After attending a medical conference about cutting edge treatments for pain and pain management breakthroughs, I was shocked to hear how very little we can actually do to help treat chronic pain.
Even the most advanced pain medicine specialists in the country stated that we can only treat about 30% of chronic pain, and that if patients feel their pain has lessened by about 30%, even with the most advanced surgical options and strongest pain relief prescriptions that we have… that is considered a total success.
We were told that we should tell our patients that the left over 70% of pain that we are not able to address is simply their “new normal.”
There are lots of reasons for this, some of it has to do with the way our brains are wired to change in response to chronic pain.
For example, after about three months, the pain signal is no longer accurately telling us about the original damage or wound, the pain signal becomes a hypersensitive loop that has very little to do with the original site of pain.
As a result, even when we 100% fix the original injury and there is nothing left to treat, the patient is still left with experiencing about 70% of pain they always have.
Another issue with chronic pain that makes it very hard to treat is that pain nerves are hardwired into the emotional centers of our brain.
So when you feel pain, you are going to have an emotional response… this is normal.
Often, because pain is emotional, we are told that it is all in our heads, or that we are exaggerating it, or that our emotions are clouding our ability to judge the level of pain.
It’s actually the other way around.
The pain is real.
The pain is triggering a real emotional response.
The chronic pain you feel, whether it is from a back injury, a joint issue, a broken bone, fibromyalgia, chronic interstitial cystitis, you name it… it’s going to eventually cause mood changes, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more.
You are hard wired for pain to effect your emotions, so it is totally normal to have anxiety and depression along with pain.
Current studies show that about 70% of patients with chronic pain have anxiety, and about 80% have depression. Anybody who lives with chronic pain knows that we need to address mood, sleep, energy, outlook and quality of life… along with direct pain treatment strategies… to fully treat pain.
But the thing that surprised me most at this conference wasn’t even about how to treat pain at all… it was how many holes that were left, huge glaring omissions that were never discussed in the treatment of pain.
There absolutely are holistic ways to help treat the residual 70% of chronic pain that conventional medicine is still not addressing.
And just because conventional medicine turns a blind eye to the 70% of pain left over in chronic conditions doesn’t mean that you can’t treat it yourself… because you can!
So in my hotel room right after the conference, I made this video for you going into more detail why acute pain turns into chronic pain and how you can help release it.
If you like watching videos, I hope this one is helpful to you!
And keep reading below the video, where I summarize 6 ways to address chronic pain and helpful links to get you started.
(for newsletter readers, click here to watch the video)
6 Ways To Release Chronic Pain:
So now, here are my top 6 ways to address chronic pain that your physician might be overlooking. Let’s add these on top of your current pain management protocol to help change pain to relief!
Touching the earth directly helps to reduce pain, in many different ways. First, it directly helps the original injury heal by decreasing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the wounded area. Second, it helps deepen restorative sleep which puts you in a healing zone. And third, it has been proven to immediately help lift mood, and sustain a boost to mood over time.
So grounding alone treats three major issues in chronic pain — inflammation, insomnia, and emotional changes.
This makes grounding my #1 go-to therapy to add to your conventional medical treatment.
What do you have to do to get grounded? Simply touching the earth outside — that’s it — through any part of your skin.
Many people just slip off their shoes and stand barefoot outside, simply because it’s that easy!
But you are actually grounded any time any part of your body directly touches any part of the earth outside, even if it’s just your fingertips brushing against a leaf on a tree rooted in the ground outside.
If you follow my blog at all, you already know that grounding is the most powerful anti-inflammatory there is.
In my medical experience I’ve found that just a few minutes a day is long enough to create a noticeable difference in pain — so I wrote a book to help get you started.
If you want tons of uplifting ideas on how to get grounded each day, read The Earth Prescription as soon as possible, and allow it to transform your life!
Pain is actually a symptom of dehydration, often starting with a headache. Low fluid status can lead to headaches and brain fog, as the fluid volume of the brain gets depleted from dehydration.
I’ve literally had patients with a raging headache drink a glass of water and have the headache clear completely. The next time you have a headache or any type of pain, make sure you drink a glass of water and then re-evaluate your pain levels before reaching for a pain reliever or medication.
Dehydration makes all pain worse, as the volume of the organs and joints deplete, dehydrated ligaments and cartalige get injured more easily and dehydrated discs in the spine allow increased pinching of nerves and muscle cramps increase as electrolytes deplete.
The state of your body’s hydration has a major impact on your body and mind… dehydration quickly leads to nausea, headache, increased pain, even mental confusion! Right when you need clarity, during a stressful event, is when you want to feel your best and sharpen your ability to think clearly.
We need water — the flow of water is the basis of life on this planet!
Drink filtered non-fluoridated water, and rehydrate your body to reperfuse your body and establish its natural flow of healing.
