Inflammation is complicated. While it’s beneficial for helping us heal when we break a bone or cut our skin, too much of it for too long, is a bad thing. Chronic inflammation, meaning occuring long term, has been linked to obesity, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer, accelerated aging and more—the list is long and varied. Fortunately, natural pain relief is possible.
Day-to-day, the symptoms of chronic inflammation can cause debilitating pain, as well as headaches and migraines. According to a 2016 survey by the CDC, an estimated 50 million US adults (20%) experience some form of chronic pain, which leads to “estimated $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost productivity and disability programs.”
The chronic pain caused by inflammation can lower your quality of life by restricting normal daily activities, leading to increased depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, weight changes, and sleep issues.
It’s difficult to have a full life when you don’t have the energy and physical health to really enjoy it. It can be tempting to turn to NSAIDs to deal with chronic pain, but regular use can do more harm than good by damaging your gut lining and gut microbiome, and stressing your liver.
There are more practical, broader lifestyle changes you can make that will not only make you healthier overall, but also reduce inflammation naturally. Whether you’re currently dealing with chronic inflammation or looking to prevent it, these tips can help. Just remember to follow the advice of your doctor, and to speak with them before making any major changes.
1. Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
What we eat has a profound effect on our gut microbiome, our inflammation levels, and our overall health. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet means consuming whole foods that fight inflammation, while avoiding those that cause it.
For example, focus on “eating the rainbow”—the more colors and diversity in your meal, the more nutrients, antioxidants and benefits you’ll be getting. Look for whole plant foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and buy organic, hormone free, or locally when possible. Try to limit artificial sugars, gluten, dairy, alcohol, processed meats, excessive caffeine and refined carbs – all of which, for many, can worsen inflammation.
Read more on how to eat healthy and nurture your gut microbiome here.
Click here for my personal favorite Anti-Inflammatory Soup Recipe!
2. Fit in Movement
While as a society we are becoming increasingly sedentary, the body is meant to move. Aim for at least 30 minutes of low impact exercise 5x a week—this can be as simple as a walk around your neighborhood in the evening or taking a few minutes to stretch in the morning (which is another tip!).
Movement is beneficial for reducing chronic inflammation because it increases strength and flexibility, can reduce blood pressure, strengthen the heart, and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines, (which are protein molecules that mediate inflammation). As an added benefit, exercise has also been shown to benefit your brain and your mental health. It’s amazing that just by moving you can find natural pain relief!
3. Lose Weight in a Healthy Way
If your doctor has recommended losing weight, doing so in a healthy manner can be beneficial to chronic pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation “Losing one pound removes four pounds of pressure on swollen, painful joints.”
Long term nutrition studies consistently show that losing weight and keeping it off is less about dieting and more about making healthy lifestyle changes that are sustainable over time. A recent weight loss study from John Hopkins with health coaches showed that people do better with support and accountability. Participants who worked with an in person or remote health coach were able to lose weight and keep the weight off long term, versus those who tried to lose the weight alone.
By following an anti-inflammatory diet, by getting a little movement every day, or working with a nutritionist or an integrative health coach, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a healthy weight and controlling inflammation.
4. Spend Time Stretching
Stretching is a low-impact movement that can improve range of motion and overall mobility, both which are important for decreasing pain and inflammation. Different stretches can impact your body in their own ways. If you stretch out your back and spine-supporting muscles, you’ll lessen tension that can cause back pain. It can also reduce your risk of disability due to back pain.
5. Try Massage
Massaging out pain not only feels great in the moment, but it can have long term benefits. Studies show that massage can treat stress, pain, and muscle tension. And while more research is needed, massage may also be helpful for anxiety, headaches, stress-related insomnia, TMJ pain, fibromyalgia, and other soft tissue strains or injuries.
Just be sure to listen to your body and don’t massage more than is helpful. According to the Arthritis Foundation, while gentle, moderate pressure can help pain, during active flare-ups when joints are extra sensitive it may not be a good idea.
