In this month’s series on pain, I’ve detailed the interventions that I feel make the biggest difference in sustainable pain management without medication. I haven’t mentioned drugs because I feel their side effects make most of them inferior for chronic pain management. For short term use, I have no problem with aspirin or ibuprofen. Many of my our clients are as naturally-oriented as I am, and want to avoid pharmaceuticals at any cost, but if you get a headache once a year, don’t feel guilty about taking an aspirin for it! For longer term use, I encourage you to try the measures I’ve discussed and also to consider some natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory supplements, many of which are profiled in an article on joint pain I wrote a few years ago.
Now I will introduce a few final practices to help you avoid pain:
1. Pay attention to your posture. I’ve written a lot about posture, so here’s the deep and brief. The majority of our pain results from muscular strain, and a great deal of our muscular strain is postural strain. We may think about posture when we sit at a dinner table and perhaps when we lift a heavy box, but all day long we have opportunities to improve our posture and lessen the total strain our activities exert on our bodies.
Some of the key situations to pay attention to posture are: (A) Sitting on a chair or couch. (B) Holding a phone up to the ear. (C) Typing on a phone, tablet, or computer. (D) Driving. (E) Exercising (F) Sleeping.
In exercise, we call good posture “good form,” and without it, our workout isn’t as comprehensive, plus there’s a much higher risk of injury. When talking on the phone, we should be careful not to tilt the head to one side. When typing, keep the shoulders back, the chest open, and the spine straight. When driving, be aware that keeping your elbows up in order to grip the steering wheel means a prolonged strain of the back – take breaks, stretch, drink water, relax.
2. Get your sleep situation optimized. By bedtime, most people – even those with chronic pain – crawl into bed without having given a thought to the fact that they always wake up sore. This could simply be the result of 8 hours of immobility, but since we spend a third of our life in this place, it’s worthwhile to make it thoroughly rejuvenating to the body. Or at least, to ensure that it isn’t a detriment.
Unfortunately, many of the positions we put ourselves in create postural stress or put excessive pressure on sore spots. I’ve had patients make tremendous recoveries from severe pain just by changing their sleep configuration. Investigate mattresses and pillows of varying firmness. Get a body pillow, and/or multiple smaller pillows and experiment with positioning them so that all parts of you feel supported. Avoid positions that crimp muscles or joints (such as sleeping with an arm above your head or under your pillow). Almost everyone does best sleeping on their back, possibly with a small support under the arch of the neck and another under the arch of the lower back.
3. Treat your life like an all day workout. This is another subject I’ve covered extensively in the past, so I’ll bottom line it. All day long, we work certain muscles for longer than we ever dream of working them at the gym. And we habitually (though unintentionally) work the same muscles day after day and neglect the same muscles day after day. If we were approaching our day’s activities as a workout, we’d stretch before and after, we’d drink lots of water, we’d take breaks, we’d be well-rounded, etc. Try to bring the same level of consciousness to your everyday activities. Switch it up, take breaks, stretch, move around, engage your core, have good form, drink water and electrolytes, etc.
Holistic practices of conditioning, such as taijuquan (tai chi) and yoga are excellent in part because they help us to use the body and breath in a balanced way throughout our day. Of course, it’s up to you to not think of these as compartmentalized practices, but to endeavor to do yoga/tai chi all day long. Your life will change in ways that far exceed the alleviation of pain.
I hope you earnestly apply these recommendations and overcome your pain.
Dr. Peter Borten