Category Archives: Alternative Therapies

A Summertime Meditation to Relieve Chronic Pain

Here’s a simple little meditation that’s incredibly powerful at helping your body release chronic pain and heal itself. It draws on the power of two of summer’s most iconic elements: the sun’s rays and the ocean’s waves.

Why Meditation Coupled With Visualization Works To Relieve Chronic Pain

Many of us resist the advice to meditate when it comes to managing our chronic pain. Yet meditation can have profoundly beneficial physical effects when it comes to our body’s ability to heal itself. When you couple meditation with visualization — the practice of envisioning certain scenes or images — you can ramp up the healing power of meditation.

Why do we resist meditation? I think it’s because it “smells” like “it’s all in your head.” Yet the connection between the body and mind is just beginning to be understood in Western medicine. Studies have shown that our brains’ entrenched beliefs can and do have powerful impacts on our health; witness the many studies that show placebos often work, even if they’re nothing more than sugar pills.

Meditation works on so many levels. First, it relaxes your body physically. Especially with fibromyalgia, our muscles have “memories” that bring them back to a painfully tense state time and again. Meditation can retrain those muscles over time to relax, which can ease the pain levels tremendously. Secondly, it works to reduce overall physical stress levels, lowering the amounts of hormones that in large quantities wreak havoc with our body’s systems. Finally, it feels good — and we can all us as much of that as we can get.

Preparing to Meditate

You need no special training or equipment to meditate. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing (except driving a car!), you can meditate. But for the best results, try this meditation when you’re alone. You can be outside or inside, although outside would be very helpful for this particular meditation.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a beach, that’s ideal. But even if you can’t get to the ocean, you can bring the water’s healing powers to you, wherever you are. Look for a pool, or failing that, use a bathtub or even an indoor fountain.

Wear comfortable clothes (unless you’re in the pool or beach, in which case a swimsuit is best, or in the tub, in which case no clothing is necessary). Make sure you won’t be disturbed for half an hour or so.

If you’re using a tub, fill it with warm but not hot water. Add some Epsom or sea salt to the water, to make it as close to the real thing as possible. If you’re in a pool, float on your back if possible, or simply sit comfortably on a step in the shallow end, letting the water cover your feet and ankles. At the beach? Anywhere will do, but if you can move your chair, or just sit on the sand, in the surf, that’s ideal.

Lastly, if you’re outside, make sure you put on sunblock! We’ll be working with the power of the sun to heal — but we all know the sun’s rays can be dangerous to unprotected skin, too. So, lather the white stuff on, and make sure you hit the areas that we always forget — the ears, the tops of feet and toes, the scalp.

Ready?

The Summer Sun-And-Waves Meditation

Begin by relaxing your body. Focus your awareness on each part of your body, starting with your toes, moving up to your feet, your ankles, your calves, and so on, until you reach the top of your head. At each point, pause and gently (silently) tell that part of your body to relax. Continue up your body until you reach the top of your head. Relax your eyes, your mouth, your forehead, your scalp.

When you’re thoroughly relaxed, focus on the sound of the waves coming in and going out. If you’re not actually at the beach, that’s OK — just call that sound to mind. (If you have a CD or sound machine that can recreate waves, great! If not, just use your imagination and memory.) Just focus on the waves for several minutes.

Now, turn your awareness to the warmth of the sun beating down on your body. Again, even if you’re not outside, it’s OK — just visualize the sun’s rays enveloping your body in warmth. See them in your mind’s eye as golden rays of pure healing energy.

Now, begin to direct those rays in your mind’s eye to the parts of your body that hurt. One at a time, “move” the rays of golden light to target a painful area. Let the rays do their job — visualize them sinking in (only the good parts, of course — the sunblock’s taking care of the bad stuff) and working magic on the tissue, the fascia, the very cells that make up your painful muscles. After awhile, you’ll feel a distinct tingle in each area. That’s your cue that you can move on to the next painful area.

When you’ve moved the sun’s rays over every painful area, and felt that little tingle in each one, now it’s time to move on to the water portion. Bring your attention gently back to the waves — listen to the sounds of the waves coming in and going out. Really listen — note every single nuance in sound between the coming and the going until you can hear each difference distinctly.

