In the first blog of this Integrative Approaches to Pain Management Blog Series, we talked about what to reduce/exclude from your diet to stop contributing to pain and inflammation. In this blog we’re continuing to work in the here and now with what you have on hand or could quickly access. Bacterial orgies and angry bears conquered (this makes sense if you’ve read the first blog), let’s move on from what to avoid to what to add more of.
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.
Ice Is Nice
Next week’s blog will feature massage therapist, yogi extraordinaire and owner of Om on The Range in Casper, Wyoming Alaina Binfet and her incredible insight on adding massage and movement to your pain management plan. But for now, let’s work with one of her greatest gems: ice is nice.
Alaina taught me that if the pain is localized to a certain area (lower back, knee, middle toe on your left foot, right wrist, etc.), unless otherwise noted by your health care provider (welcome to the age of disclaimers), apply hot and cold treatments. Heat treatments lasting 2 to 3 minutes-ish and cold treatments lasting about 30 seconds-ish. Always end with ice, because ice is nice.
Heat increases blood flow to an area. Blood is simply transport fluid for nutrients. This gets nutrients to the affected area to promote healing. However, heat promotes inflammation. Oh no! That’s when ice comes in and cools everything down, literally. That is the uber-basic idea of ending on ice because you want to leave the area cool, calm and collected.
This vacillation between hot and cold provides blood flow to the area to help heal the tissue and calming that decreases inflammation.
Our bodies are designed to move and if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. When you hurt, you tend to stop moving, decrease movement or start moving all wonky which actually causes more problems. That is why you’ve reached out to your healthcare providers to find solutions to get you on the mend again. (Hint. Passive suggestive hint disclaimer.)
While you’re waiting for those appointments, focus on improving quality of life in the here and now by trying out some online stretching and yoga videos. Be mindful of your limitations and that the entire point is to do what feels good and heals you.
There are many YouTube resources out there for this. My personal favorites are Blogilates and Yoga with Adriene. Both offer FREE stretching videos and do a good job of explaining how the activity they’re demonstrating helps the body, i.e. what muscles are being stretched. Yoga with Adriene kindly breaks down yoga into each pose and it’s benefit, as well as videos for wrist pain, upper and lower back pain and the ever crucial technique of BREATHING.
Give it a whirl. Be mindful of your body and that your goal is to safely take care of yourself. To quote my favorite online yogi Adriene, “a little goes a long way.”
Click here to go to my fave Blogilates stretching video of all time or click here for a very helpful video for wrist pain by Yoga with Adriene.
Get out of Your Head
Books (audio, electronic or paper) help get you out of your head, which honestly is the area where we create and store the majority of our pain. Not downplaying the legitimacy of your pain, but rather speaking from a knowledge point of 25 years of pain and 13 fused vertebrae, when you get out of your head your pain levels tend to decrease.
Choose books that give you knowledge that empowers your to improve your quality of life. All of the books in The 2016 Wellness Reading List were selected for that purpose. If pain has you laid out in bed or on the couch, download the audio version of one of these books, begin breathing in the good – out the bad, close your eyes and listen to the book. It’s like back in the day when radios were home entertainment systems.
Nature is an excellent way to get out of your head. Get out into nature, even if it’s a long drive out somewhere more nature-y than where you are now. A walk around the neighborhood or time sitting at the park can do wonders for your pain. It doesn’t matter if you can only walk a short bit at a slow pace, it’s still getting out there in nature.
Watching nature documentaries can have similar effects if you’re reading this at a time or place where you simply cannot get to nature. Caution, watching too many nature documentaries can lead to writing graphic metaphors pertaining to bears, as noted in blog 1 of this pain series.
Time to Get Delicious
Back in Blog 1 we discussed that there are 3 types of food when it comes to pain and inflammation management.
Moment of honesty, the last two groups are basically the same in most cases. If you’re eating foods that heal, then future pain will be prevented. Let’s dive into those said foods.
Bang biscuit! Ginger tea is where it is at. Ginger has been found to have prescription strength anti-inflammatory compounds in it. Yeah buddy.
Now that you’re all sorts of amped up on ginger and about to invest heavily in ginger stock, I’ll gently let you in on the catch – it takes time for those anti-inflammatory compounds to build up and get to work in the body. It’s not like popping a pill and being able to note relief in 30 minutes or less. Consistently adding fresh ginger to your diet, especially in the form of tea will help decrease inflammation – over time.
