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Feel pain is taking over your life and nothing your GP suggests is helping? If so, you’re not alone.
A new survey by Get Well found 85% of people suffering from a chronic health condition, such as pain, feel frustrated or helpless after discussing their condition and how to manage pain with a doctor.
“I have deep sympathy for people in pain, it’s the nastiest thing in the world,” says Dr Sarah Myhill. “Pain is there for a very good reason,” she adds. “If you had a broken leg and didn’t have pain, you’d just keep walking and you’d end up with gangrene and amputation. Being a doctor is like being a detective. Pain is a very important clue to what’s going on, but if you suppress that with a drug, you lose the clues.” Plus, taking too much paracetamol has been linked to heart, kidney and intestinal dysfunction.
Here’s how you can help manage pain without popping pills…
1) Meditate the pain away
Mindfulness meditation can change your experience of pain, as well as your attitude towards it. It has been found to reduce activity in areas of the brain which process pain, while increasing activity in areas involved in emotional regulation. Give a breathing technique a try. Breathe in through the nose for a count of four. Pause for a count of one. Breathe out slowly for a count of six. Encouraging a longer out breath is a simple way to calm the body.
2) Exercise, but only if your body is ready
You don’t necessarily need to dust off those long-neglected running shoes, or tie yourself up in knots at yoga. Just getting up and marching your way through the adverts while watching TV could clock up to 3,000 steps a day. Simple stretches can also help. But don’t overdo it. “Your body is very good about healing and repairing, but you have to give it a chance,” says Dr Myhill. “Listen to your body and don’t overwork painful muscles and joints that want to be rested. Give them a break.”
3) A TENS machine can provide instant pain relief
TENS is an abbreviation for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. These devices use bioelectrical nerve stimulation to target specific areas. It’s great for menstrual cramps, arthritis, nerve pain and more – but be wary. “All pain is in the brain,” says Dr Myhill. “There’s no actual pain in the foot or knee, it’s all perceived in the brain. What a TENS machine does is mask the pain signals so the brain doesn’t perceive it so badly. Yes, it will switch off the pain within seconds, but that won’t help you get to the root cause of why you have the pain.”
4) Cut out pain-causing allergens from your diet
Eating too many carbs could be causing inflammation in the body, exasperating your pain. “Modern diets are very high in carbohydrates,’ says Dr Myhill. “If you have too many chocolate bars, cakes and crisps all the time, they overwhelm our ability to digest. The immune system isn’t used to this, so you get inflammation, which causes pain. Following a ketogenic diet is key. I’ve had lots of patients who have been able to cancel their hip surgery by cutting out dairy products or gluten grains.”
Include plenty of inflammation-fighting nuts, fruits, leafy greens and tomatoes in your daily diet, accompanied by whole grains and healthy oils. In one study, two-thirds of people with chronic neck and back pain who took fish oil supplements for 10 weeks were able to cancel their repeat prescriptions.
5) Take a vitamin C supplement
A daily dose of vitamin C could make all the difference. “A major cause of arthritis is from microbes fermenting in the upper gut, but vitamin C kills it all,” says Dr Myhill. “In fact, when I was researching my book The Infection Game, I found a Polish study where patients with H. pylori (a bacteria which can cause painful stomach ulcers) were given 5g of vitamin C a day, and it cured 30 per cent of them.”
6) Listen to music
Weird fact – listening to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star can slash the pain caused by an electric shock by almost a fifth. Many of the neural pathways involved in processing pain may also be involved in processing music – so it pays to keep them occupied. Researchers suggest listening to Mozart or Bach.
7) Watch a weepie movie
In an Oxford University study, participants who had recently watched an emotional documentary were able to tolerate pain 18% longer than those who’d watched a less harrowing film. It’s thought that the emotional wringing you get from tragedy triggers the endorphin system.