The reality is that many of you reading this live in bodies riddled with chronic pain. Some of you are saddled with emotional pain too, because healthy onlookers may be quick to criticize. No one says anything to you if your leg is in a cast because they see that you have a broken leg. But for many of you, the pain is not so obvious and relatives and friends may not ever acknowledge your suffering.
The pain that you can’t ‘see’ –but definitely feel—could be lodged in your joints, your head, or your nerves.
From life’s little bumps and bruises to pre-menstrual pain, arthritis, back pain, post-surgical pain, dental pain and nerve pain, we’ve got you covered. In a moment, I’m going to tell you about some of your options, both pharmaceutical and natural because I understand how important it is to enjoy your life. Pain gets in the way of enjoying life.
For most people, their pain is temporary (like a toothache or a backache) and it eventually goes away, but for many others, the pain lingers, becomes chronic or disabling. Sensitivity to pain is an individual issue too, I’ve known people who seem to handle fibromyalgia pain fairly well, while other people are taken down for 2 days from a paper cut. Pain thresholds vary, and we each experience it differently.
Sometimes it’s so bad that you want to die. I’ve gotten your letters through my syndicated column, and through twitters/facebooks pleading for help. I’ve seen you at the pharmacy fighting back the tears. The amount of human suffering that I saw in 7 years working in Florida nursing homes was just what I needed to inspire my mission of spreading health information. So if you are at your wits end, hurting all day, and not sleeping at night because of your pain, let me see if I can help you. This article is lengthy and contains information about both conventional drug treatments as well as over-the-counter natural remedies. I’ll start with the medications.
Let’s sneak into my pharmacy and see what the best choices are for pain relief—
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug for your pain. The most popular one on the market today is Celebrex. Most people remember its infamous sister drug Vioxx which was yanked off the market in 2004 after fatalities occurred. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insists that Celebrex is safe despite its close relation and so far, it remains available and widely prescribed. That said, my suggestion is to steer clear of it if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. It’s true that Celebrex is an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used for arthritis, back pain, joint pain and chronic disorders that have an inflammatory component but it seems to increase one’s risk of dangerous heart-related side effects. Celebrex goes to work quickly, within a few days.
Cousins to Celebrex include Voltaren, Mobic, Motrin and Naprosyn. These drugs are also available by prescription but they seem to pose less of a risk to the circulatory system and heart compared to Celebrex. Your doctor should figure out which one of these anti-inflammatories is best for you based on your medical history and type of pain.
And then there’s Ultram. This drug relieves all types of pain and it might make you happy. It lifts a brain chemical called serotonin which is often suppressed in people who have depression. You could say Ultram makes you feel good from your head to your toes. Well, you might say that, but here’s Ultram’s little secret: It has side effects just like every other drug. These include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, headache, jitteriness, bizarre dreams, itching, sweating and agitation. Watch out, drinking grapefruit juice might spike levels of this painkiller which by the way, is habit-forming for some.
Narcotics such as Vicodin or Lortab are used for moderate aches and pains. Stronger versions of this narcotic include Percocet and Percodan. These drugs are opiates and they work by changing the way our body senses pain. They’re terrific options for headaches, back pain, joint pain and nerve pain, but they might make you dizzy, sleepy, nauseated and constipated. Pharmacists will often stick a label to narcotics to remind you not to drive or operate machinery while taking this drug. As of this writing, all 3 of the 4 drugs listed above are on the chopping block by the FDA and they are considering a ban on the drugs.
Oxycontin: This one is reserved for very strong pain. It’s an excellent pain-reliever when taken properly and in normal doses but it should never be crushed or chewed. Oxycontin has a super-cool, unique delivery system which utilizes a tiny meshwork inside the tablet. It slowly releases medication over 12 – 24 hours, providing long-term relief. The problem is that druggies and naïve kids have tried to get a buzz off Oxycontin, by crushing the drug. People who do this, even by accident, don’t usually live to tell about it. Crushing or chewing this medication is dangerous because it opens the floodgates and releases the entire drug dosage into the body all at once.
This is a class II narcotic so it is held under strict regulations and it is readily dispensed to people who have authentic pain and are suffering. It is frequently used in chronic, disabling situations or for the terminal.
Lyrica: This drug relieves nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles, trigeminal neuralgia or other burning/stinging pains that shoot into your arms, legs, fingers, toes and face. The drug can make some people confused and sleepy, short of breath and weak. This medication actually belongs to a class of drugs that work to control seizures. It’s important to work your way up with this medication… until you find the most effective dose, and if you get off the medication, to work your way down. Do not suddenly stop the medication. Also be aware, it has a detrimental effect on your vision so please ask your doctor if you should continue it (if you start to experience visual disturbances, loss of vision or blurry vision).
Lidoderm: This is a skin patch so it’s extremely convenient. It delivers lidocaine, the anesthetic which numbs you. It can numb the skin for minor medical procedures or right before shots. Lidoderm might ease back pain and the burning/stinging pain that can result from shingles. Don’t overdo these patches because too much lidocaine can stop the heart. Seriously.
Duragesic: These are skin patches that deliver powerful pain medication. It gets absorbed through your skin into your bloodstream, bypassing the GI tract. Unlike Lidoderm, which numbs the area, Duragesic actually relieves the pain by reducing the transmission of pain-causing chemicals. This drug is reserved for the most chronic, disabling types of pain, as in terminal cancer. One patch works for 3 days straight. Side effects are drowsiness, slowed breathing and heart rate. Do not cut the patches, there have been fatalities associated with this because you are dumping the whole entire dose out of the patch, all at once. It’s supposed to be delivered slowly. Also, no alcohol on this one for sure!