Now, imagine that the ocean’s waves are bringing in health and wellbeing, and then they’re picking up all the bad stuff in your body that causes pain as they take that bad stuff back out to sea. Way out there somewhere is a magic well where all the “bad stuff” is deposited and transformed into healthful energy. The waves pick up that energy and bring it back in to you, in a never-ending cycle of healing. Stay with this image for as long as you can, feeling the waves bring you health and vitality and take away your pain.

After ten or fifteen minutes or so (or however long you wish to perform the meditation, mindful always of the need to reapply sunblock if you’re outside), bring your attention slowly back to your body and your surroundings. Slowly stretch, blink a few times, and massage your hands and shoulders to bring yourself back to full waking consciousness. You might feel like you just dozed off for a bit — and if you did, that’s great! Sleep heals, too. (Just make sure you don’t fall asleep in the sun without someone to rouse you in case you sleep too long.)

I’d love to hear your reactions to this meditation. Did you try it? Do you use a meditation or visualization sequence that’s different? Share it in the comments!

Crocs = Footsie Heaven For Chronic Pain Patients — HUGE Sale On Now!

I know Crocs aren’t exactly high fashion, but dang, those things make my feet feel good. I don’t know about you guys but when my scoliosis-triggered leg nerve pain extends down into my feet, I just don’t want to get on them at all. It’s couch time for me.

But Crocs — while they don’t fix every problem, they certainly make life on my feet easier by leaps and bounds.

So, I was super excited to see this cross my inbox today:

Buy Two or More Pairs at Crocs.com and Get 50% Off! Offer ends: 6.22.09

(Remember – that’s an affiliate link. Costs you nothing, but helps me feed my kid!)

Half off. Yep, you read that right. A full 50% off all Crocs purchases when you buy at least two pair. But hurry, because the sale ends June 22nd. Grab ’em while you can! It’s not just one style either. You can buy Islanders, Ace Golf, Ace Boating, Athens, Kid’s Athens, Women’s Mary Janes and Girl’s Mary Janes, and any combination thereof — as long as you buy at least 2 pair, your purchase will be half-price.

These are great shoes for a walking program, by the way (and walking is one of the most recommended forms of exercise for chronic pain sufferers who are able to do some form of exercise).

Half off. Wow. Can’t beat that with a stick, even on my good days!

Feel Better Fast With Six of My Favorite Homedics Products (Plus – Save Some Dough!)

As I’ve written before, I am a big believer in better living through chemistry, as long as the chemistry is properly prescribed and taken as directed.

But there are times when you don’t want or need another pill — you just want to feel better. And I’ve found that Homedics is one of the best suppliers of “feeling better” — that sometimes-evasive quality known as “well-being.”

My Six Favorite Homedics Products for Chronic Pain Relief & Relaxation

Six of my favorite Homedics products are profiled below. Remember that all “To Buy” links are affiliate links — costs you nothing extra, but helps me feed my kid! And whatever you do, make sure you read this entire post before you buy anything! (Hint: there’s a little extra goodness in the last paragraph for you.)

Therapist Select Shiatsu Massaging Cushion With Heat

I have a slightly different version of this cushion in my desk chair and I can’t sing its praises enough. It really helps me maintain good posture and helps my muscles stay loose and avoid spasm when I’m working on a computer project for a long period of time. (Of course, we should all get up every hour or even more frequently to stretch and take a break, even with the cushion!)

To Buy:

Body Revitalizer Massage Mat With Heat

This amazing product is like a combination of the seat cushion and a yoga mat. I’ve tried this, but don’t own it yet (notice the “yet”!). Great for periods of destressing because it allows your body to extend and let its own weight assist with the relaxation process.

To Buy:

Therapist Select Hand Held Percussion Massager

This model includes heat and various attachments that help relax sore muscles. Particuarly useful for fibromyalgia patients.

To Buy:

Shiatsu Massage Pillow

This pillow is ideal for any part of the back, says Homedics. I’ve found it works particularly well with the lumbar region (the lower back area). It comes with a rotating massager and heat, and actually molds itself to your body’s contours, which is awesome. Use alone or in combination with the massage chair cushion for extra benefits. The pillow was marked at $59.99 but a little birdy tells me it’s only $40.85 right now.

To Buy:

Envirascape Illuminated Rock Garden Relaxation Fountain

Another product that really helps me create a more centered, peaceful environment — which helps me heal by managing overall stress levels — is this gorgeous lighted rock fountain. It’s not that hard to set up — just follow the instructions carefully. Make sure you use the mat that comes with it to avoid water stains on your furniture!

