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Pain, either sudden or chronic, is a warning sign that something is wrong. But deciphering the body’s language can be confusing. The easier approach, especially with common aches and pains, is to take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever.
Often enough, though, the discomfort returns stronger than before, leading us to increase or dosage of pain-relief medication. Rarely is one dose sufficient to bring permanent relief (although sometimes it does work because the temporary respite gives your body a chance to initiate healing). It’s more likely that you masked the pain for a short while, only to have it return again. This is especially true as we enter into the cold weather season.
It’s estimated that more people rely on OTC pain relievers than any other drugs. They’re used to relieve muscle pain, back pain, joint pain, headaches, cramps and more. The number of people who are prescribed dangerous pain drugs like oxycodone for ongoing pain has risen sharply in the past few years, leading to significant increases in dependency and accidental deaths. But even frequent use of some OTC pain drugs can cause permanent damage such as liver toxicity and intestinal injury with bleeding. For example, a new study shows a significant increase in the risk of kidney cancer among people who mix alcohol with Tylenol — an all-too-common practice.
There are a number of natural approaches to pain relief, but they don’t work as quickly as drugs. The good news is, however, that these approaches address the root causes of pain, helping to soothe frazzled nerves, reduce chronic inflammation, hydrate tissues, improve joint mobility, alleviate tension and help us relax more deeply. In doing so, they also work to support other areas of health while improving overall wellness, immunity and vitality.
Since pain — either acute or chronic — is a warning sign, it’s important to address the most common underlying culprits: chronic inflammation, dehydration and issues with circulation. Nutrients, herbs and foods that hydrate, circulate and cool irritated tissue can be very effective. They bring long-term, lasting relief from common issues such as arthritis, back and neck pain, chronic headaches, muscle cramps, and nerve pain.
Why We Need Manual Therapies
It’s also important to note that while dietary and supplement recommendations can make a lasting difference, manual and physical therapies can be transformative for serious, chronic pain. Modalities such as acupuncture, acupressure and craniosacral therapy can help to realign areas of the musculoskeletal system to bring balance and better energy flow throughout the body.
Craniosacral therapy, which uses gentle, massage-like adjustments to remove inflammatory compounds and boost circulation, also relaxes the nerves that drive the pain response.
Another approach to pain relief entails focusing on an area of the body that is pain-free, on the opposite side of the body if possible. Place your attention on that area, massage the area and apply pressure. This allows the localized pain in one area of the body to dissipate. Neurologically this works because when you relax one area of the brain that is in lateral contrast to the side where the pain exists, the connection in the brain allows the feeling of relaxation to move to the other side and relax the painful area.
This proven approach is also one reason why acupuncture can be so effective; it works to de-concentrate the pain response. Specific movements and exercises prescribed by a trained physical therapist can also help improve mobility and reduce pain following an acute or chronic injury.
Food And Supplements
In the case of chronic pain, my best dietary recommendation is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, emphasizing nutrient-dense, unprocessed (whole) foods. Such a diet eliminates foods that are common causes of inflammation (and hence, pain and disease): sugar, gluten, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, high glycemic (high sugar) foods, rancid oils and trans-fats, and processed foods in general.
A low glycemic (low sugar), anti-inflammatory diet emphasizing green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, healthy raw oils and fats and lean protein as well as raw nuts and seeds can make a dramatic difference for people with chronic arthritis, back and neck pain, nerve pain, and other issues of acute and chronic pain.
Healthy Oils And Fats
Cold-water fish (and high-quality fish oil), flax seeds, flax oil, olive oil, walnut and coconut oil are all excellent sources of healthy fats. When you consume these oils, they can help to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, lubricate joints and tissues, and heal frayed nerves. They also help ease cramped muscles, nerve pain, joint aches and other types of pain.
Proteolytic enzymes are specific enzymes that help break down proteins. For pain, a proteolytic enzyme supplement can be taken on an empty stomach so that it doesn’t get used to digest food and can enter the circulation and increase blood flow by breaking up fibrin deposits.
Fibrin is created in the bloodstream and is an essential component in blood clotting and wound healing. Too much of it, though, forms scar tissue throughout the body as well as blockages in the bloodstream. (Think blood clots). This process limits circulation and range of motion. That leads to stiffness, pain and decreased organ function. Proteolytic enzyme supplements can help to break up the excess fibrin and reduce inflammation, bringing relief from symptoms of joint pain, musculoskeletal pain and stiffness and old injuries.
Magnesium is an important mineral that helps muscles relax. It’s useful for treating acute injuries as well as chronic muscle pain, cramping and stiffness.
Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that can help with arthritis pain; researchers believe this relief stems from selenium’s ability to fight free radicals. In addition, zinc is another important mineral for regulating inflammation and promoting tissue repair.
Herbs And Botanicals
Arnica flower is an age-old topical remedy for bruising, muscle soreness, injuries and chronic pain. But it should never be used on broken skin.
Arnica is toxic if ingested in its natural form, but can be safely used in microscopic doses in oral homeopathic remedies for injuries and pain. Topically, it helps reduce inflammation and swelling and promotes the healing of tissues, making it useful for arthritis, injuries and areas of stiffness or soreness.
Another age-old healing herb, turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits and helps improve circulation. It’s been used as a traditional herbal remedy for numerous ailments including acute and chronic pain, as well as immunity, detoxification, anticancer activity, digestive support and more.
Turmeric has even been proven to work as well as certain antidepressant medications in relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety, problems that can be closely related to issues of chronic pain.
Modified citrus pectin, a natural compound derived from the white pith of citrus skins, is gaining attention for its health-promoting properties as one of the top natural galectin-3 inhibitors. Galectin-3 is a protein involved in numerous critical processes throughout the body. But when galectin-3 levels are too high, it causes chronic inflammation and the progression of inflammation to fibrosis (scar tissue buildup).
Modified citrus pectin blocks excess galectin-3: In vivo studies have shown a significant reduction in the damaging process of inflammatory fibrosis in arthritis, joint pain and other fibrosis-related diseases such as heart disease and liver cirrhosis. This natural anti-inflammatory supplement also helps detoxify heavy metals, environmental toxins and radioactive particles.
In addition to these natural ingredients, a number of other herbs, nutrients and supplements can help to reduce pain by supporting neurological health, reducing inflammation, hydrating joints and tissues, and improving blood flow to the affected area.
One critical health habit for pain is proper hydration. That means at least eight glasses of filtered water every day. This helps reduce inflammation, increase circulation and flush out inflammatory proteins and other metabolic wastes that can aggravate pain. Mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga can also be very helpful in relaxing the pain response and reducing inflammation while bringing heat and circulation to the area.
Pain is one of your body’s only ways to communicate a problem, so it’s best not always to muffle the alarm. At the same time, we don’t want to focus all our attention on it to the point where it’s unbearable. These approaches mentioned above can help your body restore balance, relax the pain response and contribute to overall health in the process. That’s a relief!
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