Many who live with chronic back pain would really love to be less dependent on painkillers to manage their pain. But how? Natural pain relievers may be the answer. Here’s a list that might help – each of these won’t be for everyone, but any number of these natural pain relievers might help you be able to rely less on pain medications and feel more in control of your life.
- Release your inner endorphins. These natural chemicals block pain signals from reaching your brain. Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers, and they can be as strong as many of the strongest pain relievers. Endorphins also help alleviate anxiety, stress and depression -- conditions that often accompany and exacerbate chronic pain. The body produces endorphins during aerobic exercise. A “runner’s high” is not just for those running long distances -- any activity that gets your blood pumping for a sustained period will release pain relieving endorphins into your system.
- Find good company. Those who have regular contact with others dealing with similar forms of chronic pain find that their pain becomes more manageable. An online group that is both active and supportive is best. Members of the Spine-health.com Back Pain and Chronic Pain discussion forums say that it is quite simply “free therapy”.
- Eat cookies. Research shows that eating sweet foods like cookies, chocolate or ice cream, helps reduce the sensation of pain.
- Or just bake the cookies. Enjoying a smell that is both sweet and pleasant has been shown to reduce the perception of pain.
- Feel the heat. Applying some form of heat -- a hot water bottle, gel-filled pad heated in the microwave, electric heating pad, or hot bath -- can go a long way in easing your pain. Benefits of heat are twofold: it increases the flow of healing oxygen and nutrients to the damaged area, and it suppresses pain signals being sent to your brain. Some find that wearing a heat wrap, such as Thermacare heat wrap, is best because it releases a low level heat for several hours and can be worn under clothes so you remain mobile.
- Cool it with ice. Ahh, how this cools down inflamed and sore tissues. Back pain almost always comes with some level of inflammation, and ice is the best natural way to reduce it. Ice also helps by acting as a local anesthetic, and by slowing the nerve impulses, which in turn interrupts the pain-spasm reactions between the nerves in the affected area.
- Loosen up. Almost everyone can benefit from stretching the soft tissues - the muscles, ligaments and tendons - in and around the spine. Your back is designed for movement, and if your motion is limited it can make your back pain worse. If you suffer from chronic back pain, you may find it takes weeks or months of stretching to loosen up your spine and soft tissues, but you will find that meaningful and sustained pain relief will follow the increase in motion.
- Enjoy the outdoors. People who got the recommended daily 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D experienced less pain than those who didn’t, according to a Boston University study of 221 men and women with knee osteoarthritis. Researchers surmised that Vitamin D helps relieve pain by aiding in the absorption of calcium, which is needed for bone growth and repair. Other research shows vitamin D may directly help soothe pain. 93% of 150 people with unexplained sources of pain were recently found to be deficient in Vitamin D levels, according to recent research at the University of Minnesota. About 15 minutes of sun exposure on your face and hands a day is enough to get your daily dose of D, or a 200-IU supplement of Vitamin D and as much calcium as is found in two glasses of milk.
- Imagine yourself to a better place. Guided imagery allows you to hear and internalize therapeutic suggestions that help you feel better. In one study of 28 women with osteoarthritis pain, half of the women listened to a 10- to 15-minute recorded script twice daily that guided them through muscle relaxation techniques. On average, women in the guided imagery group reported that their pain eased by 18% and that their mobility improved by 13%; vs. those in the control group who experienced a 16% worsening of pain and a 2% decrease in mobility. Guided imagery can be learned with a practitioner or on your own using audiotapes or CDs.
- Change your inner thinking. Hypnosis involves influencing the subconscious mind in order to change your inner thinking, thereby enabling you to change the way you view pain and assisting in the your body’s healing process. The human body has an infinite capacity for healing, and this is just one technique that many find helpful.
- Meditate twice daily. Easy to learn and immediate results make this one of my favorite paths to natural pain relief. Meditation comes in a huge variety of forms --some complex, some simple. My personal favorite is just to find a sound that is pleasing to you but has no particular meaning (my sound is “som”), close your eyes, sit (or lie) still and comfortably, and repeat the sound in your mind. When your thoughts wander, notice that they have wandered and return to your sound. If you feel your pain, notice the pain and return to your sound. Start with a few minutes, and gradually lengthen to thirty minutes. You will find yourself refreshed and reinvigorated, with less pain overall. Meditation can also help reduce the depression, anxiety, stress and sleeping problems that often accompany chronic pain.
- Realign your energy flow.The mechanism of action for the ancient Chinese healing technique of acupucture is still not completely understood, but it has been proven in medical trials to reduce certain types of chronic pain, including back pain. The American Association of Oriental Medicine has a list of trained acupuncturists. P.S. the needles are super-thin and not painful.
- Get enough restorative sleep. Getting enough sleep is critical to managing the pain and healing, so it’s important to employ a variety of sleep aids to help you get a healthy amount of sleep. Regular exercise that physically exhausts the body is the best way to promote deep sleep. Visualization, meditation, and other psychological techniques can also help you get to sleep and stay asleep. And don’t forget the power of naps.
- Enjoy a massage. In my book, nothing beats a good therapeutic massage. It gets the blood flowing, which helps nourish and heal the body, and releases endorphins, which release powerful pain relieving substances in the body (see first point on the list).
Any more thoughts on natural pain relievers? Please share what has worked for you!