Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at different approaches to pain and what you can do for yourself to make life better one step at a time. As with all things in life, you’ve got options and in exploring those options related to your pain management you can ease your pain and maybe ease up on your doctor’s a bit too.
DISCLAIMER: None of the information in this blog series is meant to take the place of your healthcare provider’s advice. Continue with your existing pain management plan and seek medical care as needed. Inform your healthcare provider of any changes, alternative treatments and self-care techniques you decide to implement.
The journey for this blog series began last year when I was having some woes with my right wrist. I kept telling myself that it was just a little pain in my right wrist, when in all actuality it was SEVERE pain in my right wrist, accompanied by pain in my other wrist, both elbows, my shoulders and neck- no big deal. Pain on a level I hadn't dealt with since my spinal fusion as a teenager.
Tried ignoring the pain as a route of treatment and strangely that didn’t work. The morning I lost functionality of my right hand resulting in being unable to grab my coffee, was when I realized I had a problem and it was in my best interest to seek medical attention. It’s all fun and games until it interferes with morning coffee.
While waiting to get in for a doctor’s appointment, I reached out to my acupuncturist, chiropractors, yoga instructor and massage therapist. Something had to be done immediately to start down the path recovery – coffee was on the line!
With all the appointments set and the realization I could use my left hand to grab my coffee cup, I sat down to take a look at what else I could do on my own in the here and now. I returned to all the lessons I’ve learned in managing my chronic pain for 25 years and what I know as a nutrition professional.
Step 1: Breathe.
Everyone in pain has one thing in common and this is the same whether the pain is acute or chronic. This one thing is that you are here in the now. Yesterday’s pain and the pain extending into the unforeseeable future are not here. There is only the here and now and for many, especially chronic pain sufferers, this can be a huge relief.
Not exactly what anyone expects to or seemingly even wants to hear when they're looking for help with their pain. You want answers. Sometimes a big deep breathe is the answer, or at the very least the beginning of the answer.
The beauty of being in the here and now, is that is the only true moment that you can do anything. Often when you’re suffering from pain, life quickly becomes a continuous process of waiting for your next doctor’s appointment.
While you wait for your appointment to get the medical help you need, there is a lot you can do with what you have on hand, or could easily get within a day’s time.
Start with where you are with what you have and take it one step at a time.
Your breath is something that is always with you, if it’s not then stop reading this and look for blogs on how to be the best zombie you can be. We’ve all experienced a point in our lives where a deep breathe made a world of difference – during a heated argument, before getting on scary roller coaster, after the boss tears you a new one, before a test, after a near car accident, before eating grandma’s terrifying meatloaf, etc.
Take a deep breath. Take it all the way in and then let it out slowly. Slightly ease your pain or your thoughts relating to your pain? Good. Take another.
YouTube Yogi Adriene of Yoga with Adreine has a great 6 minute video on breathing that may be helpful for you.
Step 2: Look at what you can stop doing.
When it comes to nutrition and pain, there are 3 groups of food:
We'll talk about the latter two next week.
Boot the Instigators
It’s easier, and cheaper, to not do something, rather than to do something – in most cases. That is why the place to start is by not doing things that cause pain and eliminating foods that cause or promote pain.
The biggest pain promoting culprits are refined carbohydrates and fried, fatty foods. These two alone and combined (they love to hang out together) are major inflammation instigators. If you’re looking to scale back your pain, reach a healthy weight and/or clear up your skin, cutting back or excluding these two will help.
Hey Sugar, Sugar
Refined carbohydrates is a term that refers to simple sugars. Table sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup solids and even coconut sugar are all sugar. While environmentally speaking, and on a small scale nutritionally speaking, there are better choices of sugars than white granulated sugar, they are all sugar. To simplify the overall processes for brevity's sake, sugar essentially feeds inflammation.
If there is a fungal or bacterial component to the inflammation, sugar feeds that as well. Examples of this would be candida infections (vaginal, gastrointestinal, systemic), chronic-low grade bacterial infections in joints and topical bacterial infections that cause acne.
Basically refined carbohydrates provide everything bacteria and fungi need to have a big giant orgy in or on your body. While you cannot see internal microbial orgies, you can see the results of external ones - acne breakouts and yeast infections.
Strange. Why does it sound like everyone in America made a grossed out groan and pitched their sugar in the garbage?
Sugar isn’t the only refined carb. White rice, white bread, bagels (which are differently shaped white bread and have a very long rant dedicated to them in the Weight Loss Success eManual), couscous, pasta… you get the gist.
Become aware of exactly how much of these you are truly eating. Significantly reduce intake or completely eliminate from your diet until pain subsides. From that point you can decide how much of these items you want to invite into your life and how much you feel they are contributing to both your overall pain and quality of life.
