From muscle strain to a sore stomach, pain is often an inescapable part of life. Chronic pain, however, can drastically change a life.
Whether your chronic pain is due to an injury or an illness, it can wreak havoc on nearly every major domain of your existence. Not only can it render simply getting through the day a challenge, but it may also prevent you from performing the activities you love, take a toll on your ability to work and function, test your interpersonal relationships, and lead to poor sleep, prolonged stress and depression.
The good news? Pain doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Nor do you have turn to pharmaceuticals, which can cause more harm than good and in some cases result in addiction. Rather, there are several natural solutions to the age-old complication that can work beautifully—and give you the chance to live life to its fullest.
Chronic vs. acute pain
But first: What constitutes chronic pain—and how does it differ from acute pain?
Acute pain is temporary—a bee sting, for example, or the aches that arrive with a sprained ankle. Generally, acute pain lasts for a few hours, days, or, sometimes, months.
On the other hand, chronic pain is medically defined as pain that persists for six months or longer. For some, the pain is mild enough to participate in life’s pleasures and obligations; for others, the pain can be debilitating.
A common complication that often arises with managing chronic pain is that pain itself is subjective. What may feel insignificant to one person might feel excruciating to another. While it’s important to monitor your pain—and to be candid about it with your health care professional—it’s just as vital to pay realistic attention to the levels of your pain and the warning signs your symptoms may contain.
What are the causes of chronic pain?
Chronic pain occurs for a number of reasons, including:
- broken bones
- oral issues, such as dental work or a cavity
- sports injuries
And yet, chronic pain isn’t just the result of an event such as a car accident or knee surgery: It’s also connected to several underlying health issues, including:
- thyroid issues
- gluten intolerance
- food allergies
- inflammatory conditions, such as gout
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- nerve damage
- psychogenic pain, or pain triggered by mental health issues
In other words? If you have chronic pain, it’s critical to see a health care professional—or, even better, a pain specialist—to understand its root causes rather than only treating its symptoms.
7 Ways to Address Chronic Pain Naturally
Conventional Western medicine typically treats chronic pain with pharmaceutical “assistance.” Anti-inflammatory drugs, pain killers, muscle relaxers, steroids, even sleeping pills—all have been notoriously overprescribed, and have contributed to America’s fatal (and devastating) opioid epidemic.
What’s more, relying on medications for pain relief is untenable. Popping Tylenol like Altoids for an extended period, for instance, can result in dependence, liver damage, impaired movement, and tinnitus.
A far safer—and more sustainable—solution? A natural approach. Here are 7 possible ideas:
1. Balance your hormones
Chronic pain and hormonal imbalances aren’t frequently found in the same conversation. This is a shame, as a lack of hormonal equilibrium can result in soft tissue tenderness, muscle rigidity, aches and lasting pain.
Low testosterone, for example, has been linked to joint pain, while menopause may be accompanied by neck and shoulder stiffness (and the pain that arrives with it)—a dilemma dubbed “the 50-year-old shoulder” in Chinese medicine.
To this end, consult with your doctor about undergoing a hormone test to assess where you stand. If your hormones are in haywire, your physician may prescribe hormone replacement therapy, a specialized diet or supplements that will ultimately help you manage both the imbalance and the pain that may have come with it.
2. Consider prolotherapy
Also known as regenerative injection therapy, prolotherapy was founded on the concept that chronic pain is due to issues with the body’s connective tissues, such as your tendons, ligaments and joints.
With prolotherapy, and trigger point therapy, a combination of dextrose (a corn-derived medical grade sugar), nutrients such as aminos acids and B vitamins, and an anesthetic like procaine are injected into ‘pain points’ throughout the body: Specific areas of tenderness that can range from a joint to a muscle. Once injected, the solution blocks nociceptors—nerve receptors that deliver a “pain signal” to the brain. In turn, your pain may lessen.
Should you choose this route, do note that prolotherapy can provoke a bout of irritation at the injection site. Not only is this temporary but it’s also a sign of the therapy’s efficacy: In short, the therapy manufactures short-lived, mild inflammation to persuade the body into believing it’s been harmed. In response, your body will send a flood of fibroblasts to the area to stimulate healing. These fibroblasts are heroic, as they encourage collagen production, tissue repair and new cell growth.
