Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Self-care Tips for Pain Relief

By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND

Chronic pain doesn't just hurt - it can be debilitating, frustrating and can impact daily activities such as walking, cooking, dressing, bathing and getting around. It can further lead to other concerns such as insomnia, fatigue, depression and anxiety. In the current situation of self-isolation, not having access to the usual bodywork therapies such as massage, acupuncture, cupping etc. can feel overwhelming and distressing. In addition, lack of physical activity topped with feelings of worry can aggravate pre-existing conditions.

If you are dealing with muscle tension, arthritis, back pain, headaches you don't have to live with the pain. Pain generally responds well to simple changes in diet and gentle exercise. The following are some tips that we wanted to share with you to help relieve pain during self-isolation and beyond.

Tips for Reducing Pain

As a baseline, anyone with arthritis or inflammatory join conditions should be taking natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oil, turmeric, boswellia (known as frankincense). Most anti-inflammatories work in a similar way as prescription medication and are natural without causing major side effects. It is important to speak with your naturopathic doctor to choose the right supplements for you to ensure the dosage and quality is effective for your condition and to ensure that there are no other interactions with medications you may be currently on. In addition to supplements, below are tips that you can do on your own to relieve muscle and joint pain - many of them can be easily done at home with ingredients from your kitchen.

1. Diet & Herbs

Customized supplements and herbs will speed up healing and give your body the foundation to rebuild joint tissue and reduce inflammation.  However, even if you are taking the best supplements, if you are not eating a supportive diet, your joint pain may not improve as well as it could.
  • Avoid: foods that cause inflammation: sugar, artificial sweeteners, deep fried foods, refined flour, additives, red meat & alcohol. Different foods can cause different reactions in each person. To personalize your diet and identify the foods that you are sensitive to, your naturopathic doctor can run a simple food sensitivity test. If you are struggling with cravings or making changes to your diet, your naturopathic doctor can guide you on how to include anti-inflammatory foods into your diet while still enjoying your meals.
  • Include: a diet that is suited to your constitution, dosha type and condition. Bone broth soups can easily be made at home and provide minerals and nutrients to nourish your joints. If you are vegetarian, there are alternative supplements or herbs such as nettles that are rich in minerals. Anti-inflammatory foods and herbs can be included in your meals such as ginger, turmeric and leafy greens. Below are some recipes:
    • Turmeric & Ginger Tea is a super easy way to get these powerful anti-inflammatories while staying hydrated. If you don't have fresh ginger or turmeric, you can use small amounts of powdered spices.
    • Ginger Pickle is a simple homemade blend of chopped ginger and mild seasoning that can be stored in the fridge and taken as a condiment alongside your meals or as a digestive tonic before your meal that is great for joint pain.
    • Turmeric Milk has become a popular drink these days and turmeric is better absorbed through a medium like milk or alternative milk because of the fat content. Keep in mind that turmeric can thin the blood at higher doses so if you are blood thinners, check with your naturopathic doctor to see how much turmeric is safe for you.

2. Movement

It may be difficult to move if there is significant pain, but gentle exercises can help you decrease pain, increase range of motions and flexibility, strengthen muscles, improve circulation and help you feel uplifted. It is important to discuss with your practitioners to guide you with the right kind of exercise for you.

  • Avoid: pushing yourself to exercise or doing repetitive movements which can strain the joints. Listen to your body and don't push beyond what is comfortable. If you are working from home or currently in isolation, avoid sitting on soft couches, slouching over or sitting for long periods of time in front of screens.
  • Include: gentles exercises that improve flexibility and blood flow to the muscles and joints. Restorative yoga, tai chi, walking and water exercise are examples of low-impact exercise that you can include into your day. If working on the computer, take stretch breaks every 30 minutes. Some ideas for gentle stretches for people with joint issues or healthy people:

3. Hot and Cold Therapies

Ayurveda & Traditional Chinese Medicine are systems which evaluate the presence of hot (yang) or col (yin) in the body. The eastern systems of medicine examine the causes and manifestations of joint issues and treat accordingly with the opposite quality. If your joints are warm and inflamed, cold treatments are recommended. If your joints are painful and stiff due to cold weather, warm treatments are recommended.

