Stop! Before you open that Rx or over the counter bottle of pain relief, take a deep breath. You have other options for treating your pain, and not all of them involve medication.
Effective and proven treatments are as diverse as the causes. And many of the most powerful pain management techniques available to you are holistic, natural treatments that have been around for centuries. They can be used alone or, in some cases, combined with complementary pain management techniques such as chiropractic treatments, occupational therapy, or physical therapy.
Let’s look at some of the best natural ways to manage pain, how they work, and what pain they can help with the most.
Physical Pain Management Techniques
There are various physical treatments you can use to help manage your pain and improve your quality of life.
When it comes to a natural pain relief home remedy, exercise is as simple—and effective—as it gets.
Of course, you won’t want to exercise when you’re freshly injured or extremely sore. In that case, you need rest to alleviate your pain, not exercise. But once your body is feeling better, it’s time to get back into a healthy exercise routine.
Exercising regularly strengthens your muscles and increases your flexibility. Maintaining healthy exercise habits can help prevent pain by keeping your body in prime condition. For people with chronic conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, the increased mobility alone will offer pain relief.
Exercise also releases endorphins, the hormones that inhibit pain messages. Endorphins disrupt the transmission of pain sensations to your nervous system, reducing its impact.
If you’re new to exercise, start slowly with easier, low-impact physical activities such as swimming, biking, walking, and yoga. And don’t do too much at once. Do what you can. As your strength grows, you’ll be able to exercise more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Depending on what’s hurting and why, applying heat or ice directly to your pain point can bring you relief. The challenge is knowing which of the two to use – and when to use both!
Ice can bring down swelling, inflammation, and pain immediately after an accident or injury occurs. The cold temperature constricts blood vessels, numbs the injured area, calms inflammation, and helps prevent bruising.
Headaches can also benefit from ice therapy. A cold pack held to your headache trigger point for a few minutes can reduce or eliminate the pain.
After the initial swelling has gone down, any remaining pain is usually from lingering stiffness in the muscle. In this case, heat is most helpful. Placing a heating pad on the injury increases blood flow and loosens the muscle, improving range of motion and reducing painful soreness.
Alternating ice and heat can also be combined for an effective treatment. Ice your injury first to reduce swelling. Then apply heat to prevent the muscle from painful stiffening. Heat and cold therapy is especially effective for treating low back pain.
In general, try to stick to 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off policy when icing or heating injuries.
Alternative Pain Management Techniques
“Alternative” pain management is the phrase used to describe techniques that are used in place of conventional medicine. But that’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? What’s conventional in the western world, including prescription painkillers, isn’t necessarily conventional in other parts of the world.
Ultimately, you feeling your best is about finding what works best for you, and that can include incorporating alternative pain relief treatments such as the following mind-body techniques.
Even if you’ve never had acupuncture treatment, you likely know what it involves. Some people have a hard time considering it because of an aversion to needles, but… believe it or not, all those needles in your body make it hurt less, not more!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acupuncture is an effective treatment for over 30 diseases or conditions—the primary of which is pain management.
Acupuncturists strategically insert disposable, stainless steel needles into acu-points located throughout your body. This sets off an entire chain of physiological events that eventually results in the release of pain-blocking endorphins:
- The needles are inserted near nerves.
- The nerves react by causing a dull ache in the nearby muscle.
- The stimulated muscle communicates this feeling to the brain.
- The brain releases endorphins (chemicals produced in our bodies to reduce pain or stress)
- The endorphins block messages of pain from being delivered to the brain, providing much-needed relief.
Acupuncture can be used on its own, with other alternative pain management techniques, or with more conventional medical options.
Some of the many conditions for which acupuncture can be used include:
- Lower back pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Myofascial pain
Meditation is one of the easiest ways to incorporate pain management at home. More importantly—it works!
Meditation provides a two-pronged approach to pain management, by relieving stress and releasing endorphins.
Many people think of stress as being purely an emotional or mental reaction to your environment. But that’s not quite correct. Stress also takes a strong physical toll on you. When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones. These cause inflammation, which can cause pain in muscles and joints.
When you meditate, you practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, that help you lower your stress level. Your body halts the release of those harmful stress hormones, allowing the muscle tension, inflammation, and pain to subside.
Like acupuncture, meditation also encourages your brain to release endorphins. This feel-good hormone will block the transmission of “pain signals” to your brain so you’ll feel less pain. Listen to some relaxing music to get even more benefits from meditation.
And meditating is incredibly effective. Some forms of meditation exercise to try are tai chi and yoga. Studies show that mindfulness meditation is better at reducing chronic pain conditions than drugs or surgery!
Herbs and Spices for Pain Management
Mother Nature can also provide potent relief for just about any type of pain. These natural pain management solutions can be just as effective as medication, yet they’re gentler on your body.
Ginger has been used by practitioners of folk medicine for centuries. Its biggest benefit is its anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce pain significantly. In fact, research studies show that ginger is as effective as ibuprofen in treating pain from inflammation.
Separate studies have shown promising results in different situations.
- Supplements containing ginger and echinacea (also an anti-inflammatory) reduced both inflammation and pain after knee surgery.
- Ginger extract can reduce moderate-to-severe knee pain in participants with osteoarthritis.
- Ingesting raw or heated ginger can reduce pain resulting from exercise-related injuries.
Ginger can be taken in several forms, depending on your specific pain management needs. Supplements, capsules, and teas containing ginger are most effective for overall aches and pains caused by arthritis or inflamed joints.
Topical creams, lotions, and gels can be applied for localized pain, such as that due to an injury. Do a skin patch test on a small area first to make sure you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy to ginger. If you don’t have an irritation after 24 hours, it should be safe to use on a larger area.
Turmeric is often used to add color and flavor to curries, mustards, butters, and cheeses. But aside from its cooking uses, this common spice has been used as a natural pain reliever for centuries in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
The reason for turmeric’s centuries-old popularity in eastern medicine is found in one of its compounds: curcumin.
Curcumin has been proven to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen. Other studies show that it might also help prevent bone breakdown in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Curcumin makes up a very small percentage of turmeric and is not easily absorbed by the body. If you choose to take turmeric, it’s generally better to consume it as a supplement.
Like most herbs and spices, turmeric can have side effects. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding it to your arsenal.
Willow bark is one of the most powerful natural pain relief herbs available. It contains salicin, which is also the ingredient in Bayer aspirin. It boasts potent anti-inflammatory properties… and inflammation is the cause of many of our aches and pains! Willow bark seems to be especially effective for treating back pain naturally.
This herb comes in a few different forms. One of the most common ways to take willow bark is to purchase the dried herb and brew it as a tea. If you’d prefer something more convenient, willow bark is also sold as a supplement, in both liquid and capsule forms.
Like most herbs, though, willow bark does come with potential side effects. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking it (or any natural pain relief supplements), to make sure it doesn’t react with anything else in your health regimen.
In the western world, we’ve become accustomed to reaching for pain medication or even addictive prescriptions such as opioids to relieve our aches and pains. But it doesn’t have to be that way; we can break the cycle of medication. And these natural pain management techniques are a great place to start.
However, don’t abandon your prescriptions against medical advice. If you or your health care professional feel that you must continue taking medication for pain, you can still incorporate holistic health. Consider layering in some of these natural remedies as a supplemental form of relief. They can work in conjunction with conventional pain treatment options; mix and match pain management techniques until you find your optimal overall health care plan.
An integrated, natural approach to pain relief is possible!
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