Overall, prolotherapy is a terrific option for those who have osteoarthritis, as it organically promotes greater fluidity and flexibility in the joints, leading to less pain and enhanced mobility. Trigger point therapy is ideal for those who suffer from chronic soft tissue pain in the neck, back, buttocks and hips.
3. Aim for an ideal weight
A 2018 study out of Washington State University shows a direct connection between chronic pain and being overweight. Indeed, those with Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) of 25 or higher are 71% more likely to experience chronic pain.
Surplus weight can place additional strain on your bones and joints, which your body may interpret as pain. Further, being overweight can result in inflammation and inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes—ailments that are often characterized by pain. Carrying extra weight may also prevent you from getting outside and exercising—and nature and movement are two tried and true solutions to effective pain management.
4. Explore platelet-rich plasma injections
Platelet-rich plasma injections are an up-and-coming and innovative therapy for chronic pain, with athletes ranging from Tiger Woods to Ralph Nadel touting their effectiveness.
Plasma-rich plasma injections call upon a specialized centrifuge, which separates a patient’s red blood cells from their plasma—the clear liquid that transports essential elements, like salt, enzymes, and water, through the body. This plasma brims with platelets, which contain hormones, growth factors, proteins, and nutrients. Once this platelet-rich plasma is injected into the site of pain—say, a part of the body that has been injured—it can accelerate recovery and reduce, or prevent, pain, by working towards repairing damaged tissue.
This is an especially sage option for those whose chronic pain stems from a sports injury, harm to their cartilage or surgery.
5. Experiment with key dietary changes
If you’ve been dealing with chronic pain for some time, you may have tried various diets to lessen your agony, from nixing gluten, which can cause intestinal discomfort and inflammation, to eschewing lactose—a sugar in milk, cheese and other dairy products that can trigger abdominal pain because of the digestive difficulties it can create. But have you tried a low-oxalate diet?
Oxalates, or oxalic acid, are found in a number of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts. These are healthy foods, to be sure, but high oxalates have been linked to joint pain, kidney stones, vulvodynia and fibromyalgia—all conditions that can result in chronic aches. To give this eating a plan a shot, omit high-oxalate foods, such as chocolate, spinach, soy products, beets, wheat germ, potatoes, peanuts and raspberries, and see how you feel.
Another dietary change to try? Eliminating nightshades. Nightshades, which belong to the belladonna family, have been associated with joint pain in people who are sensitive to the alkaloids present in these foods. Assess if your pain fades after cutting out paprika, cayenne, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, goji berries and tomatillos. The difference in how you feel may be substantial.
6. Give prolozone therapy a try
Prolozone therapy is currently in the limelight as one of the surest non-invasive ways to receive pain relief. For good cause, too: Research reveals this alternative therapy is safe, reliable and effective.
Some science for you: In prolozone therapy—or ozone therapy—where oxygen is suffused with an extra electron (or O3), is injected into your joints, soft tissues, or other areas that are in pain.
The flood of oxygen to these places, which may have been deprived of the life-giving properties of oxygen because of reduced blood flow, drives healing and pain relief by improving energy and mitochondrial function on the cellular level while also curtailing inflammation. Translation? Less pain—and the reconstruction of essential tissues.
7. Supplement smartly
Savvy marketing and social conditioning has most of us programmed to reach for that bottle of NSAIDs when we’re in pain. And yet, as discussed, pain killers—whether prescribed or OTC—may offer temporary relief, but at a tremendous cost.
Instead, reach for “pain killers” that are found in nature. A mounting body of evidence shows that Vitamin D naturally encourages reduction from chronic pain, particularly chronic musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. To optimize your Vitamin D levels, fill your plate with fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, savor a minimum of 15 minutes of sunshine daily, and take a quality vitamin D supplement.
Additionally, curcumin, a bioactive compound in turmeric, has been shown to organically promote joint health (and, thus, a relief from joint stiffness and pain), while niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, naturally fosters cellular energy production—which is central to living pain-free.†
Above all? Listen. The pain you’re experiencing is your body’s way of telling you that it’s high time to make a few crucial—and beneficial—changes.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.