To Buy:

Sound Spa Relaxation Sound Machine

I have an earlier version of this beauty, but for only $19.99, I’m very tempted to upgrade. The sounds of nature will give a nice soothing background for meditation or relaxation exercises. Best of all, it helps you sleep by masking out unwanted ambient noises that can jar you out of that much-needed healing sleep cycle.

To Buy:

Psst: Want A Coupon Code, Too?

And the best news of all: Amazon is offering a cool $10 discount on all Homedics equipment purchases of $99 or more, this month with the coupon code HOMEJUN9! Just enter that code when you checkout, after clicking on the links above. You’re welcome.

Pain Relief That Works: Eight Products That Relieve Chronic Pain Effectively

Why Try Conservative Measures for Chronic Pain When You’ve Got Prescription Pain Medication?

Even though this site is called “The Tramadol Diaries” — and even though I’m an unabashed supporter of better living through (appropriately prescribed and carefully monitored) chemistry — I recognize that there are people out there living with chronic pain who choose not to pursue prescription pain medication, for various reasons.

Additionally, even for those of us who do take regular doses of prescription pain meds, we still experience the occasional breakthrough pain. Then, too, sometimes we just want to take a break from all of the pills.

Conservative Treatment’s Place in a Comprehensive Pain Management Program

For all of us, there is still effective pain relief available. Remember that I went a solid four years on conservative treatments before I took anything stronger than an Aleve. To this day, I also rely regularly on an arsenal of conservative treatment options to round out my treatment protocol, and keep my fibromyalgia pain at bay sufficiently to enjoy some measure of quality of life.

Each of the following products is one I’ve used consistently over the last several years, am personally familiar with, and can (and do) personally vouch for in terms of efficacy. Simply put: they work, every single one of them.

Caution: Nothing Relieves Every Pain, All the Time

Now, that’s not to say there’s any kind of guarantee that they’ll all work for every person who tries them. Depending on your particular condition, and the specific pain it produces, certain products might work better for you than others, which may produce little or no benefit at all.

It’s all trial and error, unfortunately. I wish there were a better way, but until someone invents a 100% effective treatment that works on all pain, all the time, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

How to Give New Conservative Pain Treatment Products a Fair Trial

So, try the ones that appeal to you, and use them for at least two to four weeks, to give each product a fair trial. I encourage you to keep notes of each trial in your wellness log (more on wellness logs can be found in this post, in item #4). Note when you try each product, how long or how much of the product you used, and what the results were.

You might also want to keep track of the time of day you use the products. I’ve found that some things work better for me in the morning, and some later in the day when my muscles are more warmed up.

Analgesic/Pain Relief Products Applied to the Body

Tiger Balm

For muscle soreness and pain, nothing will beat a good self-massage with the king of all analgesic rubs —
Tiger balm. While this is an intense formulation for some, it truly gets deep into the tissue and creates a tingling warmth that works for a significant period of time to relax and relieve twinging, spasming muscles.

For best results, I suggest either taking a warm shower or bath, or applying a hot wet washcloth to the area you plan to massage the balm into. Let the heat from the water do its thing for awhile, loosening up the muscles and preparing the skin to absorb more of the balm. Then rub a small amount into the area, using as much pressure as you can create and withstand to give yourself a self-massage while the balm works its magic.

To Buy: Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Ointment, Non-Staining, Ultra Strength, 0.63 Ounces (Pack of 2) (Amazon.com)

Eucalyptus Oil

I first came across eucalyptus oil spray in the local mall. One of those standalone kiosks that the mall rents out every so often – your mall probably has them too. I was skeptical, to say the least. But we had a half-hour to kill before the movie started, and my feet were absolutely killing me. I had plantar fasciitis — an extremely painful inflammation of the fascii tissue in the bottom of the foot, that makes every step pure torture.

The salesman offered a free demo, and it was one of those “What have you got to lose?” moments for me. I let him put a heated rice bag on my foot for five minutes (which itself felt pretty wonderful), then he sprayed the oil directly on the foot, and massaged it in.

Within five minutes, the pain was literally gone, completely. No one was more surprised than I was. I purchased three bottles on the spot, but used them all up eventually and of course, the kiosk guy moved on. Haven’t been able to find any since.

However, there is another option from Bath and Body Works, in an aromatherapy formula. While it’s not the same formula, you can use it in the same way and it seems to be just as effective as those first bottles I bought in the mall.

