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
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- Conservative treatments are about management. Keep that in mind as you try new things.
- 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.
- Try just one new thing at a time. This way you’ll know what’s working if you experience measurable relief.
- ALWAYS talk to your doctor first!