Whether you have lower-back pain, neck aches, arthritis, or fibromyalgia, to name only a few, we have the scoop on what therapies can offer you relief—without drugs and their dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects.
What it’s good for: Back pain, osteoarthritis, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, neck pain, and surgery-related discomfort.
What the experts say: Sure, massages feel great, but they provide much more than a few “ahhhs” for people with back pain. “Massage therapy has been shown to boost levels of endorphins and serotonin—the body’s natural painkillers and mood regulators—and to reduce stress hormone levels,” says Dr. Weil. Massage therapy may also work at a molecular level, helping to turn on and off genes associated with inflammation, according to a study in Science Translational Medicine. You can find a local massage therapist by doing a google search for “massage therapist in ( city, state)”
What it’s good for: Lower-back pain, arthritis, and migraines
What the experts say: Upwards of 20 million Americans practice this ancient mind-body discipline, in part because it promotes relaxation. But recent research suggests there’s more to yoga than ohms and pretzel-like poses. After two months of twice weekly practice, people suffering from lower back pain reported a 42% reduction of pain and a 46% reduction of depressive symptoms, according to a study published in the journal Spine. Though it’s not fully understood why yoga reduces back pain, there is growing evidence suggesting the practice help enhance stress-coping mechanisms—which is crucial, since stress can make pain symptoms feel worse. Yoga is now among the American Pain Foundation’s recommended treatments for lower-back pain. I’ve found yoga classes very helpful because it sort of forces you to do it. Do a search and you’ll surely find a local yoga studio. Otherwise there are countless youtube videos that can show you the basics and even advanced poses.
3. Hypnosis and Guided Imagery
What it’s good for: Lower-back pain and possibly fibromyalgia
What the experts say: As out-there as it sounds, hypnotherapy is now among the recommended treatments for lower back pain by the American College of Physicians/American Pain Society. Here’s how it works: “Hypnotherapy is used to induce a state of consciousness marked by deep relaxation yet increased intensity of awareness,” says Dr. Weil. “It is often likened to daydreaming.” You are then guided by a hypnotherapist to focus on the idea of promoting healing and relieving pain.
“Another method, guided imagery, is often considered a form of hypnosis,” says Dr. Weil. During a typical session, you are guided to concentrate on images held in the mind’s eye that can create positive physiological changes in the body, including the relief of pain.
What it’s good for: Chronic pain reduction and symptom management
What the experts say: Dr. Lipman says he’as seen firsthand how meditation can help his patients cope with chronic pain, and the Mayo Clinic has had success with the technique, as well. “Recent studies suggest that meditation training can be helpful in dealing with chronic pain,” says Dr. Bauer. If you want to try meditation,but aren’t sure where to start, Dr. Weil recommends simple breathing exercises, which can lessen your perception of pain. His favorite is the 4-7-8 breath. To try it:
Sit or lie in a comfortable position and place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper teeth.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a gentle “whoosh” sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.
Then hold your breath for a count of seven.
Finally, exhale completely through your mouth (“whoosh”) to a silent count of eight.
Inhale and repeat the cycle three more times.
5. Qigong and Tai Chi
What it’s good for: Arthritis, lower-back pain, and fibromyalgia
What the experts say: These slow-as-molasses movements may be as effective as prescription pain killers for some pain patients, according to new research. Women with fibromyalgia reported less pain after practicing qigong, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School study, although larger trials need to be conducted to confirm these benefits. When qigong was combined with meditation in a University of Maryland study, the two treatments reduced pain as effectively as prescription drugs. Fibromyalgia patients may also benefit from practicing tai chi, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers say these findings support previous research showing the benefits of tai chi for musculoskeletal pain, though the underlying mechanisms aren’t yet fully understood.
6. Herbal & Topical Remedies
What it’s good for: Reducing inflammation that may worsen pain
While all of the aforementioned options are absolutely beneficial, lets keep it real here. Its much easier and less expensive to apply a cream or take a supplement than it is to start a yoga practice or pay for acupuncture and massage so this may be the best place to start for you.
What the experts say: The research is still equivocal, and anyone planning to take herbs and supplements should consult with their physician or a licensed naturopath. Still, many MDs find that their patients experience relief with omega-3 fish oil supplements and daily consumption of anti-inflammatory spices. The main anti-inflammatory supplements I’ve had success with are turmeric, msm, arnica and serrapeptase as well as vitamin D.
The benefit of using topical remedies such as creams, ointments, salves, etc., is the active components are absorbed through the skin directly into the area where the pain is so the effect is much faster and less is needed than taking an oral supplement. Oral supplements have to pass through and be absorbed through the digestive tract to get into the blood stream and then be circulated to the area where the pain is. And since most people have sub optimal digestive function, they will most likely get much better and faster results with topical remedies. And of course, many people loathe and have difficulty swallowing pills.
As always, when it comes to natural health products, quality is of the utmost importance. I stay away from drug store brands and any other brands loaded with synthetic chemicals. Sure they’re cheap, but as always, you get what you pay for. I recommend finding quality products that contains natural and, if possible, organic ingredients. Does it make sense to increase your already over-burdened system by introducing more chemicals into it? I don’t think so and I’m sure you agree.
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