Living with chronic pain can affect you not only on a physical but also on a psychological level. The impact of reduced mobility performing daily tasks, potential loss of income or independence, all cause emotional stress which in turn results in depression and other illnesses. It is very frustrating for patients living with chronic pain to either not know the underlying cause of their pain or know that the cause cannot be resolved. Many of my patients have to rely heavily on daily intake of NSAIDs or narcotics as a pain killer solution. But we all know how bad the side effects can be not mentioning high risks of addiction. Fortunately, there are natural ways to manage pain and help improve quality of life that are just as effective.
I would like to share 7 Chinese wisdoms with you:
1. Get Acupuncture treatments weekly
Chronic pain patients constitute at least 70% of my practice and yet I do not cover pain management topic that often. It is probably because I take it for granted as Acupuncture is mainstreamed in the West as a pain management therapeutic modality. Pain management has been the most researched aspect of Acupuncture and shows positive outcomes in patients with chronic pain. Inserting needles into Acupoints triggers release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate with neurons and effector cells. Endorphins constitute big portion of neurotransmitters released during Acupuncture treatment. These are natural painkillers in our body. Acupuncture also triggers release of vasodilators bringing more blood flow to the affected area of the body drawing more nutrients to the injured part getting it to repair faster. Another effect of Acupuncture on pain is body release of cytokines – anti-inflammatory agents helping your body fight local and systemic inflammation. Outside of chemical cascade reaction in the body, Acupuncture has a simple mechanical effect on local tissue as well. When performed on affected muscle, Acupuncture needles can stimulate tight muscle fibers causing mild muscle spasm followed by muscular release. It is a so-called trigger point therapy that is very useful technique in the treatment of chronic pain.
2. Stay Active
In Chinese Medicine there is a very famous saying “不通則痛” bu tong ze tong, which translates “if it is unable pass through, it causes pain”. Essentially, it is understood that pain is a result of stagnation of Qi and Blood. Acupuncture opens up a flow of Qi and Blood and thus relieves the pain. But you do not need to turn to Acupuncture for that. Movement is one way to promote better circulation and improve overall function. That being said, being physically active can be hard for people living with chronic pain. Keep in mind we are not talking about extreme boot camps or high intensity training, or any type of exercise that would put too much strain on your body. The intensity of exercise should be tailored to individual based on their injuries, physical condition, and level of pain. Generally low to medium intensity exercises have shown to improve chronic pain symptoms. Therefore simple exercises such as walking, yoga, swimming, Qigong, Taiji or stretching are all recommended for people with chronic pain. Some physical activities are not considered as exercise but can be very helpful as well. Dance for example improves pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Research has found that 60-120 minutes of dance once or twice a week for at least 12 weeks results in reduction in pain levels, improves depression, anxiety, physical function, and quality of life. The best part of this pain management technique is that it is safe and nearly cost-free since low resistance training can be done in the comfort of your home or by taking a walk around the neighborhood.
3. Laugh more
You know that saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”; well it is backed up by some medical studies. Laughter increases the body’s pain tolerance by enhancing the brain’s sensitivity to endorphins causing muscle relaxation, reducing hypervigilance and numbing central pain pathways, improving mood and reducing reactivity to pain. Laughter also has a direct effect on muscle pain management. While laughing some muscles contract and when laughter stops, muscle relaxation occurs for a period of time, which reduces the muscles sensitivity to pain.
4. Think positive
Living in constant pain takes a toll on an emotional level making it hard to focus on the positive in life even if it outweighs the negative. As hard as it can be, research shows that positive thinking helps reduce the level of pain while constantly worrying about the pain actually makes the pain worse. Studies have shown that optimistic chronic pain patients are generally more determined to reach their goals and have a better ability to adjust their goals to their condition instead of giving up on them completely. Positive thinking and shifting the patients focus from the pain results in better daily functioning and reduces the fear of pain, which results in an overall better quality of life. There are many mindfulness strategies, and self-help books to train the mind to think more positively.
