Pain is an individual experience affecting more North Americans than any other health disorder. Yet, pain is our defense mechanism and vital to our survival. Acute pain is useful in a protective way while constant or recurring pain signals that both physical and psychological elements require attention. Healing therapies and techniques can reduce or eliminate pain even when the exact cause is a mystery or cannot be removed.
Whether the pain is sudden and severe or a long-term chronic condition, the mind and entire body are affected. The most effective method of eradicating pain is finding the underlying cause. Rather than masking and suppressing pain with pharmaceutical drugs, we should empower the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Our bodies release endorphins, an intermedium used to naturally deal with pain.
The word endorphin means ‘internal morphine’. These, along with enkephalin are biochemicals produced by the brain itself to block and regulate the sensation of pain. Endorphins create a euphoric state with natural painkilling effects. Too often, people turn to conventional medicine risking dependency. These drugs produce side effects associated with ulcers, kidney failure, and bladder and liver problems.
Pain elicits several responses in the body, causing accelerated heartbeat, sweating, rising blood pressure, pupil dilation, and breathing irregularities. Anyone suffering from extended pain may experience loss of appetite, lower sex drive, constipation, restless sleep, irritability and digestive problems.
The character of the pain may provide clues to the nature and severity of the problem. Waves of pain that gain momentum, plateau and then subside are referred to as colics, such as pain in the abdominal area that has resulted from the contraction of any hollow organ (i.e. the intestines). Pain which shoots in one direction, suggests nerve involvement. Relaxation will lessen pain as demonstrated with women in childbirth labour who have learned to accept the ebb and flow of pain during contractions. Cramping pains typically indicate muscle contractions, lasting a few seconds to a few minutes. Spasms causing sudden pain, as seen in leg and foot cramps, are ordinarily the effect of the circulation being cut off due to sitting awkwardly.
When pain is chronic and the source cannot be found, food allergies should be considered. An allergic reaction to food can trigger and sustain chronic pain. Periodic allergy testing may be helpful when no other discernable cause is evident. Allergies affect the nervous and immune systems. Once the allergen is detected and eliminated, the pain is alleviated. Other culprits may be fungus, Candida, parasites, dental fillings and heavy metals.
The following will outline natural alternative approaches to pain relief:
Eliminating animal protein from the diet is highly recommended to improve conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Limiting foods high in saturated fats including dairy, red meat, shellfish, hydrogenated oils as well as caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrates will lessen pain and boost the immune system.
Choose a diet high in fibre, organic poultry, cold water fish and vegetable proteins like lentils and beans. Essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils, form prostaglandins (hormone like substances) which produce an anti-inflammatory response.
Supplements help raise the body’s threshold for pain and sensitivity. In particular, the amino acid DL-phenylalanine has proven effective in releasing the body’s own natural endorphins and reducing inflammation in patients with chronic pain.
Oxidative stress, not lactic acid, is responsible for tissue inflammation and soreness after a workout or competition. High intensity training and exhaustive exercise programs induce free radical damage in muscle tissue. Antioxidants minimize tissue oxidation caused by free radicals and support the liver, blood, joints and brain from their negative effects. Alpha lipoic acid is an excellent antioxidant. Vitamin C, E and selenium are others which work synergistically when taken together.
The minerals calcium and magnesium calm the nervous system along with all B vitamins. Leg cramps in any form are often alleviated with these nutrients. If cramps arise from poor circulation, vitamin E can be added to the diet.
MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) and Glucosamine are sulphur compounds found naturally in our cartilage, synovial fluid and joint material. Taken in supplement form these compounds, with their proven anti-inflammatory properties, relieve pain while assisting the body to build new tissue. Research has shown that for MSM to reach optimum effectiveness, 3000 mg should be consumed.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies relieve pain by calming the nerves and increasing circulation to promote healing without suppressing the condition. However, all homeopathic remedies are chosen according to symptoms.
White willow bark contains natural salicylic acid, the active constituent found in aspirin, perhaps the most used medication in the world. As in traditional times of the North American Indians, willow bark is used to ease any kind of pain, sore muscles, rheumatism, headaches and fever.
Hawthorne’s primary action is to increase coronary blood flow. While currently used to treat an array of heart related illnesses, hawthorn is valuable for treatment of angina pains.
Lady’s slipper comes from the root of the orchid. People are using this herb to treat muscle spasms, headaches, nervous depression, sharp stabbing pains, and fever. Today, lady’s slipper is also combined with valerian root (a nervine herb) to further its calming effects.
Herbs commonly taken for their soothing and pain relieving aspects include St. John’s Wort, hops, feverfew, devil’s claw, chamomile, licorice root, slippery elm, alfalfa, yucca, yerba mate,capsicum, magnolia, valerian and burdock root. Combination products are available in health food stores containing one or more of these herbal remedies.
Arnica, an external homeopathic remedy, is widely used to treat sports injuries involving sprains, bruises, hematoma, dislocations and swelling in conjunction with fractures. It also helps with rheumatic muscle and joint pain and inflammation due to insect bites, boils and phlebitis.
Colocynthis and Magnesia phosphorica are common homeopathic remedies for colic pain brought on by gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder. Consult a professional for specific recommendations.
Natural Therapies & Treatments
Complementary therapies and techniques may include biofeedback, acupuncture, massage therapy, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, mediation, osteopathy, exercise, and relaxation practices.
Acupuncture is routinely used to relieve the pain of headaches, tennis elbow and chronic pain where the underlying cause has yet to be discovered. By inserting very fine needles along the energy pathways or meridians, acupuncture harmonizes and enhances the bodies’ natural restorative powers. It works well with other alternative healing therapies.
Hydrotherapy eases pain generated by inflammation using applications of bathing or compresses. For management of chronic pain, various hot and cold techniques offer a convenient and simple way to treat injured tissue. Epsom salts and a variety of essential oils will assist pain relief and induce sleep.
Energy devices known as TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) and Electro-Acuscope are commonly used for treating acute and chronic pain. These facilitators produce various frequencies and voltages of mild electrical stimulation to conduct tissue repair and management of pain.
Massage therapy uses a variety of techniques and strokes to provide healing and pain relief. Overtime, muscle spasms become hard fibrous tissue, often involved in chronic neck and back pain. Massage methods leave the body feeling rejuvenated while easing the pain of tense muscles.
Fear and anxiety amplify pain, while quietness of mind will help control it. Soft music, relaxation tapes and meditation can alleviate stress and relax muscles. Music generates a relaxation response, soothing the mind. Research suggests music also promotes the production of endorphins, our pain killing hormones.
Pain interferes with our daily enjoyment of life. But, once the cause of it is understood, there are many alternative therapies which have proven effective in managing and reducing chronic pain symptoms. While drugs may offer an immediate solution to relieve pain, restoring the bodies’ natural pain inhibitors will provide a more long-term solution to reducing or eliminating it altogether.
About the author
Dr. Michelle Honda is a practitioner of natural and preventative medicine. In addition to earning her doctorate in holistic health sciences, she holds an advanced degree in nutrition (RNCP), is a Master Herbalist and an IIPA Certified Iridologist. She practices at Renew You Holistic Health located at 1100 Golf Links Road in the Ancaster Meadowlands. Renew You is a multi-disciplinary clinic that offers a range of healing modalities. For more information please visit www.renewyou.ca, or you may contact the clinic at 905-304-0111.
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