How I Learned To Manage Chronic Pain Naturally
The list of ailments on my medical chart stretches longer than a CVS receipt. Despite this illustrious history, I live a relatively pain-free life. How do I do so? I can’t promise that my holistic techniques will work for everyone, as the human body is infinitely complex. However, the 6-step guide below explains how I learned to manage chronic pain naturally. Maybe some of my tips can help you, too.
I moved more
Despite the societal misconception that chronic pain patients shun exercise and thus contribute to their woes, most fellow “spoonies” I know are among the most dedicated gym rats. It’s not a stretch to understand why. When your condition already affects your mobility, you want to preserve your remaining strength as much as possible, even if it costs you energy — or “spoons” — to do so. If you ever have to have surgery, you’ll notice that the hospital wants you up and about as quickly as possible afterward. Most experts recommend no longer than 48 hours of bedrest because it can increase pain symptoms. Remaining sedentary causes muscles and connective tissues to shorten and atrophy and spinal disks to deteriorate. My secret was finding activities that I love. I come alive when out on the trail, and hiking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. When the weather is too nasty to venture into the forest, I crank up the tunes and dance in my living room. I generally skip the gym to save the expense, but I take every opportunity to try out boutique classes that strike my fancy, adding variety to my routine.
I altered my diet
You’ve undoubtedly heard of antioxidants, but how much do you understand about what these substances do? They can prevent cellular damage by free radicals by providing the missing electrons these substances need before they can wreak havoc on your body. Where do you find antioxidants? The answer is in plant-based foods, which is why I altered my diet to manage chronic pain by including more of such ingredients in my diet.
It was surprisingly easy to get more variety, even on a budget. I eat tons of soups and salads, and dried fruits and nuts keep forever in the pantry. I stocked up at the natural grocery store and now can add a sprinkle of pine nuts or a handful of golden berries to dishes. Nuts are also rich in minerals, such as magnesium, selenium and zinc, that help ease the depression and anxiety that so often accompany chronic illness. Magnesium alone works as well as a tricyclic antidepressant in busting the blues.
Additionally, I try to stay away from bleached white anything. When manufacturers process wheat, they remove the bran and chaff. The finished product often contains alloxan, a substance scientists use to induce diabetes in the laboratory. When you consider that many baked goods containing bleached flour also have a hefty dose of sugar, you have a recipe for the Type 2 form of the disease. I don’t need to add yet another ailment to my growing list. One step I advise all chronic pain patients to take is to undergo an elimination diet. Food allergies and intolerances can present a host of unpleasant symptoms that look identical to those of fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome. It takes time and patience to identify the problem substance, but many of your aches and pains might ease once you do. A previously undiagnosed food intolerance contributed to my arthritis flares, and removing that stuff from my diet helped immensely.
I don’t know what I would do without yoga to calm both my body and my mind. I consider a good, lengthy yin class every bit as healing and relaxing as a massage — plus, it doesn’t come with a hefty sticker price. You can find videos for free on YouTube. You can find a form of yoga to suit any taste and body type. For example, power classes often combine ashtanga and vinyasa yoga elements in an intense flow designed to make you sweat, burn off excess yang energy and increase your strength and cardiovascular abilities. Gentler, restorative classes are ideal for those just getting started or wanting to give themselves a rest day treat — I fit in at least two sessions per week.
I took care of my mind
Your mind and your body share an intricate link. You probably notice that your mood darkens as your flares get worse. The opposite effect also occurs — depression can lead to physical aches and pains that make it challenging to get out of bed. Therefore, I started getting regular therapy as soon as I had the means to do so. I wish everyone in America could see a counselor as necessary. However, if you find yourself without the money or insurance coverage (or both) for care, you do have alternatives. Some mental health apps feature a monthly fee much cheaper than Marketplace coverage and offer unlimited text support with licensed therapists. You can also find support groups for nearly every condition, mental and physical, online.
I turned to nature
I’m an amateur herbalist, and I replaced many of the prescription medications I used to take with teas and tinctures I make at home. My knowledge stemmed from that good old mother of invention, necessity — I couldn’t always afford health care. Two tidbits to the wise: not every remedy works for everybody, and many herbal regimens take time to work — just like many prescriptions. Furthermore, you shouldn’t experiment without consulting with a doctor. Many herbs can interfere with other medications you already take. However, I feel confident in suggesting that nearly every spoonie try adding a bit of turmeric and black pepper to their morning tea. Turmeric contains curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory, and the piperine in the black pepper makes it more available for your body to use. I also incorporate numerous anti-anxiety herbs such as chamomile, lavender and valerian.
I improved my sleeping habits
Finally, I considerably improved my sleeping habits by investing in a portable desk. My conditions sometimes leave me working in bed, but having all those electronic lights blipping at me makes it impossible to sleep. When it’s time to punch out for the day, rolling my workspace into another room is part of my wind-down ritual. I also ditched the digital alarm clock — who needs a bright red screaming reminder of how many hours they have left to sleep at 2 a.m.? Instead, I use a wind-up model that doesn’t let me down if the power goes out while I slumber. Even though I can’t quite reserve my bedroom for sleep only with my health conditions, I do make it a pleasant oasis. I have tons of soft pillows and blankets to comfort every sore spot and added a decorative tapestry above my plain blackout curtain for a touch of color on migraine days that have me retreating to darkness.
The five tips above helped me learn to manage my chronic pain naturally. Hopefully, they will help you in your healing journey as well.
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