5. Supplement with turmeric
Turmeric has been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries before it made it into the West. In Chinese, this herb is called 姜黄 Jiang Huang. It is considered acrid, bitter and warm and enters Liver and Spleen channels. It enters upper extremities to promote blood circulation, dispel wind-cold-damp painful obstructions to alleviate pain. Active component found in turmeric - curcumin, is responsible for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects. Turmeric is very effective in treating pain caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and tendonitis. It is also known to help decrease the severity of premenstrual symptoms. Please remember to mix turmeric with black pepper as it improves curcumin bioavailability. At Mulberry Leaf we carry Gaia Golden Milk powder made from only high quality ingredients including black pepper. Mixing it with your favorite type of milk makes it a healthy, delicious and easy-to-make turmeric drink, much better alternative to OTC drugs.
Although turmeric is one of the more effective strategies to manage chronic pain, it’s important to keep in mind that high doses of turmeric or using it for very long periods of time may cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. It is also considered to be very warming and drying and therefore not recommended to patients with underlying Kidney Yin deficiency presenting with dry eyes, dry throat, dry mouth, hot flashes, night sweats or having red tongue with cracks.
6. Take Frankincense & Myrrh
Ru Xiang 乳香 (Frankincense) and Mo Yao 没药 (Myrrh) are ancient botanicals used for centuries as an herbal analgesic. Egyptians utilized them for mummification to preserve the flesh. They are often combined together to treat wide variety of painful conditions including amenorrhea, dysmenorrheal, epigastric, chest and abdominal pain as well as traumatic and arthritic pain, muscle rigidity and spasms. 60-85% of frankincense’s active compounds contain boswellic acids. Boswellic acids inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes making frankincense a valuable botanical in treatment of conditions such as arthritis, bronchial asthma, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and cancer. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study assessed Boswellia serrata for influencing pain threshold and tolerance using a mechanical pain model. The mean percentage change in the force and time of pain threshold and tolerance increased significantly in the group receiving Boswellia serrata, demonstrating a direct analgesic effect of frankincense. Combination of frankincense and myrrh are used in many analgesic formulas in Chinese Medicine along with other anti-inflammatory herbs to enhance pain killing effect and addressing the root cause of pain at the same time.
7. Take CBD oils
CBD oils have drawn a lot of attention in recent years for its painkilling as well as anti-anxiety anti-depression properties. CBD is cannabidiol – a cannabinoid compound extracted from the cannabis plant. There are many Cannabis species 2 of which are known for their therapeutic and recreational use respectively. Cannabis Sativa L. is low in THC but rich in CBD. This species is traditionally known as hemp. Cannabis Indica is often referred to as marijuana since it is high in psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, but is very low in CBD. Recent research has shown analgesic as well as anti-inflammatory effect of CBD in various pain conditions. CBD can help suppress release of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α responsible for inflammation to treat arthritis, intestinal inflammatory diseases and many more
8. Apply 701 patch/Terminator Patches
In order to combat chronic pain you need to make major lifestyle adjustments: from anti-inflammatory diet to meditation, it takes a lot out of you and there are days when you just don’t have the strength to be “good” about it. Sometimes you have to turn to “Band-Aid” solutions. And there is just that – a “Band-Aid”. You probably tried some analgesic topicals at some point in your life. It could’ve been salonpas, biofreeze, tiger balm, arnica gel, you name it. What I like about 701 patches is that they are portable and readily available to use, they are easy to apply and very strong in pain relieving effect. Even more importantly along with analgesic effect they contain bunch of therapeutic herbs that possess anti-inflammatory and tissue regenerating effects. However, if you have a very sensitive skin or a sensitive nose (spoiler alert: 701 patch gives you that strong Chinese grandma type of aroma), there is an alternative westernized option of Terminator patches produced by an American manufacturer. I always have them in my home first-aid kit as you never know when you or your family member wakes up with locked neck or back, I also always travel with them in my carry-on. We have both of them available at Mulberry Leaf for your convenience.
9. Apply Woodlock oil
If you turn to massage therapy for pain relief, I’d recommend combining it with oil or lotion instead of a patch. My personal favorite is Woodlock oil which most of you getting Acuuncture treatments with me are very familiar with. The reason I pick Woodlock oil over endless other options is its warming effect and composition of herbs that work to warm the channels, open the obstruction and reduce inflammation at the same time. It’s said that ice can bring inflammation down while heat is contraindicated? You can have it all by using Woodlock oil or take Chinese Herbal formulas internally. They warm the interior and reduce inflammation all at once leaving you feeling more relaxed and pain free.
These are only some of natural, cost-effect alternatives to manage chronic pain. If you have any tips and tricks of your own to manage chronic pain please share your ideas in the comments below!