To Buy: Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Eucalyptus Spearmint Relax Smoothing Oil 4 fl oz (Amazon.com) (note: they seem to be out of stock at Amazon.com, but you can probably get it at the Bath & Body Works store, too; there also seem to be a few for sale on eBay.)

Bed Buddy: A Real Friend for Painful Parts

If you’ve never tried a Bed Buddy, allow me to be the first to say: what are you waiting for?! No, not that kind of bed buddy — although that has some interesting pain relief effects too … ahem.

Anyway: this particular Bed Buddy is a long tube filled with material that conforms to the shape of your body. You stick it in the microwave for a bit, wrap it around the affected area, and lie down for a nice relaxing rest.

Because it’s not plugged in to the wall, you can safely use this at nighttime while you sleep, without worrying about burning yourself as you do with an electric heating pad.

There’s a version for backs and one for sinus pain as well, which would come in handy for me right now. (I’m truly suffering with allergies. God figured fibro wasn’t enough? Sigh.)

To Buy: Carex Bed Buddy Back Wrap and Carex Bed Buddy Sinus Pack (Amazon.com)

Defying Gravity Works Wonders on Back Pain

This one’s not cheap, but worth every penny. I bought an inversion table a few years ago, on the theory that since my scoliosis essentially crams my vertebrae together like a pinched-together Slinky toy, hanging upside down for a few minutes a day might reverse the damage and create a little more space in there.

It works. That’s all I can say. It works.

Now, you won’t see relief immediately. This is one of those treatment options you need to stay with for awhile and do consistently before you feel better. The more consistently you do it, the better the results.

CAUTION: As with all treatments, but especially for inversion work, it’s essential that you talk to your doctor first. Make sure an inversion table routine won’t do more harm than good. But if the doctor gives you the go-ahead, an inversion table is a worthy investment in your overall back health.

To Buy: There are several good options on the market. I like this one, as it’s not as pricey as some models out there but seems to be fairly sturdy construction — Stamina Gravity Inversion Table (Walmart.com)

Pillows For Better Body Alignment While You Sleep

I discovered the joy of the body pillow during my pregnancy with Kayleigh, my daughter. I suffered from severe sciatica throughout all nine months from a ruptured disk (that was later diagnosed and fixed through surgery). It made good rest almost impossible until I found these two wonderful inventions.

Body Pillow

The body pillow is basically a pillow that’s roughly the length of your body, more or less. This one’s a good 50″ in length, so it fits most heights. Curl up next to it, sleeping on your side, and the memory foam will essentially “remember” your body’s contours, supporting you where you most need it.

To Buy: 50″ Memory Foam Body Pillow (Walmart.com)

Leg Spacer Pillow

Used in conjunction with the body pillow, the memory foam leg spacer pillow can create the perfect side-sleeping body alignment for chronic pain sufferers or anyone, really. It looks weird, but fitted between your knees while you’re on your side, the pillow creates the perfect amount of space to keep your spine aligned.

Why it’s important: Without the proper amount of resistance and space between your legs, your spine essentially misaligns while you sleep, creating undue pressure on the lumbar area which can lead to increased pain in the morning and a significantly lower quality of sleep. Sleep, as you know, is the number one most important healing tool in our arsenal, as that’s when our bodies do their best self-healing.

To Buy: Memory Foam Leg Spacer Pillow (Walmart.com)

Massage Chair Cushions For Your Back Pain

I used to laugh at these cushions when I saw them being demonstrated in the malls (beside the eucalyptus oil). I don’t laugh anymore!

The larger design can fit most office chairs. As do many chronic pain sufferers, I do my work from home at the computer. Sitting for any length of time leads to stiff muscles and increased pain, but these cushions can help alleviate that cycle, making it possible for me to work for slightly longer stretches of time.

But please know that no cushion is going to counteract the effects of bad posture, improperly aligned chairs and desks, bad wrist positioning, and the lack of frequent stretch breaks away from the computers. Use the cushion in conjunction with good ergonomic design and posture practices, and you’ll definitely see a difference.

To Buy: Two versions are available that I particularly like.  I use the longer one in my office chair, and the smaller one goes with me into the living room. Some models also have car charger adapters, that let you plug the device into your car’s cigarette lighter — great for long road trips! The Homedics SBM-200H Therapist Select Shiatsu Massaging Cushion with Heat is a full size version from Homedics and is available at Amazon.com; the  Healthometer Shiatsu Halk Back Cushion Massager is a smaller version and is available from Walmart.com.

