It’s That Last Drop in the Bucket That Makes the Difference Between Pain and No Pain.

Overflowing bucket

photo credit: Fotolia

The only difference between the time that you’re blissfully oblivious and the moment pain and stiffness strike, is sometimes completely un-measurable.

One thing is for sure and that is the fact that we are all constantly filling our proverbial buckets with everyday pain triggers, but the body, by design, wards it off and sustains balance by all three means available: mechanical, chemical and emotional for as long as it can.  The reality is that we make our body constantly work hard behind the scenes to keep everyday pain at bay because of the way we live life.  For the majority of our years, the body is reasonably healthy and when we have all systems working in balance, we seem able to keep everything in check efficiently enough, so that the bucket is not ever brimming to that precarious point where it would take only one more drop to cause a spill.

Unfortunately with time, stress and continued imbalance, the body starts to become more vulnerable and less efficient at keeping the bucket contents in check.

In this blog post excerpt from my book I discuss in more detail how inflammation can exist without pain but pain does not exist without inflammation. Based on this fact, it’s indisputable that we do have some ability to either ward off the pain, cut it off at the pass or extinguish it effectively right away, the very moment it hits us – even if it’s out of the blue as it often can be – just like that bucket overflowing with water from one tiny little final drop.

“How do figure?” you might ask…

I say to you: Control the inflammation that is within reach, and you will buy your body time and more room in the bucket.  With fewer inflammation triggers filling your bucket to the brim, you create a buffer against all the inflammatory triggers that you cannot control – of which there are unfortunately plenty.

What are some examples of inflammatory triggers you can control?

Inefficient posture that causes friction which results in inflammation.  Food choices incompatible with your chemistry cause pH changes which result in inflammation.  Emotions like stress when out of control cause changes in hormones that govern mood, and inflammation can result from that as well.  All of these things are within our control to some degree.

Then there are the things we cannot always predict or sidestep quite as easily…

The second half of the menstrual cycle causes inflammation body wide. Viruses like the common cold cause inflammation.   Genetic predispositions like serum positive Rheumatoid factor (which is the familial tendency to develop a type of inflammatory arthritis), are also something we cannot control. But, we can control how much more inflammation we throw in the bucket alongside these irritants that are out of our reach when we take action to moderate things that are within reach like posture, pH and stress.

Now, don’t forget that the body is a cohesive unit that relies on a single system of waste and inflammation elimination, so, if there is inflammation in one area it will affect how efficient other parts of the body are in dealing with inflammation risk similarly to how traffic congestion on the highway will cause spill over traffic on the side streets.  Take a look at this post excerpt from my book for some fun visuals about the inflammation congestion that can lead to pain…

When you visit Stop Everyday Pain, be sure to sign up for email updates so you can be among the first to learn about what to do to control your individual inflammation triggers.

Natural Anti-Inflammatories Are Not Just Pills to be Popped

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photo credit: superfamous.com

Anti-inflammatory aids include over-the-counter medicines like Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), or foods like Turmeric, Ginger, Boswelia and nutrients like quercitin and enzymes.  But did you know that some of the most consistently effective anti-inflammatory measures aren’t necessarily in the form of a pill?

If you’ve started following the Stop Everyday Pain blog, you know that inflammation is the painful result of a build up of one of these three things:

  1. broken down parts of injured or stressed tissue
  2. the body’s own inflammatory response molecules
  3. natural byproducts of regular tissue metabolism

So, while it can be very helpful to take in substances that chemically disable and reduce the impact of these three things in our body, there are also very simple steps we can take to address this inflammatory build up and back up, which would in turn forestall the painful effect in the very first place.

Flush and Move to Speed Elimination of Inflammation…Literally

The first thing always to do is to stay as active as you can without increasing your pain while doing so.  In the case of a sprain, sometimes that means using your hands to gently move the injured area in all of the available ranges of motion with as little pain as possible – this way you spare yourself the use of your injured muscles and tendons that need to rest in order to recuperate.  Other times, when it’s not as obvious as a sprain, it just means taking a gentle walk and trying to avoid  more than 20 consecutive minutes of immobility. The human body is like a hydraulic system in some regards.  You have to mechanically pump the fluids to encourage movement and drainage.  Movement will activate your sump pump and get the garbage out.  Lack of movement will allow fluids to pool and fester.

