Are you feeling frustrated because you are dependent upon medication to help you deal with your chronic pain?
Natural pain relievers may be the answer to helping you become less dependent on your pain medication. While these ideas won't work for everyone, they are easy to try, and hopefully one will work for you.
- Release your inner endorphins. Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers, and they can be as strong as many pain relievers. They work by blocking pain signals from ever reaching your brain.
Walking for exercise can release endorphins. See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health.
Endorphins also help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression, conditions that often accompany and exacerbate chronic pain.
Any activity that gets your blood pumping for a sustained period will release pain-relieving endorphins into your system.
- Read more: Pain Signals to the Brain from the Spine
- 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 an easy way to get involved.
- Eat foods rich in resveratrol. Scientists at Rush Medical University showed that this powerful compound blocks the enzyme that is responsible for tissue degeneration.
Resveratrol is found in red grapes, cranberries, and blueberries.
It's possible that foods high in resveratrol will slow down disc degradation. Further studies need to be done, but there's no doubt filling up on these fruits will boost your health.
- 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.
- Try heat therapy. Applying some form of heat can go a long way in easing your pain. Try a hot water bottle, gel-filled pad heated in the microwave, electric heating pad, or hot bath.
Heating pads can increase the flow of healing nutrients to painful muscles.
The benefits of heat therapy 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 those from Thermacare, 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. 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 nerve impulses, which interrupts the pain signals 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 because you are in pain, 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. Working with a physical therapist is a great way to find stretches and exercises to help.
- Read more about Stretching to Relieve Back Pain
- Enjoy the outdoors. 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day can help the body produce vitamin D. 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.
About 15 minutes of sun exposure on your face and hands a day is enough to get your daily dose of vitamin D.
Researchers surmised that vitamin D helps relieve pain by aiding in the absorption of calcium, which is needed for bone growth and repair.
- Read more: Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
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.
- Imagine yourself in 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.
- See also Stopping Pain with Your Mind
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. Meditation comes in a huge variety of forms, some complex, others 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.
Meditation can also help reduce the depression, anxiety, stress and sleeping problems that often accompany chronic pain.
Start with a few minutes, and gradually lengthen to thirty minutes. You will find yourself refreshed and reinvigorated, with less pain overall.
- Try acupuncture. The mechanism of action for the ancient Chinese healing technique of acupuncture 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 pain and promoting 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. A high quality therapeutic massage gets the blood flowing, which helps nourish and heal the body. Massage also releases endorphins, which are powerful pain relieving substances in the body (see first point on the list).
Do you have any more thoughts on natural pain relievers? Please share what has worked for you in the Spine-health forums.
- For further reading: Chronic Back Pain Relief: What You May Not Know