Natural Ways to Manage Pain
Natural ways are quite effective to manage pain at home. Anti-inflammatories and painkillers are great for short term use. Especially when it means we get more function. However, there are side effects with long term use. I want to share some tips for pain relief that are natural and without any side effects. These are my go to tools for myself as well as when I am treating clients.
Aim of pain management is to mainly reduce the inflammation and improve circulation so the body can restore and heal. The strategies below are for managing the pain triggers related to muscle and joint pain.
Heat packs relieve pain associated with muscle tension / tightness well. The correct application is important. The most effective low cost option is a hot water bottle. Always check the bottle and use it correctly. Use the heat pack for at least an hour for effective relief. Heat changes the muscle tension at a tissue level so you are also treating the pain as well as relieving it.
Ice packs are excellent for acute pain and swelling. Use an ice pack if pain is more at night (often related to tendon inflammation) or if it is burning in nature. Frozen peas, gel packs, ice blocks are all suitable ice packs. Wrap in a wet towel for better conduction of temperature. I prefer to use frozen peas and gel packs as they conform around the body part better. Use ice for at least 30 minutes at a time for as long as needed.
Using Magnesium oil is another natural way of managing pain. Magnesium is an important nutrient in the body. Each cell uses for function and repair. Apply Magnesium topically to relieve muscle tightness and stiffness. You can also apply it at night to assist the body in recovery during sleep. Ensure you apply topically over the area of the pain. You can also make your own by mixing equal parts of Epsom salts or magnesium flakes with equal part of boiled water. Allow it to cool and apply as needed.
Essential oils are very versatile. They are a good natural way of managing pain as they have anti inflammatory properties as well as pain relieving. Some essential oils are more specific for pain. These are Kunzea oil, Copaiba, Blue Cypress and the all rounder Lavender. These can be applied topically 1 drop to 1 tsp of a carrier oil such as olive oil (which is also anti-inflammatory), coconut, almond, jojoba oil etc. Essential oils have the added benefit of relaxing the mind which alters the perceived pain. They also activate the parasympathetic nervous system for healing and recovery. It is important high quality essential oils are used. I would highly recommend Heritage Oils as a local Australian company who ensures a high quality product which has been tried and tested personally by me and many of patients.
Stretching is a great natural way of managing pain and creating balance in the body. Muscles have pain receptors. If the muscle is tight, then this triggers the pain receptors causing pain in the area. Sometimes tight muscles can also refer pain to other areas. Always stretch to address any muscle imbalances. Stretching aids such as a roller or spikey ball can also be used. Ensure you hold the stretch for at least a minute for it to be effective. Stretching should be done more regular approximately four times a day when you feel muscle tightness for maximum effect.
Tight and stiff joints will contribute to pain. Gentle movements or low impact exercises especially in water / hydrotherapy can reduce joint stiffness, improve circulation and immediately reduce pain. However, movement should be done which is supportive to the body and not aggravate symptoms further.
Meditation / Mindfulness
Meditation or a mindfulness practice has many benefits. Regular meditation influences those parts of the brain which will suppress and inhibit the pain receptors. Meditation also regulates the emotions which further adds to the unpleasantness often experienced with pain. Meditation also influences pain by promoting the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system for recovery and healing.
Exhaling slowly intercepts neural pathways to the brain reducing perceived pain. Breathing yogas such as pranayama are excellent adjunct to pain management as they influence the parasympathetic nervous system. This promotes relaxation and the body’s healing response. We often get stuck in a fight / flight state. This releases more adrenaline and cortisol in the body, impairing the healing or recovery. Use essential oils with the breathing exercises to further promote relaxation.
Body / Pain awareness
This is a mindfulness based exercise that you can practice whenever you experience pain. This exercise involves listening to the pain or experiencing the pain. Start by imagining that you are outside of your body and observe the pain – where it is? how deep it is? type of pain? is it a familiar pain? is there any feeling or emotion attached to the pain? is the emotion familiar or do you experience it any other time when you do not have the pain?
Observe some points as above daily and take notes on any changes or patterns. Take caution not to get caught in the thoughts and emotions but to simply observe as an outsider to your body. If any feelings or emotions come up then just allow them to happen. Try not to control or suppress. This practice has a lot of potential towards self guided recovery.
Seek Help Early
All of the above are strategies to manage pain on your own. Sometimes you may need more input. Get treatment early when the symptoms are less, as the body can restore itself much easier. When pain persists for more than six months, then the changes become hard to reverse as the tissue structure begins to change.
Dry Needling is an excellent natural pain relieving technique. Acupuncture needles are placed on certain parts of the muscle to relieve tight muscles. Dry needling also promotes circulation and releases natural endorphins in the body, the body’s natural pain killers. Please contact [email protected] to find out more about dry needling or if this is suitable for you.
Simran Choudhary (Senior Physiotherapist, Ergonomist, Passionate about Mindfulness) Simran is an experienced holistic Physiotherapist incorporating mindfulness techniques to treat in a holistic manner.