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Let’s talk pain.
It’s a subject that’s come up a lot lately, at least partially (I think) because the seasons are starting to change. I’ve talked about how weather affects my health before, but it seems like I’m not the only one who ends up feeling every strain, sprain, bruise, bump, and break since birth when the weather gets a little crappity. This is compounded by the fact that the number and kind of drugs I can take to help me cope with pain are really, really limited– some don’t mix well with Diamox, others don’t work, and I just don’t tolerate some very well. Unfortunately, between IIH, a car accident, and being a little less-than-kind to my joints while shawl dancing as a kid, I kind of need some kind of alternative pain relief.
I’m not the only one in this boat, either– I have a lot of friends, acquaintances, and fellow support group members (particularly those that don’t have the means to obtain affordable health insurance) that have to struggle with the same things. I’ve written posts before on how to deal with intracranial hypertension headaches specifically, but what can you do for general body unpleasantness? Are there any safe home remedies for pain that’re actually any good?
To figure this out, I got a bunch of different non-drug pain relief recipes and home remedies together and gave a brief rundown of how effective they were for me. As with anything of this nature, ask your doctor if these are a terrible idea before trying them on yourself.
I busted this out against back pain, neuralgia, and menstrual cramps, just to get an idea of what kind of pain it might be effective against. It didn’t perform quite as well as I’d hoped, but I still think this might be an effective home remedy for some people’s pain when used regularly. Here’s why:
- This tea contains black and cayenne pepper, two pretty big sources of capsaicin. Capsaicin’s gotten a lot of buzz fairly recently as a weight loss aid, but research points to some very interesting effects: hot peppers trigger the release of endorphins, increase circulation, and help kill pain when applied locally. You probably aren’t going to get much benefit from the localized counterirritant effect in a tea, but the endorphin boost might help.
- This tea is mostly turmeric. Seriously, there’s a lot of turmeric in here. In addition to making everything taste awesome, turmeric has been shown to help with inflammation. One cup probably isn’t going to do much, but regular use might benefit people with arthritis or other chronic inflammatory conditions in a similar fashion to turmeric supplements.
- It’s tea. It’s warm, it’s comforting, and it tastes pretty good. There’s an undeniable psychological aspect to drinking a cup of tea when you’re feeling poorly.
How good is it? If you’ve got an inflammatory condition like a sprain, strain, or arthritis, this stuff might work out pretty well for you– ask your doctor first. The recipe says that you can drink a double dose for acute pain, but my pain didn’t respond particularly well to it.
2. Lavender oil.
Lavender oil is one of the very few essential oils that can be used neat (if you have very sensitive skin, dilute it with a little olive, soybean, coconut, or sweet almond oil). It’s used in muscle rubs, and is recommended as a topical pain reliever for menstrual cramps. When it came to using it for my pain, all I can say is I probably would’ve gotten better results if I’d just beaten myself unconscious with the bottle.
How good is it? Mild symptoms? Cramps near the end of your cycle? This is probably A-O.K. I would not attempt to rely on it alone for any kind of serious pain, but I’ve had some great results using Mountain Rose Herbs‘ lavender oil for topical complaints like bruises, cuts, pimples, and minor burns.
3. Chamomile tea.
I like chamomile. I like it a lot. I’ve used it for colds, stomach aches, anxiety, and one time to help knock my ex-boyfriend and his brother out so they could wake up in time for the midnight release of a World of Warcraft expansion. Chamomile is extremely gentle (if you don’t have allergies to plants in the daisy family), and effective enough that an extract of it has even been used to induce deep sleep in patients undergoing cardiac catheterization. (Holy butts. I don’t even know what that procedure entails, but, based on the sound of it alone, I’d be pounding on the nurse’s call button and demanding my anesthetist be replaced by someone that wasn’t secretly three toddlers wearing a lab coat if they suggested using chamomile for it.)
How good is it? Eh, it depends. Will drinking it get you through pain that’s interfering with your workday? Probably not– you need a pretty strong cuppa, and you’re likely to feel drowsy afterward. Nagging, bothersome pain that’s keeping you awake, though? Oh, hell and damn yes, pour me some of that hippie morphine.
Let me preface this by saying that you should not get straight camphor near your… anything, really. It is intense. If you include it in a recipe for a topical balm like this one or this one, it has the potential to be amazing. It’s extremely cooling, wonderful for hyperextended muscles (like back and neck pain), and a little bit goes an extremely long way. Unfortunately, it’s not the best thing for eyes, mucous membrances, or sensitive skin, so be careful when making and applying anything using camphor or menthol.
How good is it? I seriously don’t know where I’d be without it sometimes, particularly for headaches and really gnarly neck pain. For pain caused by tight, constricted muscles, you might want to skip this and go for something more warming.
5. Tart Cherry Juice.
Much has been made of tart cherry juice’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but treating juice like pain relief seems to sit squarely in the realm of wishful thinking for most people. While scientific opinion on tart cherry juice’s effectiveness is still divided, I decided awhile ago that I’d give it a shot to help out with some of the joint stiffness and soreness I deal with. It’s important to note that that not all cherry juices are alike– tart cherries, in particular, are supposed to be the most helpful.
How good is it? Flavor-wise, it’s a bit weird at first; it isn’t unpleasant, but it doesn’t taste quite like the cherries I was used to. Over time, I have noticed an improvement in my pain in some areas (especially my neck). If your doctor says it’s okay for you, try drinking a cup or two a day for a few weeks and see how you feel. Worse comes to worst, you’ll still benefit from its antioxidants even if it doesn’t help with your pain.
6. Mustard baths.
I remember reading about mustard plasters when I was a little girl, and wondering how the crap slathering a healthy coating of Grey Poupon on your chest was supposed to achieve anything. Now that I’ve come across recipes like this and products like this organic mustard soak from FIG+YARROW, I figured I’d give it a whirl.
How good is it? Delicious.
Okay, to be serious, mustard soaks aren’t bad. Mustard’s a warming spice, much like the cayenne, ginger, and black pepper in the pain relief tea mentioned at number one, and that holds true for applying it topically as well as drinking it in tea form. Combine mustard powder with some bath salts, pour it under some hot water, and let your muscles unknot themselves while you hang out and feel like a sexy pickle.
People with sensitive skin, a history of UTIs, or kidney problems might want to skip it– mustard baths can be pretty potent. If you’re just dealing with an easily-isolated body part (like an ankle or elbow), you might want to prepare a little in a basin and only soak that area instead.
Do you deal with chronic pain? Are there any DIYs, secret recipes, or traditional remedies that you rech for when it acts up? How well do they work for you?