Less Pain, More Gain

Chronic back pain is a primary reason for doctor’s visits. It may descend abruptly or develop slowly, but the discomfort lasts for more than three months. Low back pain—the most common form—can originate from injury, premenstrual syndrome, poor diet, or arthritis, just to name a few culprits. Prescription medications reduce pain, but one possible and paradoxical side effect is hyperalgesia, or increased pain sensitivity. Despite their popularity, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen) are also associated with side effects that range from heartburn to stomach bleeding. Fortunately, using natural alternatives can hasten relief. An Anti-Pain Diet Inflammation and pain occur together. (Swelling is an overt sign of inflammation, but other signs manifest more subtly.) Diet impacts pain: Eating high-inflammatory foods can worsen it, while anti-inflammatory foods and supplements help reduce discomfort. For example, eating raw food whenever possible has an anti-inflammatory effect. Poached and boiled foods are less inflammatory than grilled or fried food. Eliminating refined or processed foods, caffeine, sugar, and trans fatty acids can improve quality of life because these foods increase inflammation signals. Discovering food intolerances and subsequently avoiding problem foods may also bring relief by reducing the body’s inflammatory response. Important Nutrients Did you know that vitamin and mineral deficiencies can provoke pain syndromes? A Saudi Arabian study of back pain of unknown origin revealed that sufferers deficient in vitamin D experienced substantial pain relief after supplementation. Supplementing with vitamins B1, B6, and B12 helps ease pain sensitivity and acute pain; they fight inflammation by reducing homocysteine levels. The B vitamins require magnesium to work optimally in the body—it’s what’s known as a mutual pathway cofactor. Magnesium intake is often less than optimal in our population. Talk to your holistic healthcare practitioner about supplemental nutrition for pain. In some cases, intravenous nutrient therapy has a potent, nearly immediate effect on acute back spasms. Other Supplemental Relief Enzymes, botanicals, and other dietary supplements can help eliminate pain. Proteolytic enzymes reduce inflammation and pain. Nattokinase (from a fermented soy food popular in Japan) and serratopeptase (derived from the bacterial strain Serratia spp.) are examples of proteolytic enzymes. Clinical studies have shown that multi-functional proteolytic enzymes prompt anti-inflammatory activity and reduce fluid retention without harming living tissue. See the chart “Which Herbs Work?” for information about a few pain-relieving botanicals. Complementary Techniques In my clinical experience I have seen the correct homeopathic remedy provide rapid, solid relief. Chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, massage, the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education, and physical therapy are all popular pain relief resources. Prolotherapy (the nonsurgical reconstruction of ligaments) and trigger point therapy (in which “trigger points” of muscle pain are released) are other useful options. Movement generally helps reduce pain. Water aerobics in a warm pool, for example, reduces stiffness, muscle cramps, and pain. Traditional castor oil packs applied to the abdomen increase global circulation in the body; likewise, a castor oil pack applied to a sore back will reduce swelling by increasing circulation in the immediate area. Ice packs or moist heating pads can also bring relief. Sometimes a combination works best; used together, cold and hot pads are called hydrotherapy. Always limit the time the heat or ice is applied to protect against accidental tissue injury. Many find that a bath with Epsom salts (or other magnesium-based bath salts) reduces pain.