Making ginger tea is crazy easy. You’ll need a saucepan, water, ginger, a knife and safe cutting surface. Slice ginger root into quarter thick slices and place 3 to 4 slices per every 8 ounces of water in the saucepan. Boil until water becomes slightly cloudy. The longer you boil the more intense the flavor. It’s up to you.
You may notice mild relief within a couple hours, but within 3 weeks of drinking ginger tea you’ll be able to note a definite difference. Because ginger is also amazing for digestion, you may notice things going well in that department as well.
As ginger is non-discriminatory in its anti-inflammatory benefits, you may notice your skin becomes less irritated. What you cannot really see, nor feel is the systemic inflammation that ginger is helping to decrease as well, but your cardiovascular system sends its gratitude.
Vitamin A Rich Foods
Vitamin A is found in its precursor form beta-carotene, as well as other carotenoid compounds, in produce that is fall foliage colored: red, orange, yellow and dark green. Yes, dark green is included in that as evergreens are dark green year round and thus you would see them as well in the fall.
Examples of delicious, awesome vitamin A (beta-carotene) rich foods would be carrots, squash, kale, papaya, mangos and oranges.
Its primary job is to take good care of your epithelial cells. Epithelial cells are those that outline things in the body. Think like old school cartoon characters having an outline – cartoon vitamin A would take care of those dark outlines. Your skin is made up of epithelial cells and all your organs are outline with them.
Consuming vitamin A rich food helps keep all those cells healthy and happy, thus healing damage from chronic pain and inflammation, as well as preventing irritants from creating more pain and inflammation down the line. Additionally, produce rich in vitamin A is going to be packed with many more nutrients that help with pain.
Important note on vitamin A, it’s generally regarded as unsafe to supplement with pure vitamin A. Unless your doctor is telling you to do so, don’t do that.
Try this INCREDIBLE Ginger-Lime Carrot Soup recipe. It's great for your taste buds and your pain. It may be magic.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Other Healthy Fats
Remember in last week’s blog when we addressed that fats are NOT bad, it’s more about making health choices with what fats you consume? Now, we’re about to get all up in those healthy fats that are wonderful for decreasing pain and inflammation.
Saturated fats have an oxygen bound to every possible carbon preventing the chain from bending, whereas unsaturated fats have a carbon or more that isn’t bound to oxygen and thus they have points that can bend. Think of it like hinges. If a fatty acids has three hinges, then it could be bend into a triangle shape or something else.
Rather than being rigid, which increases tension, pressure and promotes breaking, if a fatty acid is able to bend with the increase in pressure, it doesn’t push back to create even more. Unsaturated fats are chill and go with the flow. See how that works. Now you try. ;)
These healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and oily fish (that sounds rude every time). Supplements such as flax seed oil, fish oil, primrose oil, krill oil, etcetera are great, however if you are on blood thinning medications or another type of medication where they are contra-indicated, avoid them and speak with your prescribing physician about your options
Magnesium Rich Foods
Magnesium is a BIG deal – MAJOR, HUGE, BIG-GIANT, MEGA, UBER deal. The majority of Americans are walking around rocking a deficiency in this nutrient that plays a role in over 300 functions in the human body, one of which is essentially acting as the off switch for pain.
STOP! Before you rush out to grab a magnesium supplement, there is something that you need to know. Magnesium is an electrolyte and a rock. When you throw a ton in your body at once in the form of a supplement, it can/will cause stomach cramping and osmotic diarrhea. An example of this would be when a person is scheduled for a colonoscopy, they are given a bottle of magnesium citrate with directions to not leave the house for a day because of its excellent ability to “clean you out.”
There are magnesium supplements out there in different forms and lower dosages, but let’s focus on where it’s best to get magnesium from: FOOD. Magnesium is found in ‘baby plants.’ Baby plants refers to anything you could plant in the ground and some day it would grow up to be a big plant – seeds, nuts and beans.
Pumpkin seeds are a major magnesium powerhouse, yo. They pack 150 mg per a single ¼ cup serving. How do they get all that goodness in there?! To put this in perspective, a ‘normal’ person needs about 310 mg of magnesium a day.