How else do you get inflammatory “garbage” out of your body?  You flush it out with water.

Drinking water will act on the hydraulics with pressure, pushing from one end creating movement internally emptying out at the other end.

A fair amount of waste from inflammation is also excreted fecally, so doing what you can to make sure you keep regular bowel movements is just as relevant.  The ironic thing here is that many people react to pain killers and / or some NSAIDs with constipation –  creating another kind of back up of waste molecules. It’s considered a common and expected side effect.  Unfortunately it’s not the only ironic action of over the counter medication but one that is often overlooked as being significant in the role of pain.

Neutralize, Devour and Disable

So, you can probably see by the brief discussion of ways to mechanically move inflammation-causing chemicals and other irritating molecules out of the body, that these tactics are things we should all employ on a daily basis to prevent inflammation.   We are all our own best anti-inflammatory machines.  We already make our own enzymes which help to break down, neutralize and digest a good deal of the irritating molecules around an injury, but when the pain and inflammation overwhelm our natural capacity, it’s important to send in some help.

Another way to buffer your tolerance and capacity for pain is to capitalize on your natural inclination to break down inflammation-causing waste by what you choose to eat on a daily basis – as was discussed in this previous post: “Are You Eating Your Inflammation?”.  Your system’s ability to deal with adversity depends on the quality of it’s fuel.

Aside from making those low impact food choices, here are a list of other key anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients for those time when you need to supplement for a short time in order to restore your balance:

  1. Turmeric
  2. Ginger
  3. Boswelia
  4. Full spectrum Enzymes
  5. Quercitin

I highly recommend the reference website www.examine.com for a really thorough scholastic treatment of these herbs and nutrients and their pharmacology.

What has your experience been with natural vs. pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory aids? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Are You Eating Your Inflammation?

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Photo Credit: Fotolia

If you’re in pain, you are inflamed. No question. Inflammation is your body on fire (read more about that in this post on my blog-to-book project site Stop Everyday Pain).  To put out this fire, you need to first of all, stop throwing kindling on the flames. Then find a way to put the fire out altogether – smother it or douse it with water.

One of the things we do to feed the fire of inflammation is to eat things that keep the body chemically irritated and inflamed. What are these things that cause and add to inflammation? Processed foods, preservatives, sugar etc. are all evil but that’s yesterday’s news. Did you know that you might also be stoking the fire of inflammation simply by not eating in a balanced way. We might be eating technically well with all the right whole foods and organic meats and unprocessed naturally packaged snacks, but if the proportions are off, then our acid/base balance is also off and too much acidity is what leads to inflammation.

You’ve all heard of Omega 3 fatty acids. We’re all trying to get more in our diets because of all of the health benefits – one of them being anti-inflammatory. Chickens are even being fed omega 3s so that their eggs can be packaged and labeled as “Omega 3 Eggs”. This seems a little extreme doesn’t it? But this is what it’s come to.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of important things that are getting overlooked in our crush to gobble up fish oil and flax seed as our main sources of Omega 3 supplementation in our quest for relief from pain and inflammation.

Is Your Fish Oil Making You More Toxic?

First of all, if we mega-dose on Omega 3 oils then there is a possibility that the body will become overwhelmed and unable to properly metabolize the oil via our natural anti-oxidative processes. So, it becomes equally — if not more – important to take in foods that will help with breaking down the inflammatory free-radicals that can accumulate from high doses of Omega 3 supplement sources. If high doses of “good” oils are allowed to accumulate in the body they can pose an inflammatory oxidative stress on our tissues – completely counteracting our good intentions.

Are You Eating More Inflammation-Kindling Than Inflammation-Dousing Food?

Secondly, there needs to be a very important ratio balance between Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids. These are both essential to us for survival so we have to eat them – our body does not make them. The problem is that research shows that when we have too many of the Omega 6 variety and not enough of the 3 variety, the result is inflammation and disease. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this is exactly what the average modern diet provides! We are all eating our inflammation by having too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.