3. Address Sleep.
Optimizing sleep will actually help decrease pain.
Sleep puts you in a healing mode and sleep issues (so common in chronic pain) actually prevent you from recovering like you should.
So even if you have exhausted all pain treatment strategies with your physician and they feel that you can no longer improve your current level of chronic pain, you truly could go back in and have another meeting with your doctor to solely focus on sleep and getting a full night’s sleep every night. Treating sleep independently from pain will double your treatment options!
This one change alone will help pain resolve more fully. Things you can do to optimize sleep even without a physician’s prescription include grounding (see above!) and supplements that encourage sleep like melatonin.
4. Decrease Triggers.
If you decrease the amount of irritants your brain and nervous system have to contend with each day, you will decrease how often your pain is triggered, as well.
Think of a cup — when it is full then it only takes one more drop of water to spill over. If it is empty, you can pour quite a bit into it and it won’t spill.
This is the same with your central nervous system — if your nerves are in constantly irritated, it might only take a minor trigger or light touch to fire off a pain impulse to your brain.
But if you remove all the underlying irritations and inflammatory insults that we bombard our bodies with each day, you won’t have as many pain signals being triggered.
So the less burden we place on our body each day will make a noticeable change in the amount of pain we feel.
I recommend decreasing our body’s exposure to:
- daily environmental insults (decreasing toxic chemicals in our body care products, oral care products, beauty products, laundry and household cleaning products)
- triggers in the foods we eat (decreasing the amount of pesticides, sugars and artificial foods that our body has to contend with, as well as decreasing the amount of gluten our body has to process — did you know that gluten itself is inflammatory to our central nervous system?)
- toxins in the water we drink (filtering out chlorine and fluoride, fluoride being a known neurotoxin)
- decreasing exposures in the environment around us (not using toxic chemicals on our lawns and gardens, not using toxic pest control products, and decreasing the amount of chronic EMF exposures in our homes)
One huge component of your chronic pain might be electrohypersensitivity.
If you can limit the quantity and strength of the EMF exposures you have by putting your cell phone on airplane mode whenever possible, using a landline when speaking on the phone, turning your router off at night when you are not using your computer, etc… this will go a long way to soothing your nervous system and giving it a break from the constant onslaught and irritation of chronic radiation exposures.
5. Pain relieving supplements.
There are tons of wonderful all natural supplements that have been clinically proven to help decrease pain.
These natural supplements can help decrease the hypersensitivity and pain feedback loops that are harder to treat and create the extra 70% experience of pain that most drugs can’t touch.
My favorite ones are:
- Turmeric (a powerful anti-inflammatory)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (which help calms down the hypersensitivity in pain — this incredible study in 2006 found that Omega 3 Fatty acids worked every bit as well as NSAIDS and are a safer alternative in managing chronic back and neck pain!)
- Magnesium (which is essential for proper nerve function and is also a natural muscle relaxant as well, so if there is any component of pain that is myofascial or from muscle pain/tension pulling on or pinching nerves, this helps reduce this.) And because magnesium helps relax muscles, it can also help you relax into sleep at night, so this is another treatment modality (like grounding) that helps in three different, complimentary ways! For that reason, I love love love this topical magnesium lotion, which allows you to apply relaxing magnesium right where your sore tense muscles need it the most, and massage it in. I use it every single night on my shoulders and neck muscles, to prevent tension headaches. Or consider slipping into a warm bath filled with Epsom salts, which are a natural magnesium salt, nightly.
- L-theanine and 5-HTP, which are supplements that treat the emotional centers of the brain (decreasing anxiety and depression from chronic pain) which can be instrumental in treating pain that has not responded fully to conventional treatments.
- Vitamin D has recently been shown to be very effective for treating tough to treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy after literally just one single dose (in medical studies Vit D has been shown to increase Nerve Growth Factor, induce nerve regeneration and reduce demylenization — and all three pathways may be in play to account for the reduction of pain!) So getting your Vit D levels checked and supplementing with Vit D is another simple way to help treat pain that is typically overlooked in conventional medicine.
All of these supplements are waiting for you in my online dispensary right here, where you can order the exact same supplements that I order for my own patients (as well as recommend to my family and friends) to help them feel their best.
6. Releasing emotional pain.
Because pain and emotions are intrinsically hard wired together, finding support and relief for any emotional burdens will help lessen pain burden as well. On top of traditional therapy, there are some simple techniques you can use to stay in the flow and allow the body to do what it does best — release and naturally re-align with healing.
I live in a state of constant stress and uncertainty just like everyone else, so I know this is harder than it sounds.
But if you routinely attend to your emotional wellness, you can get into a state of allowing the emotions to flow instead of holding on to them.