Cream, Sugar & a Splash of Coffee
To be brave and real honest (and hopeful no one sends an angry mob after me), typically the first dietary offender that gets the inflammation cascade rolling is what you’re putting in your morning coffee.
Once you’ve got your standard coffee operating procedure down, you roll with it…for the rest of your life. The amount of coffee consumed and the amount of “stuff” you put in your coffee to get it the correct color and flavor remains the same.
Reverse engineer your morning coffee. Measure out the amount you pour into your cup. How much is it? How many of those cups do you have. Bust out a measuring spoon and measure the amount of sugar and/or cream you add to your coffee. Continue to add it until it tastes and looks “right” to you. What’s the verdict? Are you feeding inflammation first thing?
Let Fat Be Your Friend, Not Your Foe
As for fats, let’s set the record straight right here, right now. Fat IS NOT bad. Fat-phobia is not good. Healthy fats such those found in avocados, seeds, nuts and fatty fish are actually great for reducing pain and inflammation.
It’s the unhealthy fats found in fried foods and large amounts of animal fats that promote pain and inflammation. If you’re dealing with pain, scale back on fried foods and animal fats immediately. This is also great for your heart, weight and skin as well.
When I looked at what I had been eating that may be contributing to this wrist pain, I had to fess up to the fact that my “occasional” treat of chips had become a “daily” norm. Yowza!
That was huge, as they are both refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. Also while crunchy is a very American texture to love, we opt for crunchy foods at a higher frequency when we’re stressed. If I was eating chips daily, there was a high chance that there was also an underlying stress I’d been ignoring in addition to the pain in my wrist. Stress jacks up pain on a whole other level. See how it’s all connect?
Salted Wounds and The Sauce
Other major dietary contributors are salt and booze. Salt and it’s codependent relationship with potassium deserve their very own blog and possibly relationship counselor, thus we’ll go in depth another time. Simply put, a high intake of salt can get pain and inflammation really raging for some individuals.
Restaurants and processed foods often put a lot of salt into their foods. Eat at home more frequently than at restaurants, practice caution when you do eat out and read labels for salt content. While you're at it, pitch your salt shaker.
Booze is a no brainer and a sore point. If you’re taking pain medication, you ought not be mixing that with booze. It can be a fatal combination. Hence the warnings all over your medication about that.
For some, ages 21 and up, a glass or two of wine or beer can significantly reduce pain. Chronic, excess amounts of the sauce can significantly contribute to pain and inflammation. All things in moderation. If you and ethanol (that’s the science name for booze) cannot engage in a relationship of moderation, it’s best to leave it be and get help concerning that issue.
Food Additives Add Problems
Other instigators are toxic food additives that are made out of petroleum and/or other chemicals. Having petroleum and other chemicals grinding up on your cells is going to promote pain and inflammation. It’s going to do all sorts of rotten things.
To reduce pain and inflammation, as well as improve overall health, avoid foods containing:
This goes back to simple logistics. How could your nerves not be upset that there’s chemicals bouncing off them constantly?
Bears. Yes Bears.
Often individuals will have their own personal trigger foods that instigate pain, which can be due to sensitivity or allergy or genetic predisposition. If you’re aware of these foods, avoid them. Also if you have a sensitivity or allergy to a food, don’t eat it as a whole, whether or not the reaction involves pain. Anything that sets off a type of inflammatory reaction sets off all inflammation.
This brings us to poking the bear. Scientifically speaking, bears are incredibly awesome creatures. Talking real bears here, not panda bears who are going extinct because they’re too lazy to get it on and reproduce.
If you have a food allergy or sensitivity and continue to eat those foods, rather than respecting your body’s needs and allowing it to heal, you are poking a proverbial bear.
For the sake of a quality metaphor, this bear you’re poking is Super Bear, a Kodiak grizzly – polar bear love child-bear. And this bear is hibernating, because if it weren’t you’d be unable to poke the bear. Logistics.
There you are in a cave and thinking it’s a grand idea to poke a sleeping Super Bear, rather than calling the local wildlife authorities to report one of nature’s coolest phenomenons. You grab a stick and you poke it. Nothing happens. Super Bear keeps slumbering. You poke it again. Super Bear grumbles, but doesn’t wake.
You’re being a real… jerk and you poke it again, but this time Super Bear isn’t in a deep state of sleep. No, you’ve poked one too many times and Super Bear is awake and angry and a bit hurty from all that poking. Super Bear wakes up and eats your face before you even finish poking him.
This is why poking bears and continually eating foods you have known sensitivities and/or allergies to is not recommended.
In our next pain blog, we’ll move on from bacterial orgies and being disemboweled by Super Bear (what to stop doing or exclude to help pain and inflammation) to what you can DO for your pain.
For now, take some deep breathes and think through what you can kick out of your diet that would add to your quality of life. Every time you let something go in life, you make room for something awesome to enter.
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