriction to normalize blood flow and reduce pain, especially that associated with classic migraine.
- Arnica: topical cream that helps reduce pain and inflammation.
- St. John’s wort: has been shown to help with emotional disorders like depression (a cause and symptom of pain).
- Chamomile: helps relax the mind at night before bed, which can reduce stress-induced insomnia.
- Other Chinese and Indian herbal formulas for pain: These are best used under the guidance of a practitioner after a physical examination.
When all is considered, the methods to prevent and reduce chronic pain and fibromyalgia are basically identical. And we have the power to control this pain ourselves with our daily actions, habits and activities. Taking a proactive and focused role in your own pain management allows for natural reduction and prevention. Simple changes in diet, physical activity, sleep, meditation and supplements can go a long way to helping you overcome this debilitating issue.