Botox: Yep, Botulinum toxin, the same pretty poison used to smooth out wrinkles… this particular type is called Myobloc and it’s injected through the skin into the areas where you have pain. For example, if you have facial neuralgia or migraines, it is injected around the forehead, the back of the head and so forth. A neurologist has a “map” and knows where to inject the drug so it will help you. It can help relieve migraines, back pain, neck pain and other painful conditions. One series of shots can offer pain relief for months. Forms of Botox have found other uses, like for sweaty palms and armpits, a condition termed “hyperhidrosis.” How beautiful is that?
Steroids: They aren’t just for body builders. Prescribed steroids control inflammation and pain in the body. You can take these drugs by mouth and here are some popular ones which come in tablet form or convenient dose packs:
These medications can help you with arthritic conditions, allergic reactions and severe pain in the body. You can also inhale them, or squirt them up your nose to relieve inflammation in your sinus cavities or breathing tubes. Don’t expect any muscles from these steroids, the drugs I’m talking about are strictly medicinal. Side effects are lengthy and depend on the type of drug you take but you might expect insomnia, crankiness, constipation, stomach cramps infections and sometimes psychosis. Psychosis! Or milder forms of it like bizarre thoughts, paranoia, agitation, aggressiveness and like you want to burst out of your skin. Now that you’ve had enough about the medications, their good side and their bad side, let me share other options with you because there are plenty 🙂
Let’s go check out some weird but super-amazing natural remedies that you won’t find behind the pharmacy counter—-
Crabs & Lobsters
They give us glucosamine which helps build up the squishy stuff between your joints so it’s great if you have osteoarthritis. Some studies compared natural glucosamine to medicine and guess what…glucosamine worked better in the long run!
It’s a mineral that is important to your mental health because it might be able to prevent (and possibly treat) depression and reduce feelings of anxiety. But magnesium is also wonderful for your muscles. A deficiency can cause pain that feels like fibromyalgia, tenderness, muscle weakness, achiness and leg cramping. It can also cause benign fasciculations (ie muscle twitching).
People have no idea how powerful one little mineral can be until they realize they are deficient, they try it and they notice the difference. Not everyone is deficient in magnesium but you’re more likely to run out if you eat processed foods, lots of sugar or have digestive problems like Celiac, Crohn’s or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Magnesium it’s mugged by a lot of drugs did you realize that? If you read that chapter in my book, Drug Muggers: How to Keep Your Medicine from Stealing the Life Out of You!, there is a lengthy list of drugs that steal magnesium from you. Among them are estrogen-containing hormones like birth control pills and synthetic menopausal drugs, blood pressure drugs, any medication or water pill containing HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide), digoxin, Evista and many diabetic medications. Ways to replenish this mineral and suggested brands are also included in my Drug Muggers book (too lengthy/detailed to list here). CLICK HERE to buy a bottle of my Magnesium formula.
They contain a powerful extract called bromelain which acts like Pac Man chomping down on dangerous clots and plaques which cause pain and inflammation. Eating pineapples, or taking the supplement bromelain can help you if you have arthritis or any type of post-surgical pain. A study published in July 2008 in Clinical Immunology proved that the powerful pineapple extract could reduce the inflammatory response (by reducing neutrophil migration to sites of inflammation). There are many other supportive studies, although some of them were done in animals.
The kind of fish that swims in freezing-cold water like salmon, cod and mackerel. Eating fish or supplementing with pure omega 3 fish oils can reduce the amount of nasty prostaglandins which cause pain and inflammation. If that isn’t enough, fish oils boost mood, relieve constipation and clean up clogged arteries, making them ideal for people who have pain AND heart disease or high cholesterol. You can take fish oils with most all medications and other supplements. It has a slight blood-thinning effect, considered to be beneficial.
Ladies, fish oils increase suppleness in your skin. That’s pretty cool for being such slimy critters. Look for better brands that meet or exceed pharmaceutical standards.
More specifically silkworms, but don’t eat the worms! Supplement with an extract derived from them called “serrapeptase.” See, the silkworm has to emerge from its cocoon to fly away as a moth and it produces an enzyme which breaks up the cocoon. Therein lies the magic of silkworms because this very extract is a natural pain buster and anti-inflammatory. It helps people with fibromyalgia, arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, pretty much any kind of ‘itis.’ When serrapeptase is combined with other natural anti-inflammatories, it can relieve all sorts of pain, and it appears to shrink fibroid cysts.
Green-Lipped Mussels (Perna canaliculus)
You can eat the little guys if you want to, but the mild pain-relieving quality comes from their extract, which has been studies in humans and dogs. Green lipped mussels are popular in New Zealand, which explains why so few New Zealanders come down with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The magic in the mussel lies in two primary ingredients: A natural antihistamine and omega 3 fatty acids which calm inflammation. There is also a little glucosamine present, which is a building block for cartilage. This particular extract is best taken with others in this list because on it’s own, I don’t think it will work that well (however, let me know if you receive 100% relief and what brand you used).
Green-lipped mussels may have applications for asthma, multiple sclerosis and skin problems. Obviously, if you have shellfish allergies or dietary preferences that exclude shellfish, you’ll want to pass on this one. You’ll find more about this and other pain relievers in my first book, The 24-Hour Pharmacist (Collins 2007).
See, you have lots of natural ways to feel better, you just have to think outside the pillbox! Get in the driver’s seat and learning as much as you can about your condition; this will pave the way to long-lasting pain relief.
Get out of your comfort zone and for some of you this means consider hands-on-healing, hypnosis, transcendental meditation, yoga, massage, chiropractic and acupuncture –these are all non-drug alternatives that reduce pain chemicals and stress in the body.
There are many parts of the pie when it comes to regaining your health. Do whatever works!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.