Even when living the healthiest life possible, aches and pains can be an annoying and sometimes deeply frustrating part of life. When you feel like you're already doing everything in your power to keep whatever pain you deal with under control, but it keeps coming up again and again...that can be, well, painful. Painful emotionally, as well as physically. I wanted to write up a comprehensive list of natural ways to manage pain so that if you're in a painful place, be it dealing with chronic headaches, backaches, arthritis pain, or muscle soreness from an autoimmune disorder, you can be spurred on to see if you really have done everything in your power to manage it yourself. Following are my main tips:
Low Sugar Diet
Sugar is such a highly inflammatory food and, as I shared in the Sugar Detox post a few weeks ago, the body sees more than just white, table sugar as harmful. Eliminating as much sugar in your diet as possible for a time can help to reduce the inflammation so often associated with chronic pain.
Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium
These are the nutrients our muscles need, as I was so generously reminded by my chiropractor last month when I inquired about a particular spot in my back that wouldn't seem to loosen up no matter what I did. Potassium is pretty easy to work into your diet (yay, bananas!), but it can be tricky to consume enough calcium and magnesium. Those dark, leafy greens will be your friends here, but you can also try soaking in some epsom salts wherever you're hurting so that your skin can directly absorb the magnesium sulfate. Additionally, I've been taking a calcium, magnesium, and zinc supplement to support both muscle and immune health.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but the fact of the matter is: the human body just wasn't designed to be sitting in a chair and it will hurt if this is what it does all day! If you're a self-professed exercise hater like me, give yourself credit for all the lifestyle movement you do and seek to incorporate even more! What does this look like? Sit on the floor and stretch out when relaxing, instead of always on the couch. Make phone calls while walking around the neighborhood. Read standing up! And of course, make time for those more intentional times of movement throughout the week (fine, we can call it a work out if we have to).
These are worth a try if you've never used them for pain management. Today, in fact, I'm using a blend of peppermint oil (diluted in coconut oil), plus lots of hydration, to manage a headache and lo-and-behold...I think it's gone! I rubbed the diluted peppermint oil on my temples and eyebrows and started feeling relief within an hour (again, with the help of lots of water). I also use a blend for womens' monthly cycle on a regular basis that is very helpful for managing cramps.
Ice and Heat
I learned this trick from another chiropractor: if you are battling a serious headache and have 30-40 minutes to devote to a nap, grab an ice pack and a warm compress of some sort. Begin your first 15-20 minutes of napping with the ice on your forehead and the heat on the back of your neck. Set a soft timer that will wake you up just enough to swap the ice and heat for your last 15-20 minutes. This trick gets the blood flowing and I've found it really effective as a last-ditch effort if I really want to try to avoid medication.
I could really go on all day...you probably picked up on my winks and nods toward a few other helps: chiropractic adjustment, rest, hydration, massage...learning to take all the steps that are within your reach for managing pain is both empowering and educational. By doing this, you will become more in tune with your body and be able to act upon the idea of "listening" to it.
One more thing I must mention on the subject is my sympathy to those of you for which each of these tricks just isn't enough. While natural remedies are my favorite ways to treat illness and pain, I also recognize the distinct need we have as a society for medication and as a doctor once told me--it can teach your body how it's supposed to be acting until you're healthy enough to do it on your own. Peace and healing to you, friends!
"I was so good this weekend! I only ate one cookie!" "I'm being bad; I'm not going to work out today."
In our culture, moral language is so often associated with health behaviors and I think it's pretty twisted. Why? Well, when we use moral language to describe how we're eating or moving, we are attaching our worth and value to our physical health. Being unhealthy is not innately immoral; I do personally believe there are things we can and can't do for our health that could manifest themselves as wrong...for instance, neglecting a heart condition or idolizing food are not wise choices. But by and large, the morality of health decisions is not black and white.
What is my solution to this problem? We must switch our speech around health behaviors from moral language to vocabulary steeped in the theme of honoring. Consider the following sets of statements:
"I was so good! I ran 2 miles without stopping." vs. "I'm so proud of the way I treated my body; I knew I could run 2 miles and did it!"
"This is so bad. Having this cinnamon roll means I can't eat anything tomorrow." vs. "Eating this cinnamon roll is not the most honoring decision for my body. I'm going to stop myself so I feel better tomorrow."
"Don't tell anyone! I'm being naughty and having 2." vs. "For some reason I want to hide the fact that I'm about to serve myself another...would you remind me why my intention is to only have one?"
When we focus on honoring our bodies, the morality of health behaviors tends to fall in it's proper place. I of course encourage figuring out what your personal convictions around food and exercise are! And once you've found those convictions, challenge yourself to change the way you talk about living them out. I predict you'll know a greater freedom as well as stop making some of the choices you regret when you just ride them off as "bad". Willing to give it a try? Let me know what you think!