Here are some simple techniques to get more release, less stuck:
A. Releasing deep sorrow and grief:
Sadness needs to physically flow through the body in order to release. You must *feel* the sorrow instead of resisting it. Instead of shutting it down, get into the state of allowing the flow of sorrow using this one simple trick: water.
Water is the ultimate medium of flow on earth, and comprises the majority of our body. In fact, water is the body’s natural choice of release for sorrow as well, in the form of tears. Tears often help facilitate the flow of grief through the body and allows it to release more easily.
- So the first tip is: allow the tears. Let the water of your tears release your sorrow and lift it from your body. Triggering tears through powerful moving music or films or books can be a welcome way to release stuck feelings of grief.
- Can’t cry? You can still use the power of water to help facilitate the release of your sorrow, worry or grief by using a hot water bottle full of warm water, holding it on your body where you are physically feeling the sorrow (chest, abdomen, neck, back…). To combine two therapies in one, you can actually combine grounding and heat/cold therapy together with an Organic Grounding Hot Water Bottle. Or, take a long hot bath in some beautiful warm water and epsom salts. Envision the water carrying your sorrow down the drain as you end your bath feeling lighter.
- Go for a swim or float in a natural body of water. Allow a larger body of water, like a lake, river or the ocean, to hold you up and give you the weightless feeling of being surrounded and supported by something bigger than yourself. There is a reason that doctor’s routinely gave out prescriptions for spending time by the sea when they had no idea what else to do to help an ailment in the old days. That’s because the earth has healing energy to give you, and if you add moisture to that you increase your own conductivity and healing accelerates. If you do not have a natural body of water near you, look for a float therapy center near you, which offers a float tank full of magnesium salts to lift your body up and cradle it. I love float therapy, and if you don’t know what that is, hop over to this blog post I wrote for you to take a look inside my own float therapy center!
- Use steam/humidifiers to help hydrate the air, clearing out the old mental fog and allowing space for the new. Even mild dehydration affects your mood, increasing feelings of depression, brain fog, fatigue and more. Read my article here for a great overview on how dehydration affects your body from head to toe. For example, one medical study (published December of 2011 in The Journal of Nutrition) showed that study participants reported changes in mood, decreased energy levels, decreased motivation and brain fog even when mildly dehydrated. Did you know you lose over two cups (or a half liter) of water just from breathing each day? Make sure you are not being dried out from your environment by humidifying the air. And be sure to drink plenty of water during times of worry or sorrow. Let your body be flushed out inside and out and with every urination or bowel movement recognize you are flushing the old energy down the drain and making way for new healing. But don’t rely on thirst to remind you to drink! Dehydration begins when we are just 1% volume depleted, but thirst doesn’t set in until our body is about 2% volume depleted. By then we have already had effects on our mood, energy level, ability to think clearly, and pain levels. Instead of waiting for thirst or darkened urine to remind us to drink, prevent dehydration in the first place by drinking water routinely throughout the day and hydrating your air.
- Sweat it out! The other way that the body uses water as a form of energetic and physical release is through sweat. Heat uses the energy and flow of water (the blood in your circulatory system) by increasing flushing — fluid in, sweat out. Exercise is an essential, wonderful, medically proven treatment plan for so many different health conditions, shown to be effective in treating everything from insomnia, to depression and anxiety to fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions… even preventing dementia and extending our lifespan! Make sure you find some physical activity that you can routinely do that allows you to sweat… whether you like hiking, yoga, kickboxing, jogging, or even, in a pinch a more passive form of sweating like a sauna — find a way to embrace sweating and be sure to replace that fluid flow with tons of fresh filtered water both before, during, and after sweating.
B. Releasing fatigue and depressed mood:
The feeling of heavy fatigue or draining depression means your body needs a break… and it needs it NOW. Not later. Fatigue and depression show up to alert us that we are in a time of healing/repair and not in a time of action.
Often we need a little extra time to nurture and rest before periods of growth and forward movement.
Think about when you were young, growing. The heavy fatigue you felt during growth spurts…. it was there to urge you to rest for a reason. Your body was growing new muscle, new bones, new neuronal connections, new physical mass and mental maturity.
I’ve got a teenage son so I know all about how very much his body needs lots of hearty nutrient dense foods and lots and lots of sleep to get through a growth spurt, because by the time it’s is over he is always several inches taller each time he goes through another phase of growth.
You can think of times of fatigue and depression in the same way… your body is asking for a break, to go within, in order to make new strides in your life as you heal.
Help it by:
- Low key exercise. Respect your body’s need to slow down. Now is not the time for strenuous exercise… honor caring for your body in gentle ways such as yoga, stretching, long slow walks through nature… unlike the more active states of emotional processing, in depression and fatigue you do not need to push it. Keep your body moving but in gentle ways that include walking and stretching, and release the guilt over not pushing through strenuous exercises at this time.
