Natural pain relief… don’t you need drugs?
This was a question during my recent seminar. A good question that deserves a good answer, especially since we’re conditioned to use drugs to ease pain.
The most frequent drugs used include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, Advil and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Drug Side Effects
These drugs aren’t as friendly as their advertisements suggest. Taking them can have serious, even life-threatening consequences.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that NSAID-induced disease causes at least 103,000 hospitalizations per year and every year 16,500 arthritis patients die from NSAID-related gastrointestinal damage.
These drugs increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke and cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach and intestines. These side effects can happen suddenly without warning symptoms and may cause sudden death.
Acetaminophen, found in many over the counter (OTC) products such as Tylenol, cold medicines and prescription drugs like Vicodin and Percocet is widely used for pain relief and fever.
Though generally considered safe when used according to the directions on its label it can cause liver damage and even death according to a FDA 2009 consumer update. Because it’s so often used in combination with other OTC drugs its easy to over dose.
Fortunately, natural pain relief products and therapies are as effective as pharmaceuticals without the side effects. Here are a few of the most common.
Natural Pain Relief
- Ice. Ice is a well-know natural pain relief method, especially in the early phase of injury. Use ice as soon as possible after the injury for 10 to 15 minutes four times a day for 48 hours. Be careful not to use it too long, as it can cause tissue damage. After 48 hours, try heat.
- Heat. Heat promotes natural pain relief as it increases blood flow to the area bringing nutrients and specialized cells to speed healing.Ross A. Hauser, MD, natural medicine expert, recommends using heat immediately with a musculoskeletal injury.
- Foods and Herbs. Turmeric may be more effective than Celebrex (celecoxib) for arthritis pain. Capsaicin, found in hot chile peppers, proves more effective for muscle and joint pain relief than the now-banned drug Vioxx, reports James A. Duke PhD in The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods.Tart cherry juice may be a safer way to treat muscle pain and inflammation than over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, according to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University.Ginger, contains at least four natural COX-2 inhibitors and unlike prescription COX-2 inhibitors like celecoxib (Celebrex) it’s not associated with serious side effects.
- Vitamins and Minerals. A review of several studies found that riboflavin and coenzyme Q10 significantly decreased the frequency of migraine attacks. Alpha lipoic acid also reduced migraine frequency, albeit not significantly as compared to placebo.Magnesium taken preventively, particularly for children and menstrually related migraine, proved effective too.
- Proteolytic Enzymes. These enzymes including papain, chymopapaine, bromelain, and pancreatin enzyme preparations promote natural pain relief and can “fast forward” the healing process. They support the removal of damaged tissue, and reduce swelling, according to natural health experts like Ross A. Hauser MD.
- Fish Oil. An April 2006 study in Surgical Neurology found that after seventy-five days on fish oil, 59% of patients who were taking NSAIDs for chronic spinal pain and who had degenerative spine disease were able to discontinue their prescription NSAIDs.Eighty percent stated they were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil.
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). About six percent of U.S. adults turn to natural pain relief for back pain through complementary and alternative medicine, reports a recent analysis of the 2002 National Health Interview published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.The analysis found that a majority (60 percent) of survey respondents who used CAM therapies for back pain perceived “a great deal” of benefit and they reported improved health status. Here are the most commonly used therapies with their percentage of usage:
- Chiropractic (66 percent)
- Massage (56 percent)
- Yoga/Tai Chi/Qi Gong (56 percent)
- Acupuncture (42 percent)
- Herbal Therapies (32 percent)
- Relaxation Techniques (28 percent)
Most importantly…before you choose a treatment method identify the cause of your pain.
“LEARNS” offers a helpful acronym to 6 steps for finding and treating the cause of pain: listen to your body; evaluate possible pain causes; action taking; results-how is it working; new information-change your plan; seek professional help if needed.
LEARNS: 6 Steps to Natural Pain Relief
Listen to your body.
Sounds silly, but too often in our busy lives we don’t notice subtle cues that something we’re doing or some situation we’re in is hurting us. Anyone with chronic tendonitis or fasciitis will tell you they wished they had listened to their body before chronic inflammation… chronic pain set in.
The old adage of “no pain, no gain” is just plain wrong. Those in the know now say you should rest from an activity when pain develops. The body needs rest to recover… to heal.
This holds true for stress too. Stress causes physical responses in your body that tightens muscles and constricts blood flow leading to headaches and other forms of musculoskeletal pain.
Pain can be a real blessing giving you information on changes you need to make to have a happy, healthful life.
Evaluate possible pain causes.
Now that you’re catching your body’s pain signals earlier, use the “Four Ws” to uncover possible causes, then decide which cause is most likely. This exercise works best when relaxed, so take some private, personal time to do it. You might try writing about your pain for 15 minutes addressing these questions.
- Where is the pain located?
- When did you first notice the pain?
- What activity or situation is associated with the pain?
- Why did this activity or situation lead to pain?
Take action on what you learned. Treat the cause of the pain. Maybe your action is resting from an activity or reducing the stress of a situation you’re experiencing at work or at home. You may want to try some of the natural remedies mentioned earlier or the pain may be so significant that you decide you need professional help.
Results-how is it working?
Pay attention to how your treatment is working. Develop ongoing body awareness. Is your pain gradually improving, are there situations or activities that make it worse?
New information-change your plan.
Keep updating your treatment plan as you learn more about what helps and what harms healing by listening to your pain. Your body normally can heal itself in 4 to 6 weeks.
Seek professional help if needed.
If your body hasn’t righted itself after 6 weeks see your health provider for a professional evaluation and treatment of your pain. Make sure you receive a diagnosis (the cause of your pain) and treatment that adequately addresses this cause, not just symptom treatment (pain medications).
Too often, drugs and surgery form the bedrock of mainstream medical treatment. If you’re not satisfied with both the diagnosis and treatment plan, get a second opinion from a doctor who provides natural medicine.
Treat your pain with the respect it deserves. Use the six LEARNS steps to develop your treatment plan and avoid pharmaceuticals whenever possible.
Natural pain relief can provide new insights that end up improving all aspects of your life.
Sources and Resources
Bleakley, Chris, Suzanne McDonough, and MacAuley Domhnall, “The Use of Ice in the Treatment of Acute Soft-Tissue Injury: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials,” American Journal Sports Medicine 32, no. 1 (2004): 251-61.
Duke, James A., The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns (Rodalestore.com: Rodale, 2008).
Maroon, Joseph Charles and Jeffrey W. Bost, “w-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) as an Anti-Inflammatory: An Alternative to Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Discogenic Pain,” Surgical Neurology 65, no.4 (April 2006).
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Sprain: First Aide,” at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-sprain/FA00016.
Moore, Nancy, The Cure for Chronic Pain: End the Pain of Arthritis, Sports Injury, and Other Joint Problems (Peoria Az: Intermedia Publishing Group, 2009).
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Analysis of National Survey Reveals Perceived Benefit of CAM for Back Pain” at http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/060110.htm.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Acetaminophen and Liver Injury: Q & A for Consumers” at http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Medication Guide for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)” at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM135935.pdf.
Weil, Andrew, “Can I Reduce My Joint Pain Naturally?” Prevention (January, 2007) at http://www.prevention.com/health/health/health-experts/can-i-reduce-my-joint-pain-naturally/article/847f8169c1903110VgnVCM20000012281eac____.