April 7, 2017, by Dixie Somers – You’ve served our country with sheer courage and selflessness. Thank God you’ve survived combat and returned safely home! Unfortunately, as for many veterans, a field injury can often render chronic pain. Constant discomfort is debilitating, especially when relief is fleeting. However, alternative and natural treatments can tame persistent aches. If you’re discouraged by what you’ve tried so far, keep the faith! The following remedies effectively ease chronic injury pain.
You’ve probably tried prescription and over-the-counter drugs. While short-term use is fine, ongoing reliance has drawbacks:
- Acetaminophen – The active component in Tylenol is a leading cause of liver failure. It’s easy to overdose on this drug since it’s also present in medications for allergies, fever, colds, and insomnia.
- Aspirin – This drug doubles your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and perforated ulcers, even in coated or buffered form.
- Celebrex – Long-term use poses serious risks to your stomach and heart.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – Marketed as Advil, ibuprofen, Aleve, and naproxen, regularly dosing with these medications can cause internal bleeding and stomach ulcers.
- Opiates – These narcotics are addictive. Though opiates reduce severe pain, they have unpleasant side effects, including depression, drowsiness, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. If you take an opiate daily, you can become “tolerant,” requiring higher doses.
Thankfully, benign options do exist.
1. Topical Analgesics
Most topical painkilling agents provide relief of mild to moderate pain. Available as creams, gels, sprays, and essential oils, you massage them over your joints, muscles, and skin. The physical action of rubbing allows them to penetrate and increases circulation. Massaging also blocks pain signals from reaching your brain. Since topical analgesics aren’t taken internally, they don’t pose the above risks of oral drugs. Here are active ingredients in common over-the-counter products, along with some that may be new to you.
- Counter-Irritants – Available as menthol, camphor, and methyl salicylate, these agents distract your mind from pain by creating a cooling or warming sensation. Counter-irritants are sold in pharmacies.
- Salicylate – Chemically resembling aspirin, salicylate is a natural plant chemical. It lessens pain in superficial joints, such as knees, elbows, and fingers. Drug stores sell salicylate creams.Glucosamine and Chondroitin Gels – Glucosamine sulfate is a chemical already present in your joint fluid and connective tissue. It cushions bones, aids tissue repair, and quells inflammation. Chondroitin is another joint component that retains water, lubricates joints, and keeps them flexible. Glucosamine and chondroitin work in tandem. Apply these agents to aching ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows. Amazon.com sells these products.
- Arnica Montana – The flowers of this herb expedite the healing of bruises and swelling. Arnica prompts your body to send white blood cells to injured tissues. It reduces the inflammation caused by strains, sprains, contusions, and fractures. Rather than masking pain, it stimulates healing. It also reduces joint stiffness and muscle soreness. You’ll find arnica in your local natural foods store and some large chain pharmacies.
- Comfrey Ointment – This herb has two healing ingredients. Allantoin stimulates tissue regeneration, and rosmarinic acid soothes inflammation. Massage into achy joints and sore muscles.
Pain cream like MedPAINCREAM can also be useful for relieving pain.
2. Physical Therapy
Physical therapists have an extensive arsenal of modalities for pain relief. Among them are ultrasound, electric stimulation, whirlpool, phonophoresis, iontophoresis, moist heat, cryotherapy, and laser therapy. By conducting a thorough evaluation, a physical therapist (PT) discerns your treatment needs. Then, the PT identifies treatment goals and creates a care plan to achieve them.
Along with modalities, your care plan may include stretching and strengthening exercises. A PT can show you ways to minimize pain during daily activities. They can recommend devices that make movement easier.
If you’ve received physical therapy previously and discontinued treatment, it’s worthwhile to return for a new evaluation. Healthcare benefits are renewed each year, and the physical therapy profession is always evolving. Since you last received care, there are likely new treatment methods available that can help you.
Legally, for a physical therapist to treat you, a doctor’s prescription is required. The prescription must specify your diagnosis and a recommended frequency of PT visits. Your doctor may also order certain types of treatment.
3. MASSAGE THERAPY
Massage can help ease pain in several ways. By increasing blood flow, injured tissues receive healing nutrients and oxygen. Tissue manipulation triggers the release of natural painkilling hormones, such as endorphins. Oxytocin floods your body, relaxing muscles and promoting calmness. Various types of massage strokes relieve joint stiffness and muscle soreness.
Massage will also improve your immunity and quality of sleep. By aiding in tissue regeneration, it reduces scars, a common source of pain. It also alleviates swelling. If you suffer from migraines, massage can prevent their recurrence.
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) advises that professional massage benefits military vets by reducing pain, depression, anxiety, tension, and irritability. Licensed massage therapists are the most qualified. Licensing ensures that a practitioner is fully educated and trained in massage administration. Board certification is the highest level of professional achievement.
Should you decide to pursue treatment, note that proper massage should not increase pain. If a practitioner’s treatment does, speak up. They should modify their strokes to your comfort level. A physical therapy practice may also have a licensed massage therapist on staff.
