By Cindy Perlin, LCSW.
One of the worst emotions pain patients can feel is helplessness. In the face of severe pain, whether from low back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, migraine and tension headaches, or other chronic pain conditions, when the medications don’t work, don’t do enough or cause intolerable side effects, patients can feel helpless to ease their suffering. And helplessness leads to hopelessness and fear, which creates more pain.
I know this because I have been there. After I was disabled by chronic back pain many years ago, I spent three years feeling helpless, hopeless and frightened about what was going on in my body. Then I began to discover self-care strategies and my life changed dramatically for the better. I’ve spent decades learning about simple home care strategies, tools and remedies. Now, when I have pain I have so many options to choose from that help and I just don’t worry about pain getting unmanageable or acute pain becoming chronic.
What follows is a list of strategies you can use on your own that are helpful for managing and even eliminating pain.
- Rest. This may sound so obvious that it is not even worth mentioning. However, often we push ourselves beyond endurance just to get things done or we get a good day and decide to do everything at once while we’re feeling good, making pain worse later. Pace yourself and take a break when you get tired.
- Move. Pain increases when you stay in the same position and don’t use your muscles. Muscles get stiff and weak. If you have trigger points, which are small round nodules within tight bands of muscle that form after muscle injuries, they become activated, causing pain with inactivity. When you exercise, your body produces natural painkillers, including the opioid endorphin, and the same pain-relieving cannabinoids that are found in marijuana. Exercise has also been shown to decrease inflammation, improve mood and lubricate joints. Do slow movements and stretches throughout the day and get involved in a program of moderate exercise such as walking or swimming if possible. A physical therapist or a chiropractor can guide you in developing an appropriate exercise program. A program that helped me a lot when I was recovering from my back pain was the Kraus-Webber exercises you can find in the book, End Back Pain Forever, by Norman Marcus, MD.
- Relax. This has been the most powerful pain reliever for me for decades. Stress and fear, including fear about the pain, causes muscle tension, reduction in blood flow to the extremities, suppression of digestion, suppression of immunity and many other physiological changes that create more pain. Chronic stress increases inflammation by depleting our body’s supply of natural cortisol, an anti-inflammatory. Use of relaxation techniques, including meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, visualization and body scanning, can induce relaxation, decreasing pain. I’ve also found that an inexpensive biofeedback device, the Stress Thermometer, that measures hand temperature, an indicator of stress level, is great for letting you know how well you are doing. As a result, it increases proficiency and motivation.
- Resolve your trauma and emotional distress with energy psychology techniques. Studies have shown that psychological trauma, especially chronic childhood trauma, predisposes people to chronic illness. So does protracted emotional distress. One type of easily learned and applied technique that can process the undischarged energy from past or current duress is called energy psychology. Learn how to specifically use it to reduce pain levels from Nick Ortner’s book, The Tapping Solution for Pain. You can also find a free, more generic guide to the technique at www.emofree.com. Need more help than that? Find providers at www.energypsych.org.
- Clean up your diet. Many food additives, including MSG and aspartame (Nutrasweet), increase pain for many people. Eliminating processed foods in general is a good idea. Some find eliminating gluten from their diets reduces or eliminates pain and inflammation. Sugar can also increase inflammation, while fruits and vegetables and healthy fats can reduce it.
- Use self-massage tools. Most pain is generated by muscles, even in so-called disc disease and arthritic conditions. Inexpensive vibrating massagers like the WAHL Deep Tissue Percussion Massager can be life-savers. Massage tools that allow you to put pressure on a painful part of the muscle can stop spasms and passively stretch the muscle to reduce pain. For some bodily locations, a tennis ball can be readily used for this purpose. Another tool I like is the SKLZ Dual Point Massager. I keep one on my desk chair and one in the driver’s seat of my car for self-massage as needed. A whole body system along with a DVD and book with instructions is the Melt Method Bundle.
- Need to take something for the pain? For over 35 years I have relied on inexpensive and completely safe homeopathic remedies instead of over-the-counter and prescription medication. Homeopathics gently stimulate your body’s healing system to relieve symptoms. Try Arnica for muscle soreness, Ruta for inflammation or Hypericum for nerve pain. Other options that pain patients are finding very helpful are kratom, a Southeast Asian herb, and CBD, a derivative of hemp and marijuana.
- Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium and supplementation can be very helpful. However, magnesium is a laxative so taking a lot orally can cause problems. Epsom salt baths are very soothing and, because they contain magnesium, can get magnesium into the muscles by absorption while bypassing the gastrointestinal system. There are also topical preparations like lotions and oils containing magnesium that can be easily applied to the skin. One I like is Asutra Magnesium Oil Spray.
- Topical preparations. There are many other topical preparations that can be helpful when applied locally to painful areas. These include homeopathic preparations like Arnica Cream , Topricin and Traumeel, essential oils like doTerra, and topical preparations containing CBD oil.
- An innovative and inexpensive patch called the nCap uses nanotechnology to alter pain signals to reduce pain.
- Pulsed electro-magnetic frequencies (PEMF) is a recent innovation that reduces pain and speeds up healing. The Oska Pulse is a new, lightweight, wearable device that uses optimized PEMF to restore the electrical potential cells need to receive nutrients and oxygen, which stimulates cellular regeneration–relieving pain, and activating the body’s natural recovery proces