Side note: If you meet this normal person, please send them my way. I have never met a normal person and hold to the theory normal is only a setting on the dryer.
If you’re deficient in magnesium (which you probably are, especially if you’re all hurty) and/or suffer from a chronic pain and/or inflammation condition your magnesium needs are going to be higher.
Amending deficiency increases needs because it’s akin to getting out of debt. When you’re working on climbing out of debt, you grab a second job and/or start working more hours because your money is going three ways: paying off the debt, paying the day-to-day living expenses and going into savings to prevent this conundrum from reoccurring.
When you’re amending your magnesium deficiency some of the magnesium will go towards the 300 functions that have desperately needed the magnesium (deficiency/debt), some of the magnesium will go towards the immediate functions needed (day-to-day expenses) and some will go into storage (savings).
Rather than figuring in milligrams necessary, take an oath of patience and daily magnesium consumption. Eating magnesium rich foods at every meal and snack is a major must. Fortunately, it’s found in many foods.
Check out World's Healthiest Food's info on magnesium for a lengthy list of magnesium powerhouses, but in the interim eat seeds, nuts and beans. Don’t eat seeds, nuts and beans that you’re sensitive or allergic to – see bear reference in last week’s blog.
Also dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and chard because they are the golden children of produce department, loaded with a mega ton of nutrients. Get creative with seeds – raspberries, strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini and bananas all have seeds that you eat.
To learn even more about magnesium check out Magnesium Deficiency: A Serious Problem No One Knows About.
Vitamin D is needed for over 200 functions in our bodies and the majority of them overlap with magnesium. They’re BFFs. This vitamin helps with the absorption and utilization of magnesium, which you now know is the coolest mineral on the block. In relation to pain and inflammation, vitamin D is needed any time you hear the words pain and inflammation, as well as healing.
Some pain medications can decrease your vitamin D and those who suffer from chronic pain seem to go through both magnesium and vitamin D like they’re going out of style. This goes back to having special needs above and beyond this elusive normal person everyone keeps striving to be like.
Sunscreen, living in northern locations, darker skin, age, stress levels, working indoors, wearing clothing, excess weight, medications that mess with kidneys, cholesterol lowering medication, sunscreen… the list of things that can lower your vitamin D levels is lengthy and many of which you cannot control. What you can do is get your vitamin D levels tested IMMEDIATELY and pick up a supplement.
To learn more about vitamin D read BIG DEAL Vitamin D & Healthy Weight.
Protein’s job is to be the building blocks for the human body. Repairing tissues affected by chronic pain and inflammation requires protein. Additionally, consistently eating a diet low in protein makes you generally hurty. If you’re not eating protein, then you’re eating more of one, or both, of the other two macronutrients – carbs and fat. Too much of either and possible poor choices in either can set off pain and inflammation.
Make sure to eat healthy protein at every meal and snack FROM REAL FOODS. Protein supplements, shakes, powders and the such are awful waffle for pain, your kidneys and your colon. Opt for lean meat (if you eat meat), eggs, seeds, nuts and beans.
Simplest and best for last. The first signs and symptoms of dehydration are irritability and impaired thought process. Dehydration exaggerates pain and puts you in a mindset where this exaggeration is emotionally draining.
Drink 2 cups (8 ounces) of water first thing in the morning prior to any other foods and beverages. This is a game changer for pain sufferers and the difference in knee pain can be noted in a few days of this new healthy habit to be. Continue to drink water throughout the day, striving for at least 10 to 12 total cups of fluid a day.
All fluids count in fluid consumption, but they are not all created equal. Water is the Beyoncé of fluids meaning everything else is just fluid. Your ginger tea you’re now obsessed with counts in fluid consumption. As do the 1 to 2 cups of coffee you enjoy a day. See how we avoided a lengthy spiel on limiting caffeine consumption to decrease pain?
Avoid fluids loaded with sugar and harmful food additives at all costs.
Wrapping This Up
There’s a lot to take in here, but it’s pretty awesome to know that in this given moment there are things you can do to start decreasing your pain and increasing your quality of life. Additionally, there are things you can pick up in the next day or so that will continue this positive trend.
Next week you get to meet this Alaina I speak of and learn how massage, stretching and yoga can help.
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