Pain is complex and there are many facets to it. Here are a few things that may help. But do what you need to in order to minimize pain rather than toughing it out because pain isn’t good for you.
- Pain may be fixed and stabbing (usually nerve pain) or throbbing and movable. Try to figure out the nature of your pain, what makes it better or worse, how many inches into your body it is found and how broad the area is and whether it radiates. Is it better or worse with heat? In Chinese medicine we do not use ice, which we believe only suppresses the pain but we do use cooling medicinal herbs that help release the pain at the skin level.
- If you are told to use a liniment or dit dat jiao formula, apply it frequently because it moves blood, reduces inflammation and can reduce pain.
- If you have sciatica that goes into a flare, or pain down the side of your leg, take a lancet or sterile needle and prick the lower outside corner of your little toenail. Massage it first and then push out 2 or 3 drops of blood. This can help bring pain down from the nerve.
- Back pain benefits from decompressing the spine. Lying head down on an inversion table, a sit-up bench or an ironing board that is propped up at one end for 15 minutes once or twice daily can help.
- Lying on two tennis balls stuck in a sock, with one on either side of the spine can move bones and get between muscles to relieve back pain, neck pain or sciatica. Place the balls a bit above or below the area of main spasm and ease into the balls. After a while, move your body or the balls into the main area. Use what feels right and go slowly to use gravity and your body weight.
- Sleep 8 hours a night. In the 1920s the average American slept 9 hours a night. We have not evolved physically since then, instead we allow artificial light and activities to distract us from sleep. Lack of sleep leads to high cortisol which magnifies pain and weight gain which stresses the back and joints. Sleeping in a dark room or with a blindfold is more beneficial.
- Exercise regularly to produce endorphins, strengthen muscles that can pull out causing pain. Swimming usually will not stress the body as much because gravity is reduced. Strength training is important to build muscles. Stretching helps the body recover. Intentional exercise like qi gong or yoga uses the mind and spirit to grow the body and may be the best way to begin if pain makes most exercise too much. Don’t force yourself to go too far, even if the workout seems wimpy. Push only a centimeter or so beyond your limit. Strengthen core muscles for lumbar pain, but go slow.
- Listen to your body. Pain has both physical and emotional components and emotions produce chemical changes which can make pain worse. You may not be able to make changes to your physical condition but you can affect how you react to, and perceive the pain.
- Distraction helps relieve pain. According to gate theory, you don’t feel pain when the large nerve fibers are being stimiulated withi lesser pain or pressure. Acupuncture, or even pressing your fingernail into your thumb stimulates large diameter nerve fibers that inhibit pain.
- Take fish oil, sufficient to get 1000 mg DHA, which is several capsules. This reduces inflammation which is a major issue with pain. It also makes your cell membranes more permeable to neurotransmitters involved with reducing pain. Fish oil alone has treated associated depression and some kinds of pain successfully.
- We are nearly all deficient in Vitamin D which affects pain and musculo-skeletal health. Without a blood test you can take up to 10,000 iu per day of Vitamin D3, which is a natural pro-hormone, unless you have scleroderma, lymphoma, parathyroid problems or abnormal calcium metabolism. Vitamin D comes from the sun, and sunscreen prevents it’s being made. Toxicity is rare.
- Keep your electrolytes up since pain can cause electrolyte imbalance in the kidneys (SIADH). Pain killers can also cause SIADH. Eat food with mineral salts and some fruit before workouts, and drink water but not too much.
- Magnesium has dropped by at least a third since the 70s in the food supply. It is used to make enzymes that bring neurotransmitters into the cells and treats spasm. (It also helps with insulin resistance, constipation and fertility) Take 800 mg in the more absorbable forms of Magnesium citrate, magnesium orotate, CALM or ionic magnesium. It is good to start with colloidal magnesium, which doesn’t taste good, starting at the suggested dosage and increasing by 3 drops a day every 3 days until your stools are loose. Then drop back 3 drops. (For flavored forms which are more dilute, increase by a quarter teaspoon.)
- Trace minerals are important. Use ionic minerals, sea salt, stinging nettles, and sea vegetables. Leafy greens and edible weeds are also good sources.
- Clean up your diet since a deficient diet can magnify pain. Look for fresh foods that come without labels- foods your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Eat real food, mostly vegetables and not too much.
- Have a genuine spiritual practice that allows you to get deep into your source. Prayer, meditation, yoga, qi gong and acupuncture center you.
- Be active in a community, where friends can support you. If you help others, your own problems will seem less draining. Don’t let pain define you.