If You Have Chronic Pain, Don’t Take Pain Pills
If you have debilitating chronic pain and don’t want to suffer the common side effects of pain pills, including constipation, mood swings, addiction, and nausea, I hear you.
My personal journey with chronic pain
Due to several chronic conditions, I’ve had to deal with nearly 20 years of severe neuropathic pain in my hip, lower back, and on bad flare-up days, all over my whole body.
Opiates aren’t a long-term solution
I’ve also been-there-done-that when it comes to the long list of typical pain medications prescribed by doctors — from opiates and anti-anxiety meds to antidepressants.
Some of these drugs didn’t help at all and others were useful in the short-term as a last resort band-aid. But in the long run, they ended up making me feel much worse, which I didn’t think was even possible.
And it’s not just me. One study found rigorous new evidence that Vicodin, oxycodone, or fentanyl patches worked no better than over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol or ibuprofen.
The 2 types of chronic pain
According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is one of the most difficult conditions to treat. Researchers and healthcare professionals are learning more about pain and how it affects the brain. But this is what they do know about the two different kinds of chronic pain, neuropathic and inflammatory, which can sometimes overlap:
- Neuropathic: According to experts at the Cleveland Clinic, neuropathic pain is a burning, shooting, or stabbing sensation caused by damaged nerve fibers that send the wrong pain signals to the brain.
- Inflammatory: Characterized as a response to tissue damage and inflammation, inflammatory pain is a spontaneous hypersensitivity in affected areas of the body.
Pain clinics are a special kind of hell
The last time I sat in a waiting room was 6 years ago. Most of the patients were either in a wheelchair or walking with a cane.
My health condition was severe but probably because I did 40 minutes of yoga about 5 days a week, I had no trouble with low-impact exercises like walking and swimming.
I always thought that no one could be as bad off as me, but I knew that was not the case as I sat in that waiting room for hours.
I realized that daily stretching had kept me from walking with a cane or getting stuck in a wheelchair. But the pain was still so intense that I knew yoga wasn’t enough.
Pain clinics and a rotation of doctors weren’t the answer either. I knew I had to find another way out of this hell.
It’s been a roller coaster of trial and error, but these 5 natural therapies have worked for me, even on days where my pain levels are 10 out of 10. These do-it-yourself remedies are also free or very affordable:
- Meditation & deep breathing
I love doing meditation and breathwork in the morning because it makes me feel good for the rest of the day. It also helps my body and mind be more receptive to other therapies on this list.
Although more research is needed, studies have shown that meditation and deep breathing such as the Wim Hof method — my personal favorite — and Holotropic breathwork can have positive effects on both a psychological physiological level.
You’ll also find a long list of anecdotal evidence of the health benefits of deep breathing exercises, including stress reduction, pain relief, stronger immune system, improved sleep, better concentration, and more energy.
Breathing exercises are incredibly easy to do. You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on overpriced sales funnels.
Deep breathing might seem strange at first but it’s actually one of the most natural things in the world. It’s not some secret therapy that only trained gurus can teach you. There are lots of free YouTube tutorials that show you exactly how to do breathwork whenever and wherever.
You don’t need to do a 40-minute yoga routine every day, but doing a few key stretches, especially after a breathwork session or sitting for long periods, can do wonders for stiff and achy areas of the body. While you can always work your way up to a full yoga or stretching session, start with the Triangle pose, an excellent position for relieving lower back and hip pain.
Another common area for stiffness and aches is in the neck and shoulders, which is why I also recommend doing a few gentle and slow neck rolls. Depending on where your pain is located, there are many stretches found in yoga and everyday fitness routines that can address every area of the body.
Based on 5,000 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reflexology is the belief that a blockage of qi or ‘vital energy’ can cause an imbalance in the body and eventually lead to illness.
- How it works: The way Reflexology works for pain relief is simple. Every part of the body corresponds with different pressure points in the feet. Reflexologists use maps of these energy points to know where to apply pressure for healing.
By applying pressure to a certain area of the feet, it sends an energetic flow throughout the body, which helps release blockages and thus reducing pain and inflammation.
- How to do it: If you’re in serious pain, you don’t have time to negotiate a foot rub or schlep to a certified reflexologist. Instead, refer to this reflexology chart and gently press on areas of the feet that correspond to your most painful areas.
Chances are, these points will be very tender, so start slowly and work your way up to 15 minutes per session. Make sure not to stay on a point for too long, but move to different areas on the feet.
4. Water therapy: Soaking or swimming in any water temperature can have anti-inflammatory effects, but alternating hot and cold can be especially effective. Contrast hydrotherapy causes rapid changes to the circulatory system, which leads to blood vessels pulsating in a pump-like motion.
In several studies, this action has shown to not only decrease muscle soreness but also reduce fatigue and lactic acid build-up.
Contrast hydrotherapy is easy to do in the shower, starting with warm water and ending with 30 to 45 seconds of cold. For a more advanced treatment, you can also use two large tubs for total immersion in warm and then cold water, making sure to only soak in the latter for no more than 20 minutes.
5. Capsaicin patches: When you’re in pain, sometimes it’s nice to relax and convalesce after a therapeutic session or just because you feel like it. But severe chronic pain makes it difficult to simply sit back and rest. This scenario is the perfect time to use capsaicin pain patches to ease your aches and pains.
The active ingredient in capsaicin comes from hot peppers and stimulates the release of substance P, a naturally-occurring chemical that transmits pain signals from the nerves to the brain. After applying capsaicin cream or a gel patch, substance P becomes depleted, which causes nerves to send fewer pain signals up the spinal cord.
Capsaicin tends to burn intensely for the first few minutes before you experience pain relief. Keep in mind that this treatment is not for everyone, especially for those with sensitive skin. I recommend doing a small patch test on your wrist to see how your skin reacts.
4 tips for maximizing your results
- A positive mindset combined with a distraction from the pain can make all the difference in the world. That’s why I recommend Reflexology and capsaicin pain patches while watching your favorite show, preferably one of the funny, of-little-concern variety.
- For those that want to focus more on healing, try playing 40-hertz frequencies in the background, which has been shown to significantly reduce fibromyalgia pain in one study.
- Everyone is different, but I’ve found that I get better results simply by doing these therapies in the order that they’re listed.
- In my experience, these remedies have an immediate effect but also a cumulative one, which is why I advise incorporating them into your everyday wellness routine.
The prognosis looks good
Along with a healthy diet, lots of sleep, and stress management, I’ve been doing these natural therapies for several years. Although I still have bad days, I’m happy to report that I’m having more and more good days, and overall I’m about 70% better.
There’s room for improvement, but one day soon I’ll be back to 100%.
I hope these therapies can give you some relief, keep you out of the doctor’s office, and eventually back to your healthy happy self.
If you have any natural pain-relieving therapies that have worked for you, please mention them in the comments!
For fun articles of-little-concern variety, please visit my entertainment and culture blog Dinner and Movie Night.