Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Alternative Approaches to Pain Management



Pain is something that we all have to deal with at times. And it’s a valuable messenger because it tells us when something is wrong, when to stop doing something, and when to be careful with our bodies.

Traditional medications such as acetaminophen are great but I have some alternative suggestions if you are looking to go a different route with no side effects to get rid of some regular aches and pains.   

After an especially hard workout you may notice that you are sore for 2-3 days. This is called delayed-onset soreness, and it is a good pain. This means that there are microscopic tears in your muscles caused by working out that are going to heal over and create all kinds of new muscle cells for you and make you all buff.

The best remedy for this type of pain is some light stretching to the sore area, and hot baths with Epsom salts. The Epsom salt bath is not only is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get rid of pain but it is also a great way to get some magnesium into your system. Yes, all of that wonderful mineral absorbs right into your skin in an Epsom salt bath!

Another tip that I often give clients: Don’t clench up or stress out when you are in pain. Muscles tense up around painful areas as way of protecting the areas; this “protective muscle tensing” can cause pain to become chronic when muscles begin to lock up permanently. This muscle-locking process that causes chronic pain works in the following way: First, the muscles start to lock to protect the painful area, and then the nerves get constricted due to the muscle pressing down on the nerves. Then, because proper electrical conductivity is compromised, the way messages travel through nerves to the brain is off. The nerves start to misfire like short circuits and tell the muscle to contract all the time when such contraction is not needed.

The next thing you know you have a rock hard muscle that is painful. The locked muscles also constrict blood vessels in the locked area, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting into the locked area, which makes the pain and locking even worse.

This process is a major cause of chronic pain, especially in the neck and shoulders. Understanding this process and consciously trying to relax can help prevent an injury from turning into chronic pain.  

One technique that I use when I am in pain is mental technique I call “relax into the pain.” Our normal reaction to pain is to get upset and think “I am in pain, oh no,” which makes us get all stressed and clench up our bodies. This is good for a new pain that needs attention. But for pain where the cause is known, such as chronic back pain from stress or menstrual pain, using this relaxation technique instead can keep pain from getting worse, help to relax your mind, and help the stress levels that are caused by pain to lower.

Whenever I have this type of chronic pain I try and relax and tell myself, “Yes you are in pain, but it will go away soon, so just relax.” And then I try not to tense up. It may not be the same as taking a Codeine pill, but it does keep the pain from getting worse and/or chronic due the constant stressing out and muscle clenching. The Epsom salt baths are also very helpful for locked-muscle pain and stress-related pain.

There are all kinds of analgesic balms and ointments available at all different prices; they work pretty well, but my favorite from traditional Chinese medicine called White Flower Analgesic Balm works wonders.

White Flower Analgesic Balm has no side effects, but like most skin creams, it shouldn’t be used on sensitive areas, mucus membranes, or cut or broken skin. This balm has some very simple but effective ingredients such as camphor, menthol, wintergreen, lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint. At about 3 or 4 dollars for a 20 ml bottle at most Asian markets, the price also cannot be beat. Even better, I have seen small bottles for a little as $1.25. This stuff lasts forever, too; you only need a few drops. It’s a great deal that really works. The balm does have a strong smell, is but it is not unpleasant.

Arnica creams and preparations, also known as “Dancer’s Secret,” are also recommended for pain. Although I do not find Arnica as helpful as the White Flower Balm for pain, Arnica does seem to help tremendously with bruising. Arnica preparations should cost you about $10 a tube. They are available in homeopathic and herbal compositions. I have found both kinds helpful. Again, Arnica has no known side effects.

Pain can be unpleasant but these easy, inexpensive, and gentle pain-relief techniques have worked for my clients and me. So relax and enjoy a nice Epsom salt bath next time you feel hurt.


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