Chronic pain can be very debilitating. It can stop us from doing the activities we enjoy most and can make even the simplest of tasks more difficult.
But pain is also usually a warning sign of an underlying injury or inflammation in the body that could be occurring for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons for pain include:
o an injury
o tight muscles or strains
o poor posture and spinal misalignment
o obesity causing increased tension on muscles and joints
o degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, or rheumatoid arthritis
o chronic inflammation
Luckily there are many natural ways to address the pain, without having to rely on medication for temporary relief.
1. Figure Out Why
The first step to alleviating pain is understanding why it’s happening in the first place. Getting a proper workup done by your healthcare professional can help to identify or rule out serious injuries or conditions.
Once you have ruled those out, you can put a plan in place to start decreasing overall inflammation in your body and reducing pain.
2. Decrease inflammatory foods
There are certain foods which can trigger an increase in inflammation in your body. One way this happens is an increase in omega-6 fatty acids vs omega-3 fatty acids, which increases the arachidonic acid pathway.
Foods that increase inflammation include:
o animal fats from grain-fed animals
o processed grains
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Foods that decrease inflammation include:
o good fats such as wild fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil
o colorful vegetables and fruits
o herbs & spices such as turmeric, garlic, and ginger
3. Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance and obesity are highly linked, and with them, so is chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is correlated with systemic pain, including joint pain. The standard North American diet and lifestyle is correlated with decreased insulin sensitivity and increased insulin resistance. One way to alleviate your pain is to decrease your consumption of all refined grains and sugar.
4. Stay Hydrated
One of the effects of dehydration is stiffness of the muscles leading to pain in various parts of the body, including headaches. Dehydration can occur due to lack of adequate water intake, decreased electrolyte intake, or increased intake of coffee or black tea. Ensure you are drinking at least 1-2L of water per day, and remember to replace each cup of coffee with 2 cups of water.
5. Address Your Stress
Our body and our mind are intimately connected, and stress can manifest itself in many ways in the body. One of our first reactions to any stressor is tightening and tensing of our muscles, especially the muscles in our back, shoulders, and neck.
Chronic stress is also linked to sleep disturbances. Sleep is restorative and regenerative and without adequate sleep our body doesn’t get the chance to heal. This can contribute significantly to aches and pains throughout the body.
6. Get Moving
In order for our muscles and our joints to receive nutrients, stay healthy, and work for us, we need blood flow to these areas. Blood flows properly through our body when we move our muscles and joints, and so to promote adequate blood flow, we need to dedicate time every day to movement.
Many of us spend most of our days sitting at a desk, or in a car while commuting. To incorporate more movement in your day, try taking the stairs instead of elevators or escalators and get up every 30 minutes to go for a quick walk. The best way to incorporate exercise is to find something you enjoy that gets you moving and do it a few times a week.
In addition to moving, we also need to stretch our muscles to prevent stiffness. Tight stiff muscles not only contribute to back pain, but can also lead to headaches and joint pain. Yoga is a great way to increase blood flow as well as stretch all the muscles in our body that would otherwise not get stretched. If you are new to yoga, take a few classes with a yoga instructor to prevent injury.
8. Vitamins and Minerals
I have had several patients come see me with pain in various parts of their body due to inadequate vitamin and mineral intake. Vitamins and minerals are required to keep all of our machinery in our body working well, including healing any injuries that occur.
We need certain vitamins and minerals for many processes and reactions in the body, and unfortunately the Standard North American diet of processed packaged foods often doesn’t provide enough nutrition. One example is the lack of magnesium in our top soil, which is required for relaxation of muscles as well as many other processes in our body.
A magnesium deficiency can manifest in various ways including muscle pain, joint pain, chronic headaches, and constipation. Improve your vitamin and mineral status by including a variety of vegetables and fruits and focus on getting more whole natural foods in your diet.
9. Address Digestion
Another road block to getting adequate nutrients from our diet is poor digestion. If you suffer from frequent gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, it is a sign that your digestive system may need some healing.
A poor digestive tract impedes breakdown of food and assimilation of nutrients into our bodies. If you think you may suffer from digestive issues, consult your Naturopathic Doctor to see how you can improve your digestive function. In the meantime, you may want to invest in a good multivitamin or mineral formula to improve your nutrient status.
10. Increase Good Fats
Fats our essential for our bodies to work well. From hormone production to keeping inflammation under control, fats are an essential part of our diet. However, not all fats are made equal. Our North American diet is high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids.
To help decrease inflammation and pain, and improve circulation, invest in incorporating “good” fats in the diet: wild fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, olive and coconut oil are all good sources of fats that should be increased in the diet. Another great way to increase Omega-3 fatty acids is by taking a good quality professional fish oil or krill oil supplement.
1) Shoelson SE, Lee J, Goldfine AB. Inflammation and insulin resistance. J Clin Invest. 2006 Jul 3; 116(7): 1793–1801
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