No matter where it hurts – in your head, your toe or anywhere in between – chronic pain can have a major impact on both physical and emotional well-being.
Fortunately, natural therapies can be added to the wide range of treatments now available to help in the control of pain.
What is it?
The word pain comes from the Latin poena, meaning punishment – a fitting derivation, as anyone who experiences chronic pain can attest.
Whether it is in the form of aching, tingling, stabbing, shooting or burning, prolonged and uncontrollable pain can adversely affect a person’s entire life. In addition to the physical discomfort, constant suffering can lead to anxiety, anger and depression, all of which can intensify the pain.
What causes it?
Pain occurs when a nerve ending senses a souce of distress and sends a signal to the brain. Tha pain can become chronic if this impulse continues.
The causes of chronic pain are too numerous to list, but include a poorly healing injury, arthritis, a pinched nerve or irritated nerve or an underlying disorder such as cancer.
Unfortunately, in some cases, especially those involving the muscles and bones, the actual cause remains a mystery, making the condition especially difficult to treat.
What are they symptoms?
- Persistent or intermittent aching or pain, considered chronic if it lasts six months or longer. The muscles, head, back, joints or other areas may be affected.
- Pain that is acute and then becomes chronic.
- Depression, insomnia and daytime fatigue, which often accompany chronic pain.
Are there any natural therapies?
Bromelain, an anti-inflammatory protein derived from pineapples, may be particularly useful for inflammation-related pain and sports injuries.
Other potentially helpful herbs include ginger (which, like white willow bark, acts on prostaglandins), meadowsweet, feverfew, cat’s claw, devil’s claw, pau d’arco and turmeric.
Topical preparations can be helpful, too. Cayenne cream may be especially beneficial for arthritic joints, post-shingles pain or nerve damage from diabetes or surgery (such as mastectomy or amputation). It may be less effectve on large areas of the body because of the burning sensation it causes.
Alternatively, try mixing a few drops of ginger, lavender and birch oils with 15 ml of neutral oil (such as almond oil) and massaging the blend into the painful area.
Other options include peppermint oil, wintergreen oil or eucalyptus oil, which seems to work by quietening the nerve endings that transmit pain signals.
Supplements typically provide pain relief within three to four hours. If pain is accompanied by depression or anxiety, try St John’s wort first, and then kava. These herbs may have some direct pain-relieving properties as well.
What else can I do?
Consider acupuncture. Mind-body techniques – such as biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation training and behavioural counselling – may also help.
Did you know?
You’re more likely to suffer chronic pain if you are overweight, concludes a Johns Hopkins University study of 312 obese people. There’s also a direct correlation between degree of obesity and feelings of depression and lack of vitality.