  • Avoid: cold weather or cold treatments on arthritis that is aggravated with cold. Avoid excessive heat on arthritis that is worse with warm weather or is inflamed. Speak to your naturopathic doctor who can guide you on what kind of arthritis or body type you have and what is the best way to manage it.
  • Include: warm baths for arthritis or stiff muscles that is worse with cold weather. If you have difficulty getting into the tub, you can try foot or hand baths or apply heat packs to affected areas. For arthritis where the joints are inflamed, you may find relief with cool washcloths or topical ointments with cooling ingredients such as menthol or peppermint. Hot or cold packs are simple and effective ways of relieving pain at home and are part of one of he modalities of naturopathic medicine known as hydrotherapy. Here are some more resources:

4. Herbal Compresses

Herbal compresses known as potli in Ayurveda have been used traditionally to relieve pain. They are made with specific herbs in a thin muslin cloth and applied over your problematic joint or body part. There are ways to make simple but effective compresses at home with ingredients in your kitchen! Here are some ideas you can try for quick pain relief at home:

  • Cooling Compresses are great for hot, swollen joints or any inflammation. A well-known cooling compress is chamomile tea bags (cooled in the fridge) placed over your eyes for soothing eye strain. 
  • Ginger Compress to soothe sore muscles. You can use grated ginger from the grocery store.
  • Ajwain Ayurvedic Poultice is a common treatment applied over the chest for children with coughs and cold but can be used by anyone to bring heat and circulation to any part of the body.

5. Self-Massage with Oils or Creams

If you are missing your bodywork treatments and looking forward to your next massage that seems months away, why not start your own self-care regime? While it seems nicer to receive a massage from someone else, self-massage is very easy and brings quick relief to tired muscles and achy joints.

  • Avoid: straining yourself by trying to do self-massage. Avoid positions that could put you at risk of falling or using essential oils directly without diluting them.
  • Include: oils suited to your constitution and type of pain. Ensure that the oil or cream is not rancid and is good quality (organic is best).
    • Castor oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory oil for arthritis. Warm castor oil can be massaged gently into affected joints before bed and wrapped with a cloth and heating pad to penetrate deeper.
    • Ayurvedic & Essential Oils can be customized to your dosha type. Read more in this handout page on choosing the right oils for you.

6. Positive Attitude

The mind-body connection cannot be overrated. Mood can play a significant role in managing chronic disease, and it’s common for individuals with arthritis to feel frustrated and discouraged by the pain and inability to do daily activities. Depression and anxiety can further increase the experience of pain and decrease your ability to cope. Rather than fighting arthritis, try focussing your attention to nurturing yourself. Self-love and self-care promotes healing in the body, mind and spirit. Knowing that you can get better with self-care treatments and professional guidance can give you strength and hope.

  • Avoid: negative thoughts (“I wish I…I should have…I’m useless) and avoid focussing on what you can’t do. If you find yourself having difficulty coping with chronic pain, speak to your naturopathic doctor. There are many options to help alleviate depression, fatigue, anxiety often associated with chronic disease.
  • Include: meditation and gratitude on a daily basis. Plan activities or events to look forward to: lunch with a friend, a short vacation, outings with family, book clubs, hobby groups etc. Focus on your strengths and what you can do. Individuals who have a positive attitude towards life and look forward to the day are better equipped to cope with illness.

Managing chronic pain on your own may not be enough. If you are struggling with arthritis, you are not alone. Talk to your naturopathic doctor who can identify the root cause of your pain and customize treatments to bring relief - even if you are already on medications.

There are numerous treatments such as acupuncture, cupping, massages, diet and supplements that are very effective in reducing pain and managing chronic arthritis, but they need to be customized based on your condition, constitution and other factors. Taking the time to do activities that you enjoy, pampering yourself with treatments, taking suitable supplements and eating a diet which replenishes your body are all ways of improving your condition. You don’t have to live with chronic pain. There is hope. Take steps forward to pain-free living today!


Dr. Leena Athparia
 is a naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in chronic pain management related to aging, metabolic issues and chronic disease. She is skilled in pain relief with naturopathic & Ayurvedic treatments. If you are experiencing joint pain, please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment with Dr. Athparia.