Bath Salts CAN Help Relieve Chronic Pain!

Recently on Twitter I had an exchange with a friend of a chronic pain patient who had been venting about the lack of medical support she was receiving from her community.  I had made some suggestions designed to help him help his friend start taking care of herself.

One of the suggestions was to take a warm bath with epsom salts and spend some quality time sending loving thoughts to the hurting parts. The friend dismissed this as woefully inadequate. But, as I explained to him, this practice is essential for chronic pain sufferers.

It’s really simple: when we as chronic pain patients are not getting support from our medical doctors, we tend to sink into ourselves and feel hopeless, when we most need to start giving ourselves the support we’re looking for from others.

In giving this advice, I wasn’t diminishing his friend’s pain, or condoning the actions of her physicians, but merely advocating that when we as patients begin to take responsibility for giving ourselves the support and care we need, it has a way of evoking that support from others, over time.

More importantly, though, it helps us heal – and I firmly believe that.  By telling our bodies, essentially, that we love them, that we are grateful for their endurance in the face of so much adversity, that we treasure them even though they hurt so badly, we send the signal that our health and wellbeing is the most important thing, and the body has a funny way of responding positively.

Try it yourself right now. Think of the part of you that hurts the most at this moment. If you’re feeling good, think of whatever part hurts most often. Got it? For me it’s my lower left lumbar region.

Now, let that part of you have it. Talk out loud if you can, and insult the hell out of that part of you for hurting. How dare it hurt you so badly? Who the hell does it think it is? It SUCKS! And so forth …

Next, change your body’s position. If you were sitting, try standing or lying down. Do some light stretches — anything to change your body’s physical state.

Now try talking to it nicely. Tell that part of you that you love it. Say things like “I am so grateful for you. No matter how much it hurts, you are there for me, doing your absolute best to keep me going. I appreciate you.” It sounds silly, but just keep talking this way for a few minutes.

Notice how you feel after the loving self-talk. I’ll be willing to wager that there is some positive difference — maybe not a lot, but enough to be noticeable.

Imagine if every time you usually think negative things about your pain-ridden body, you stopped immediately and started saying wonderful, loving, supportive things about it.

Imagine doing this for weeks, for months. Imagine soaking your body in love, basically, every day.

A particularly effective way to try this positive self-talk approach is to do it in a warm bath, to which you’ve added soaking bath salts designed to loosen and relieve sore muscles. The combination of the warm water, the salts, and the positive meditation truly create a relaxed physical state, allowing your body to heal itself more effectively.

To Buy: One bath salts product I think is particularly effective is the Sore Muscle Therapeutic Mineral Bath Salt (Amazon.com).

Gentle Yoga for Every Body

Finally, I can’t recommend highly enough that everyone (with your doctor’s OK, of course) try restorative yoga at least once in your life.

This isn’t the action-packed flowing yoga you probably think of when someone suggests yoga for pain relief, by the way. This is a whole different animal altogether.

Restorative yoga is all about props — pillows, bolsters, rugs rolled up and placed underneath body parts to support your weight as you relax into very gentle, very easy asanas (or poses) in a particular sequence designed to truly relax every muscle in your sore, pain-addled body.

Particularly effective right before bedtime (perhaps even right after that relaxing positive-talk bath?), a few minutes of restorative yoga can work a world of difference in your pain levels, especially when practiced consistently over time.

To Buy: There are many good DVDs out there with restorative practice sequences. One I can recommend wholeheartedly is the Deborah Donohue Restorative Yoga Practice DVD (Amazon.com).

Final Tips: How to Get the Most Out of Conservative Pain Treatments

Finally, let me leave you with these suggestions to help your conservative treatments work more effectively.

  1. Don’t expect miracles. By and large, conservative treatments will not be as effective as serious pain meds. Don’t go into a particular treatment option with the expectation that it will work so well that you’ll be able to stop taking your tramadol or percocet or whatever.
  2. Conservative treatments are about management. Keep that in mind as you try new things.
  3. Give any new conservative treatment at least a few weeks before giving up on it. Some treatments require more time. Be consistent in your approach.
  4. Try just one new thing at a time. This way you’ll know what’s working if you experience measurable relief.
  5. ALWAYS talk to your doctor first!