If you’re having trouble keeping those two straight you’re not alone. Think: “Omega Three will Set You Free” and whether you’re superstitious or religious or not – you’ve probably heard of the number six associated with “the devil” (666) – well, you can think of Omega 6 as just a little bit (just one third) on the evil side. It’s still important to our health but the 6s are just too easily abundant and tempting.

Here is a really quick over-simplified synopsis of where you find which Omega:

Omega 3 – to “set you free”, you’ll find in one form or another with the following

  1. leafy greens
  2. flax seed or oil
  3. fish

Omega 6 – just a little bit evil, is what you’ll get when you eat the following:

  1. grains
  2. most seeds
  3. vegetables that store energy in the form of seeds like the squashes and some nightshades

The realistic take-away is to do your very best to eat as much from the first group (leafy greens, fish and flax) as you can and just think about it before you stuff yourself with the other.

Some good online sources for more detailed discussion about Omega fatty acids: Dr. Ben Kim’s website and Acupuncturist Chris Kresser’s site

I have no personal or business affiliations with either individual.  I just found their handling of the material to be fair and balance.

Follow along on my blog-to-book site Stop Everyday Pain to discover other unexpected ways we often contribute to the fire of inflammation when we’re in pain.

References:

[i] pH => pain: Bray GE, Ying Z, Baillie LD, Zhai R, Mulligan SJ, Verge VM. Extracellular pH and neuronal depolarization serve as dynamic switches to rapidly mobilize trkA to the membrane of adult sensory neurons. J Neurosci. 2013;33(19):8202-8215. Ugawa S, Ueda T, Ishida Y, Nishigaki M, Shibata Y, Shimada S. Amiloride-blockable acid-sensing ion channels are leading acid sensors expressed in human nociceptors. J Clin Invest. 2002;110(8):1185-1190. Wu WL, Cheng CF, Sun WH, Wong CW, Chen CC. Targeting ASIC3 for pain, anxiety, and insulin resistance. Pharmacol Ther. 2012;134(2):127-138.

[ii] Simopoulos AP. The Importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79.

What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

Back pains

image credit: Fotolia

In my previous post I introduced the idea of how ridiculously injured we can feel after a night of what was supposed to be regenerative sleep.  This is just one but a popular example of everyday pain.  This is the kind of pain that has us wondering: “What the heck did I do to myself?”

As I mentioned in that previous post, I believe that our mattresses and pillows only play a minor role for most of us.  When we are in a state of pain, the mattress and pillows do become paramount and if they are a wrong fit for us, they certainly don’t help the situation, but they are not the main reason we feel pain.  Neither to blame is our sleeping position necessarily.  Pain, plain and simple, is the result of inflammation.  (read a short excerpt from my book about this here) There are a host of things that can cause a build up of inflammation which then causes the experience of pain.

If you’re waking up with it, whether it’s a low grade ache or a sharp stabbing kind of thing, you can bet that inflammation is at play.  Your body is either dealing with a higher than usual level of inflammatory byproducts, or your nervous system was not able to allow your muscles to fully relax and disengage during your sleep.  The over-engagement by your muscles can cause inflammation to pool in those affected areas.  Again the result is pain because of inflammation.

So, maybe you don’t care why there’s pain you just want to know what you can do about it.  Take my word for it then when I say: to manage the pain you have to manage the inflammation triggers.

1. Stop eating your inflammation

2. Help your body get rid of inflammation

3. Keep Calm!

Eating your inflammation

In regards to waking with pain, what you eat right before bed probably matters most but in general if you struggle with pain that seems to come out of nowhere, you should probably consider taking inflammatory foods out of your diet on a regular basis.  There are a lot of resources available about inflammatory foods (sugars, starchy foods, alcohol and red meat for starters). Read a bit more about this in my next post

Get rid of it

If you’re in pain and you’re doing everything else right, it’s worth considering whether or not you are eliminating waste well.  Are you drinking enough water? Are you moving your bowels daily?  A slow-down in our naturally detoxifying activities of urinating and defecating can bog down the body’s ability to flush away pain causing molecules in the body tissues.  The byproducts of just living and breathing are molecules that will cause pain if left to accumulate so, even if you don’t have pain this is a good reason to pay attention to your elimination!

