Waves of aching pulsing through your brain.
Sharp sensations shooting in your backside.
Intense cramping in your stomach.
Being in pain can seriously ruin your day. It’s no wonder most of us are quick to take a painkiller to stop the aching so we can get on with our lives. But mindlessly popping a pill can carry potential risks that may make you want to consider (complimentary) natural ways to ease your pain.
Three Reasons To Use Painkillers With Caution
- Painkillers treat the symptom, but not the cause of pain. Pain is a signal from the body to warn us that something is wrong. It urges us to take action to prevent (further) damage or injury. Pain is not our enemy – it only communicates to us in a very unpleasant way that we shouldn’t touch, strain or exercise a part of our body. Taking medication to suppress the pain without understanding what’s causing it or without adequately responding to the physical ‘threat’, might lead to more serious health problems in the future.
- Even simple painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol may have unwanted side effects. Painkillers can irritate the gut, causing digestive problems, gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers. Using pain medication in high doses for a long period of time can also increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke.
- The use of strong painkillers that contain opiates carries the risk of tolerance – you need increasingly more pain medication to achieve the same effect. You may also experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the painkillers.
I’m not advocating against the use of pain medication – only you and your physician can decide whether taking pills is the right choice for you. Moderate to severe pain is actually widely under-treated, which leads to unnecessary suffering, decreased functioning and depression. In this post, I simply want to raise awareness of the possible risks of painkillers and offer other, complimentary strategies to ease pain.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace a consultation with a qualified health professional. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any personal medical questions that you may have!
A Four – Step Guide to Relieve Pain Naturally
Step 1. Find the cause of recurring pain, with help from your doctor.
Is your pain linked to an underlying illness? Could it be a sign of physical strains or overstimulation? Maybe food intolerances play a part in causing your intestinal aches? Consult your doctor and try to treat/prevent the cause.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from chronic pain that has a clear cause, like rheumatism or Crohn’s disease, but is difficult to treat. In these cases, our bodies continue to tell us that something is wrong, even though the body is unable to heal the damaged tissue. That’s when pain stops to serve its purpose and becomes destructive to our overall health.
Chronic pain can have devastating effects on the quality of your life. Often people need pain medication to be able to function. But what can you do when the adverse side effects are taking a further toll on your health? What if you still experience pain and don’t want to pop even more pills?
And let’s not forget that a generally healthy person can also experience minor but annoying pain sensations, like a headache or menstrual cramps.
What are your options to ease the pain without taking painkillers?
Step 2: Try (Complimentary) Natural Solutions to Relieve Pain.
- Heat or cold treatments. The warmth from a bath or a heatable cherry pit pillow soothes sore muscles and stiff joints by increasing the blood flow to the painful body part(s). For a cold treatment, wrap a towel around a bag of ice and place your cold pack on red, swollen or acutely injured areas to reduce inflammation.
- Physical therapy involves the treatment of injuries by restoring function or movement, which helps to relieve pain. Under supervision of a skilled therapist, you’d perform strengthening exercises, stretching or low-impact aerobics that are designed for your particular health condition. Hydrotherapy – gentle exercises in water – can benefit people who find resistance training on dry land painful.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique to relieve tension in your muscles. First you contract a muscle group as tightly as possible, after which you consciously relax your muscles. Start with alternating tension and relaxation in your feet and then work your way upwards, through all the major muscle groups in your body.
- Acupuncture is an ancient practice of Chinese medicine in which an acupuncturist inserts thin needles in precise points on the body to stimulate the flow of “chi”, the body’s life energy. Recent studies have found that acupuncture brings 30% more pain relief than traditional pain medication. The age-old healing method seems effective in treating lower back pain and tensions headaches. Acupuncture can be a helpful addition to conventional treatment for people with chronic pain, which improves their quality of life.
- When an inflammatory disease causes your recurring pain, you might benefit from adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. In the guidelines linked to, dr. Andrew Weil explains how certain foods can affect the inflammation process that causes many serious illnesses, such as autoimmune diseases and atherosclerosis. While an excess of omega-6 fatty acids from animal protein and high-glycemic products promote inflammation, other foods can actually have a positive influence on the inflammatory process. For example, research has shown that ginger, turmeric and cherries have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Try for yourself whether certain foods have an impact on your inflammation and pain levels.
- Give aromatherapy a try. There is increasing evidence that short-term exposure to scents such as eucalyptus, lavender and even green apple can be effective in relaxing your muscles and relieving pain. The essential oils seem to work directly onto the limbic system in the brain, which influences your hormones, emotions and nervous system.
- Get a Massage. A soothing massage isn’t just a great way to unwind and reduce muscle tension, but it’s also an effective treatment to lessen pain. Massage therapy is increasingly being offered in addition to standard treatment for a range of health problems. There are many different types of massage, from a regular Swedish massage with gentle long strokes and kneading to shiatsu or a hot stone massage. Would you like to get in touch with the benefits of massage? Find a certified therapist to help you find out which massage style is right for you.
Step 3: Use Psychological Strategies to Manage Your Pain.
- Distract yourself. The working memory is the mental workspace that enables you to juggle several thoughts simultaneously. However, it can only process a limited amount of information at one time. So when you engage in pleasant thoughts of activities that shift your focus away from the pain, your brain has less capacity left to give attention to the pain signals. Being absorbed by simple distractions – watching TV, playing a videogame, talking to a friend – doesn’t take away the pain, but it puts it in the background.
- Listening to your favourite music also helps you to (literally) ‘tune out’ the painful sensations.
- Become mindful. Mindfulness means that you consciously pay attention to your physical pain in a nonjudgmental way. You become aware of the painful sensations without attaching intense feelings to this observation. By doing this, the parts of your brain that form emotional reactions to the pain become less active.
- Accept the pain as a reality in your life. Find out how you can live as actively as possible with your chronic pain.
Step 4. Prevent Stress and Other Possible Causes of Your Pain.
- Find an effective way to manage daily stress. Feeling stressed has a negative influence on pain. It can cause cramped muscles, headaches and stomach problems. So actively try to avoid unnecessary stress, by setting boundaries and limits for yourself. For example, don’t take on extra responsibilities when you’re to-do list already overwhelms you. Learn to say ‘no’. Stop reading work email one hour before bedtime. Take control and find a creative way to stay away from those daily hassles – like watching the news or getting stuck in traffic – that stress you out. Of course you can’t avoid every stressful situation. That’s why it’s important to learn how to cope with everyday stress in a health way. It’s tempting to temporarily escape your troubles by having a drink, zoning out in front of the TV or digging in to a large bowl of ice cream, but taking charge to solve your problems is actually linked to less future stress, depression and anxiety than emotional coping strategies. When you have no control over a stressful situation, you can adapt by changing your expectations and attitude. Try to look at the situation as a challenge, with opportunity for personal growth, instead of a threatening event.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned the effects that nutrition can have on inflammation and intestinal problems. Exercise can also play a preventive and healing role in painful muscles and joints. Strengthen your overall health by getting enough sleep and avoiding cigarettes and too much alcohol. Regularly make time to relax and recharge, by going for a walk in nature, talking to your best friend or curling up with a good book.
How do you relieve pain naturally? What natural remedies or lifestyle changes have you tried?
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