8 Non-Drug Tactics to
Eliminate Back, Joint & Other Pain
For the majority of Americans, pain — either chronic or the kind that comes and goes — is a way of life. More than half of us suffer from physical pain, which means that if you were to stop someone randomly on the street and ask “Are you in pain?” chances are high that they’d say yes.
This finding comes from a nationwide phone survey of over 1,200 Americans, sponsored by Stanford University Medical Center, ABC News and USA Today. Back pain was the most common type of pain reported, followed by knee and shoulder pain, joint pain and headaches.
The majority of Americans feel chronic or intermittent pain. Have we begun to accept life with pain as inevitable?
When pain strikes, about 80 percent of Americans reach for over-the-counter drugs or home remedies to help. 60 percent have also tried other pain-relief methods including prescription drugs, bed rest and prayer. More than 10 percent of adults now rely on prescription painkillers everyday (interestingly, the survey reported that prayer and prescription drugs worked best, and equally well, in addressing Americans’ pain).
And the pain is more than just a mere nuisance, as it can severely impact people’s work, relationships, mood and more.
“Pain has been a hidden disease; it has not received as much attention as other diseases. But now there’s a growing recognition that pain really is not just the sensation we have–it’s something that interferes with every one of us, with life,” said Raymond Gaeta, M.D., associate professor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine and director of pain management services at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
A separate phone survey of 800 adults, the Americans Living with Pain Survey (ALPS), found similar results. Two out of three respondents said that their pain led to stress and irritability, while:
- 45 percent said pain negatively impacted their personal relationships
- 51 percent said it affected their work productivity
- 61 percent said it affected their daily routine
“This survey demonstrates that chronic pain is a problem that has reached near epidemic proportions,” said Edward Covington, M.D., director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program at the Cleveland Clinic. “The ‘can do, can cope’ spirit of Americans can lead to untreated chronic pain, which has a severe impact on people’s work, personal relationships, hobbies, and even sex, and can greatly diminish their quality of life. In addition to physical disability, it may also lead to irritability, anxiety, or depression.”
To look at the glass half-full, pain can be construed as a good thing. It serves as a warning of a deeper, underlying problem, which otherwise may have gone unnoticed. So it’s extremely important not to simply ignore or mask your pain, but rather to seek out and address the problem that’s causing you to be in pain. Once that problem has been addressed, it’s likely the pain will subside. In the event that it doesn’t, here are eight methods you can try to reduce and eliminate pain, without relying on prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
1. Deep and Proper Sleeping/Relaxation
Says Dr. Neil B. Kavey, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, sleep is the time when your body is able to do repair work. So whether you’re in pain from an injury or due to an underlying condition, your body will be able to fight and work toward healing that pain while you sleep.
Pain and sleep is a bit of a catch-22 though, in that often people with pain have trouble falling asleep. If this sounds familiar please call and make an appointment today.
Relaxation is also important, not only in helping you to fall asleep, but by reducing tension in your muscles, which can help to relieve pain or keep it from getting worse. Being relaxed may also help any other pain relief methods you’re using to work better. To help you relax, elevate your levels of magnesium.
Similar to relaxation, meditation and prayer are ways to calm your body, focus your mind and reduce stress, all of which can help to lessen your feelings of pain. Prayer is the most commonly practiced type of meditation, and according to the first study it ranked right up there with prescription drugs for its ability to relieve pain – obviously without any of the possible negative side effects of drugs!
“Prayer falls in the category of having patients learn about the meaning of their pain. Sometimes patients do need to be introspective before they can move forward,” said Gaeta.
Meditation includes concentration meditations, in which you focus your mind on a single object, phrase or thought and often practice deep breathing as well, and exercise meditations like yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Even reading, thinking about those you love and writing can be forms of meditation. Pick the method that feels most naturally alluring to you.
Stretching regularly is an excellent way to relieve physical pain.
After three weeks of stretching, stretching expert Jacques Gauthier was able to reduce his pain by 50 percent. Stretching helps to reduce tension in your muscles, improve flexibility and range of motion, and may slow the degeneration of your joints. The act of stretching alone will also improve your blood circulation and help you to relax–a key to pain relief.
To learn how to do the right type of stretching–the kind that actually feel good while you do them (and after!)–consider Gauthier stretching DVD.
4. Reduce/Prevent Inflammation
When your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, the inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues. Over time, this can lead to physical pain, as well as a number of diseases including heart disease. Emotions (too much stress), diet and lifestyle all contribute to inflammation.
One of the safest, low-risk things you can do to lower your risk of inflammation is to modify your lifestyle and dietary choices. This means eating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods (fruits and vegetables), limiting or avoiding all together the pro-inflammatory foods (highly processed foods, high-sugar foods, trans fats, etc.), exercising and quitting smoking (if you do).
Unfortunately, many conventional methods to treat inflammation are high in risk. These have included medications like COX-2 inhibitors (Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex, etc.), which have been highlighted in the media lately because of their link to heart problems. To discuss what could be the best alternatives for your health condition please make an appointment.
5. Regular Exercise
“One of the most important aspects of managing one’s pain is taking an active role in care and becoming part of the treatment team,” says Penney Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association. “There are many treatment options available to help people reduce the effects of pain in their lives. Proactive behavior such as recognizing emotions and practicing relaxation techniques to reduce stress, pacing activities and working within personal limits, and exercising on a regular basis may contribute to better pain control.”
Although you may be tempted to not move around much when you’re facing pain, a regular exercise program can actually help to relieve pain. According to the Mayo clinic, exercise works by prompting your body to release chemicals called endorphins that actually block pain signals from reaching your brain.
“Endorphins are the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals that in many cases are more powerful than morphine,” says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
Plus, exercise will help you to sleep better, have more energy to cope with your pain, and lose weight, which will relieve any excess strain on your joints. If you’re currently in pain, remember to consult your physician before starting any exercise program.
According to the American Chiropractic Association:
Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is concerned with human health and disease processes. Doctors of Chiropractic are physicians who consider man as an integrated being and give special attention to the physiological and biochemical aspects including structural, spinal, musculoskeletal, neurological, vascular, nutritional, emotional and environmental relationships.
Many Doctors of Chiropractic are different, and may use varying chiropractic methods to relieve your pain. According to the first survey above, chiropractic (and massage therapy) ranked very very high at relieving pain.
7. Massage Therapy
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) says massage therapy:
- Helps patients become more aware of their bodies and the sources of pain.
- Better familiarizes patients with the pain they experience.
- Has an impact on the patient by virtue of human touch.
- Improves confidence by encouraging patients to effectively cope with their pain.
Further, according to an American Hospital Association survey about their use of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies, nearly 82 percent of the hospitals offering CAM therapies offered massage therapy. More than 70 percent of these used the massage therapy for the purpose of pain management and relief.
8. Hot or Cold Packs
Applying a hot pad or cold pack to your area of pain can provide temporary relief. Hot pads are helpful for sore muscles, while cold packs work by numbing the affected area. If you’ve only tried one or the other, switch to the opposite and see if it works. Be careful not to use a pad that is too hot or too cold, and when using a cold pack, wrap it in a towel so you don’t expose your skin to the cold.