6. Try Physical Therapy
Physical therapists have a variety of ways to provide natural pain relief, including encouraging movement, strengthening muscles, and using massage. They also provide other techniques, like heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, cupping, and more.
Personally, I’ve found Physical Therapists trained in ART (Active Release Techniques®, which is a soft-tissue mobilization technique) to be far more beneficial in helping to alleviate my own chronic pain. You can find an ART practitioner in your area here.
7. Start Meditating
Meditating can be helpful for quieting a racing mind, but it can also be helpful for natural pain relief too because of the mind-body connection. There are many different ways to meditate, so try out a few to find what works best for you. One simple way to get started is by using apps like Headspace and Calm, which provide guided meditation sessions.
8. Get Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic techniques restore range of motion and alignment to the spine and other joints in the body, ensuring proper function of the central nervous system. Because so many people experience pain in their back and spine, and because the spine is central to our everyday movement, caring for this area can provide effective relief.
Chiropractors may also advise you of proper stretching techniques and sleeping positions and help you correct your posture to alleviate pain.
9. Get Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a type of Chinese medicine that involves strategically placing small thin needles into the skin. It can act as a natural painkiller by stimulating the body’s blood flow, nervous system, neurotransmitters, and muscles. Studies have shown that acupuncture is beneficial for a lengthy list of health concerns, like back and neck pain, chronic fatigue, insomnia, Fibromyalgia, allergies, and more. Although it has been around for over 5,000 years, acupuncture has only gained traction in the Western World during the past few decades. An acupuncturist can target inflammation and pain to help bring you relief.
10. Try TENS
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a type of electrical stimulation often used by Physical Therapists and Chiropractors to relieve pain. An electromagnetic current is delivered to the affected area via small electrodes on the skin. It works by disrupting your perception of pain, thereby making you feel better. It can be used for a variety of issues, including back pain, Fibromyalgia, tendinitis, and arthritis. One benefit of TENS is that it provides drug-free, natural pain relief.
BONUS – Supplements for Reducing Inflammation and Natural Pain Relief
Found in the well known spice turmeric, curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to a study on Arithitis.org, 1,000 mg a day of curcumin relieved arthritis pain and inflammation as well as NSAIDs.
Turmeric on its own is good for reducing inflammation, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, taking turmeric extract three times a day may be comparable to a 1,200 mg dose of ibuprofen a day.
Willow Bark is often used as a replacement for aspirin, and in fact, it’s been used for centuries as a natural pain reliever. One study found Willow Bark to be better than a placebo at reducing lower back pain.
A Magnesium deficiency might play a role in migraines, and if this is something you deal with supplementation may be helpful.
Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense, has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory properties. From Rheumatoid Arthritis and IBS studies, to potential cancer treatments, Boswellia studies on animals are promising, however more studies on humans are needed.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower levels of inflammation. They are most often found in fish oil (and fish) in the form of EPA and DHA. You can also find it in vegetarian sources like vegetable oils, nuts, and flaxseed in the form AHA.
Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb with a long list of additional benefits. One study found it reduced pain and inflammation in those with arthritis.
While the research is still ongoing, evidence points to cannabinoids as a beneficial treatment for reducing inflammation and providing natural pain relief. One FDA approved CBD cream that I have personally found to be really beneficial is called Reduce. It is also certified organic, hemp based, and works for me in about 15 minutes.
Interested in Working with a Health Coach to Nourish Your Body and Reduce Inflammation Naturally?
As an Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Duke Integrative Medicine trained health and wellness coach, I’m passionate about helping people create sustainable long-term changes with their health so they can feel their best inside and out. Together we’ll optimize your health utilizing a whole-body approach, working on things like eating more clean whole foods, reducing your inflammation, and lowering your stress so you can thrive and achieve your full potential.
To get started, fill out this form to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching consultation with me.
** Medical Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only. The purpose of this post is to promote a broad understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen or taking any new supplements. **
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