- Reach out. You don’t need to do it all alone. Ask for help. Call a friend. Lean on family to help with some of the burdens you are seeking relief from. Have a deeper conversation with a coworker you trust instead of the perfunctory “hi” each day. At the very least, reach out to your health care provider and speak up for the support you need right now. Let them help you, it’s their job and they want to.
- Take a nap. Just allow your body to do its thing and rest more than normal… deep growth is almost always preceded by a slump, so allow your body the down time it needs and don’t put any expectations on the process.
- Passive body work. Your body needs to get into receiving mode and not giving mode. Your giving mode is burnt out. What I’ve noticed is that most people who struggle with depression are the givers who are giving to everybody but themselves. You deserve to give your body the message that there is a time to stop and receive. Get a massage, acupuncture, reiki, physical therapy, any therapy where you are a totally passive recipient. Let others actively help move that energy through your body and help you on your way to release it.
- Deeper sleep at night. Sleep is absolutely non-negotiable… to be healthy we all need deep restorative sleep. A medical study (presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2017 Annual Meeting on April 27, 2017) showed that just by adding one hour of sleep to your nightly routine you can significantly decrease symptoms of depression, and another medical study (published April 11, 2018 in Chronobiology International) found that folks who go to sleep earlier actually have a longer life expectancy. Bottom line: let yourself sleep more to help lift depressed mood and allow your whole body to feel better.
C. Releasing frustration and anxiety:
These emotions are a very active energy state, where you have lots of tension building up inside. So with this energetic state it’s helpful to increase your activity to restore the flow, in contrast to the more passive surrender state required by sadness, grief, depression and fatigue.
The gift of anxiety is that you have energy to create positive change and follow through on inspired action. Frustration and anxiety states respond to active release… so give some of these a try:
- Meditation. This is a very active and aware state that puts you in the perfect open-but-alert mind-frame necessary for relief. And deep breathing allows your parasympathetic nervous system to decrease your pounding heart rate, decrease your stressed out high blood pressure, improve your mood, and more. Focus on taking 5 slow deep breaths in and out and choose a mantra for the in breathe and the out breath. If you can do 10 breaths, do 10. Work up to 20, 30, 50 breaths of focused openness. If you want to breathe along with me, I created a quick breath work video for you right here.
- Mantra. If meditation is too hard to do, you can get similar benefits just from repeating a meaningful word or phrase (known as mantra therapy.). Recent research (published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on June 20, 2018) showed that repeating a mantra significantly helped alleviate the deep stuck emotions in PTSD — in fact, it was as effectively as psychotherapy! That means, that even if you have resistance to focusing on a traumatic event that is giving you anxiety, you can have every bit as meaningful recovery when you focus on a mantra instead. In addition, equally exciting, is that the improvements from mantra therapy were better sustained for months after the therapy ended, with more patients being PTSD free after mantra therapy than traditional talk therapy.
- Exercise. Moving the body and quieting the mind is the goal of many healing practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong. If your energy feels more intense and will not allow you to settle down enough to do those types of exercise, honor your body’s need for active processing by something a bit more intense like Pilates, karate, kick boxing, biking, hiking, running, jogging.
- Give to others. Unlike depression and fatigue, the gift of anxiety is the gift of having energy to give and express… and one of the best way to off-gas this is to give to others in need. Volunteer at a cause that is meaningful to you, start a year of gratitude (doing one act of thankfulness to loved ones or strangers each week and record it in a gratitude journal) or just go out into the world each day asking that you be shown a way you can be of service. The point here is not to add any more stress into your life — it’s just a very simple technique to get rid of extra energy and tension in a more meaningful way. Consider doing just a simple thing that doesn’t require a lot of preparation or any long term commitment, but will allow you to actively process and off gas your extra energy. For example, take an after dinner walk and pick up litter for an hour each evening, or head to your local SPCA and take some of the dogs on a walk each weekend. Speaking of pets…
- Care for a pet. Caring for a pet is the perfect way to allow your energy to flow in a loving and active, yet low stress way. Simply walking your dog every day, spending 30 minutes petting your cat while she purrs on your chest, whistle to a pet bird to teach him your favorite TV show theme song… study after study has shown that pets improve our health simply by being in our lives. During times of anxiety and frustration, loving on a pet a little extra each day gives a heart-centered but simple way to connect to our emotions and allow excess energy to flow out.
I hope these 6 ideas on ways to address residual pain in chronic pain — the pain conventional medicine admits it can’t treat — gives you some inspiration on alternative and complimentary ways to relieve your pain on a deep and permanent level.
Treating the whole body, understanding how chronic pain differs from acute pain, addressing the sleep and mood changes that accompany chronic pain, taking powerful supplements and grounding daily to release inflammation, decreasing triggers that might be inciting pain throughout your day…
…all of these things can be done simultaneously along with any conventional medical treatments for pain, restoring you to wellness.