Harvard Medical School advises that acupuncture is worth trying for longstanding pain. This treatment stimulates energy centers on the body, known as acupuncture points, to improve energy flow. Extensive research has proven its benefits.
One of the largest reviews to date was a meta-analysis of 29 studies involving approximately 18,000 subjects. Published in a 2012 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, the study concluded that acupuncture reduced pain intensity by roughly 50 percent.
Acupuncture has its roots in Chinese medicine. It evolved from the belief that disrupting the body’s energy flow causes disease. Activating acupressure points with hair-thin needles restores the movement of blocked energy.
Stimulating nerves also prompts the brain to release endorphins. Inflammatory proteins are reduced. Nerve growth factor is secreted, aiding nerve regeneration. Along with pain, acupuncture is used to treat sleep disturbances, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, common among veterans.
In Chinese acupuncture, the doctor may enhance the effects of nerve activation in three ways. They may slightly twirl needles, connect them to an electrical stimulator, and apply heat. Doctors employing Japanese acupuncture insert the needles to a more shallow depth and don’t manipulate them. Physicians dispensing Korean acupuncture apply needles to just the feet and hands.
During an acupuncture session, the doctor will insert four to 10 needles and leave them in place for 10 to 30 minutes while you rest. You’ll barely feel the needles being applied, and only single-use, sterilized needles are used. A typical course of treatment involves six to 12 appointments over three months.
The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, an accredited school, reports that acupuncture is clinically proven to reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies show that veterans treated with acupuncture have reduced symptoms of PTSD, depression, and pain. Relief is reportedly rapid and considerable.
As a military veteran, you’re eligible for covered services from licensed acupuncturists at your local VA facility. Also, as of July 2015, you can obtain treatments from private practitioners who participate in the Veterans Choice Program. Either way, you must first obtain a referral from a VA medical doctor.
5. Pain-Relieving Supplements, Spices, and Foods
Curcumin is the healing component of the spice turmeric, present in curry. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory. However, in turmeric powder, curcumin isn’t readily absorbed. Black pepper significantly improves assimilation. Piperine in black pepper boosts curcumin availability by up to 2,000 percent. (https://nutritionfacts.org/video/boosting-the-bioavailability-of-curcumin/)
The easiest way to obtain a therapeutic dose of curcumin is taking a standardized powder that also contains piperine. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 400 to 600 mg of curcumin, three times daily. You can buy this supplement at your local natural food store or online.
Alternatively, you can add turmeric, black pepper, and olive oil to your food. A safe daily amount is 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, a dash of black pepper, and one teaspoon of olive oil. Fat improves both assimilation and taste. More than this amount of turmeric and black pepper can upset your stomach.
NOTE – Consult with your doctor before taking turmeric and curcumin if you have diabetes or gallstones. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can eat turmeric with food but should not take supplements. If you’re scheduled for surgery, stop dosing at least two weeks before your operation. Do not consume turmeric or curcumin if you take blood-thinning medications or drugs to reduce stomach acid.
This spice thwarts an inflammatory enzyme that generates pain. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger on your food daily. You can also brew ginger as tea with store-bought tea bags, and drink three cups per day. Both ground ginger and tea are sold in supermarkets. Take ginger to combat migraines, sore muscles, and arthritis.
These ruby gems contain plant pigments called anthocyanins. Functioning as antioxidants, they inhibit pain enzymes and block inflammation. To treat muscle pain and arthritis, eat 12 cherries daily.
This golden fruit contains bromelain, an enzyme that calms joint and muscle inflammation. Since bromelain also digests protein, eat pineapple between meals rather than with them. Otherwise, the enzymes will be busy working on your food rather than inflammation. Snack on 1/2 cup of pineapple daily.
Present in tempeh, tofu, soybeans, and edamame, this legume relieves joint pain. Aim for 1/4 cup daily.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. Chomp on seven walnuts daily to conquer neck, back, and joint pain.
When prescribed by a doctor for a military veteran, physical therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture should be covered by health insurance. You likely qualify for benefits through the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To be eligible, you must have a service record of 24 continuous months or the entire period for which you were summoned to active duty.
This minimum service requirement may not apply if you were discharged for a disability acquired in the course of service. Several other exceptions can also waive the service requirement.
Now you’re armed with powerful weapons to fight chronic pain, without harmful side effects. You can start today, with topical analgesics and anti-inflammatory supplements, spices, and foods.
Visit your local VA facility for prescriptions and referrals to a physical therapist, massage therapist, or acupuncturist. Begin treatment with one of these types of professionals. Then, evaluate your results for one month before trying treatment with another healthcare provider.
You’re not relegated to constant discomfort. With the aid of alternative remedies, chronic pain can fade. Here’s a heartfelt salute to you!
AUTHOR BIO: This article was written by Dixie Somers, a freelance writer who loves to write about business, finance, careers, and education. She lives in Arizona with her husband and three beautiful daughters.