Keep Calm!

Finally, if you’re stressing about your pain or just stressed in general, it’s probably going to add to the pain and that’s not something that’s just “in your head”.  Stress causes the body to crank out all sorts of pain-causing chemical reactions.  If the nervous system is chronically on high alert, your body will be more likely to flare up with the littlest amount of stress and it can turn into a terrible snowball effect if you don’t tend to it.

Of course, if you’re thinking: “well, if I’m not getting quality sleep because of pain then I’m probably going to be more stressed until I get better sleep…”  You’re right.  It can turn into a vicious cycle. This is why it’s not always a terrible idea to take over the counter anti-inflammatory aids (pharmaceutical or herbal) before bedtime.  Sometimes breaking the pain cycle is more important than “toughing” it out.  There will be a future post about what sorts of herbs or nutrients might be just as effective as those common non steroidal anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals.

Don’t put up with it anymore

Some of the most difficult clinical cases I see are with people who have trained themselves to put up with pain on a regular basis.  They’ve taught themselves, physiologically, to be in pain and do it well.  This means it will take increasingly stressful situations to get their attention.  This may seem like a noble goal, but it just makes it so much more complicated to help the body return to a pain free state.  If the body learns not to listen to the usual warning signs the warning signs can go haywire and become unreliable or the body simply won’t know to respond to these warning signs.  Usually pain is just a big traffic sign – trying to show us what needs to change for better balance.

If pain from inflammation happens like how the last drop in a brimming bucket of water makes it spill over, then there are some things that can be going on behind the scenes that will fill our buckets to the brim and set us up to be less tolerant of certain everyday inflammatory triggers.  Two common examples I see are: the naturally inflammatory phase of the menstrual cycle and the 24 hour time span before we get sick with any garden variety upper respiratory virus.  Check out the future posts for more about this….

Have YOU Had a “Sleeping Injury”?

sleeping cat

photo credit Fotolia

No joke. Sleeping can seem like the most dangerous activity we do and especially for anyone who has ever had the experience of waking up with a “crick” in the neck.  More often than you would think, when people show up in my office with searing and immobilizing pain and I ask: “How did this happen?” I hear: “I don’t know, I just woke up with it like this!”.  It usually doesn’t have as much to do with the mattress or our sleeping position as we think.  These things are definitely factors but when everything is in balance, our body does a good job of tolerating suboptimal situations, for example, a softer than ideal mattress or a badly sized pillow. The main reason that we might wake in pain from doing nothing is because we either go to sleep with greater level of inflammation in our tissues than is manageable or we are unable to allow the muscles to completely relax while sleeping.

Quite a few years ago one of my patients showed up in my office complaining that she was feeling fine – no sign of pain or stiffness for months before now, and then she finds herself waking up from a dream in which she remembers vigorously and extensively re-arranging her living room furniture – so much so that the first thing she did was to look at her living room to see if she really did it.  Her furniture was exactly as she’d left it before bedtime, but now she found herself sore and stiff from head to toe but in particular she was feeling lower back pain as though she had been lifting something…

This is an example of how active our body can be when we think we are resting.  The neuroendocrine system is often simply behaving in response to our body chemistry and it’s not uncommon to sleep a full night and not feel physically rested because of an imbalance in our biochemistry that the body is trying unsuccessfully to remedy.

So, what can you do if this happens to you?  You probably will need some outside help correcting the resulting mechanical imbalance at play, but you will also need to address the reason this happened in the first place.  Sleeping positions are one of the hardest things to modify and because of how important sleep is over all else, I do not push my patients to make changes unless we’ve addressed the underlying biochemical issues first.

For a quick general overview of things that may need troubleshooting I can tell you that aside from mattress and pillow logistics here are some things that need further investigating:

1. What’s adding to your inflammatory load? (what are you eating or exposed to and how well are you eliminating?)

2. What’s keeping your muscles from relaxing? (how’s your stress, your electrolyte/mineral balance and water intake?)

3. How’s the temperature in your bedroom?  (too hot or too cold can cause the body to stay tense)

Check out my next post for an in depth look at all three factors and then some – to see how you can handle this situation and try to keep it from happening again.