For many years the most common way to alleviate mild to moderate muscle pain was to take an over the counter muscle relaxer or another NSAID like Ibuprofen and continue life as normal once the pills kicked in. And while this is still a temporary solution many people turn to, there are a few things we've learned along the way that can greatly improve the way we deal with muscle pain.
First of all, it's important to understand how NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) work. Muscle relaxing or general anti-inflammatory drugs, both prescription and over the counter varieties, don't heal the source of the pain. Instead, they interfere with the communication between your nervous system and your brain and not in a localized way. You can already imagine the potential problems.
One problem is that your whole body is affected. You may have taken the pills to help with back pain or spasms, fibromyalgia symptoms, headaches or general muscle tension but the effects of the drugs will reach far beyond your problem spot. Your legs and arm muscles - in fact communication between all of your muscles and your brain - will be affected. This can give you that "brain fog" sensation and can even make you more likely to injure yourself when doing physical activities.
Another problem is the long list of potential side effects that stem from prolonged NSAID use. Side effects can include liver and kidney problems, stomach ulcers, allergic reactions and more. This is not to say that NSAIDs are never useful in the medical world, but it does mean that natural alternatives are worth looking into! The great news is, there are several natural muscle relaxers that soothe tense muscles and reduce pain. Most people find them very effective and they come with no harmful side effects. Here are a few of our favorite natural ways to manage pain:
Heat and Ice
Heat and ice are powerful pain relievers and they are very low cost. (In fact, no cost if you already own a heating pad!) Here's how they work, as stated in a previous post here on the blog:
"Heat helps increase the blood flow to the affected area where it is applied. It promotes relaxation and improves range of motion. It reduces tightness and stiffness. Heat is excellent for treating tightness and tension, muscle spasms, arthritis, and even headaches caused by neck tension.
"Ice slows down blood flow to damaged or injured areas. It reduces inflammation and swelling and helps control pain. Ice is an excellent way to treat headaches, sprains and strains, inflammation and injuries caused by falls or lifting."
Head over to the article "How to Treat Pain with Heat and Ice" for some practical, specific advice on how and when to apply heat and ice to painful areas.
Arnica oil comes from a plant with a pretty yellow flower that packs a punch when it comes to pain relief. Arnica contains thymol, which is an effective vasodilator of blood capillaries. This helps the body transport blood, even stimulating the flow of white blood cells, and move trapped fluid accumulations to reduce inflammation and increase the rate of healing.
Arnica is available as an oil, salve, liniment, cream or ointment and can be applied topically to reduce pain and inflammation.
The active substance in turmeric is called curcumin. One of its most powerful aspects is its ability to control inflammation. It's so powerful in fact that a journal called Oncogene published a study that compared several different anti-inflammatory compounds. The results demonstrated that curcumin was one of the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world, while the common painkillers aspirin and ibuprofen were among the least effective. Ground turmeric can be added to your daily meals or you can purchase a highly potent turmeric supplement at our office. Besides its anti inflammatory properties, turmeric has several other health benefits. Read about them here.
Clinical research points to the fact that most misalignments in the spine can be associated with the atlas vertebra, the very first vertebra at the top of your neck. This one tiny bone can affect the alignment of your entire spine. When the atlas is out of alignment it causes your head to tilt and your entire spine to bend in a slight curve. This causes postural stresses and strains that bring on back and neck pain, along with the problems caused by reduced nervous system function, which are many and varied.
Chiropractors take a whole body approach and adjust your spine so that your nervous system can flow freely and the body can heal itself naturally. Chiropractic adjustments, specifically the atlas orthogonal technique, is completely painless and free of side effects. It brings your body back into alignment alleviating tense and painful muscle spasms in the neck, head and back. Read up on atlas orthogonal and spinal decompression here on our website to find out why these techniques are so effective at alleviating pain and dis-ease.
Anti Inflammatory Diet
Sugars, caffeine, alcohol, trans fats and refined carbohydrates can all cause serious inflammation in the body. A poor diet can cause inflammation in numerous areas of the body and chronic inflammation can lead to all kinds of health issues, such as autoimmune disease. To get an idea, consider the fact that arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Heart disease is inflammation of the arteries, and so on.
Fortunately, by replacing those not so healthy foods with less processed, natural, organic foods, you arm your body with the nutrients it needs to avoid inflammation in the first place. An anti inflammatory diet really is your first line of defense against pain and inflammation.
For more information, see the articles "Reduce Inflammation with Your Diet" and "Chiropractic and Diet: The Dynamic Duo for Reaching Optimal Health".
Many essential oils are effective pain relievers and muscle relaxers. One of the most popular for this purpose is peppermint oil. It's super effective at soothing sore muscles and getting rid of tension headaches. Other oils that are beneficial for pain relief include lemongrass oil, which improves circulation and alleviates muscle spasms and frankincense and cypress oils. These too alleviate tension and inflammation.
Of course, most essential oils shouldn't be directly applied to the skin. Make sure to put a few drops of your essential oil of choice into a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. To learn more about how to use essential oils to treat pain, tension and headaches, as well as other common conditions, see the article "Adding Essential Oils to Your Health Regimen".
Bathing in warm water with epsom salt is another excellent, natural way to alleviate sore, tense muscles. It's long used natural remedy for bone and joint pain and can offer you many other health benefits besides just relaxing sore muscles. Rich in magnesium, epsom salts, even in a bath, can help alleviate stress, eliminate toxins and relieve constipation - just to mention a few added benefits.
As you can see there are numerous ways to alleviate tense, painful muscles without NSAIDs or prescription drugs. Of course, everyone is different and the natural muscle relaxers that are most effective for one person may be different for another. In addition, this list is by no means exhaustive. If you'd like to discuss personalized options for natural pain relief, feel free to call and schedule an appointment at our office. We'd be happy to help you create a plan to reduce and eliminate your pain naturally!