Here are my top 10 all-time proven strategies to help you get out of pain and back in the game!
Let's face it, pain relief is one of the primary reasons people see a Chiropractor. It's not the only reason, but it's a good reason. It’s worth noting that Chiropractic’s benefits go far beyond pain relief. Improved spinal function from a Chiropractic adjustment leads to improved health in every area of your body.
I will be the first to admit that I see a chiropractor for several reasons. When I get adjusted I sleep better, my digestion is better, my athletic endurance is greater, and my mood is improved. But I also enjoy the fact that my back feels better as well!
But let's say you can't get to your Chiropractor now, or you went and your still feeling some sort of pain (very common). What can you do?
Ready? Here you go:
1. Ice. If you are in pain and need some fast relief, reach for a soft-gel-type ice pack. Ice is particularly good during the first 2-3 days after an injury, but it can also be used for ongoing stubborn problems that won’t go away. ”But it's cold outside!" So, get dressed up warm, turn up the heating blanket, stoke the fireplace and put that ice pack on your sore back or neck (or other joints). And plan to take a nice hot shower or bath right after you ice.
Apply ice for a maximum of 15-20 minutes at a time, NO longer. Use a thin T-shirt or cloth between your skin and the ice pack. It's common for the area being treated to feel really cold, achy and even "burn" a little for the first 5 minutes, then the area goes numb and the cold feeling decreases. Avoid using ice for longer than 15-20 minutes. You can do more harm than good by keeping ice on for longer periods of time. Wait at least 2 hours before repeating with ice.
Ice therapy reduces swelling and decreases pain signaling. The cold has a “squeezing” effect on the muscles and soft tissue under the skin. Ice therapy also helps to promote circulation because after you remove the ice your body’s natural response is to increase the blood flow to the area. That’s why your skin turns red after you take the ice off. This helps to flush out toxins and damaged cells, and also brings nutrients and natural pain relief to the area. But be careful NOT to use ice for longer than 20 min every 2 hours. And it’s always a good idea to warm up the area with a hot shower, bath or by using a heating pad (see tip #2 below).
You can use ice as long as you are noticing benefit from it. If the pain doesn’t go away or lessen within a couple of days of using ice therapy then definitely consult your Chiropractor or Medical Doctor.
Most doctors suggest to use ice only for the first 2-3 days, but ice can really be used effectively as a healing agent for weeks at a time (due to the circulatory improvement in the area). This is especially true when alternating with heat therapy.
Tip: if don’t have a soft gel ice pack don’t use frozen peas or corn, they don’t stay cold long enough to work. Make your own home made gel pack instead!
-Large zip lock freezer bag. Freezer bags are sturdier, but any bag will do. Lesser quality bags can rip or leak more easily.
-Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Available in two concentrations: 70% and 91%. The recipe here is using 91% so just add more if you’re using the lesser concentrated form.
-Natural food coloring (completely optional - but if you want it to look like the professional bags just add some color.
Making the Ice Pack:
For the gallon size zip lock bag use:
-5 cups water
-1 cup rubbing alcohol
-a few drops of coloring
Mix everything together
Stick the bag in the freezer until cold then use! If you find it leaks, then you can either use a higher quality bag or double bag it! If the liquid gets too hard, then add more alcohol. And if you are using smaller bags then adjust the volume of liquids but keep the ratio the same.
2. Use Moist Heat. Many doctors and health care professionals recommend using only ice during the first 2-3 days after an injury. However, in working with professional athletes for the past 16 years we find the best results are obtained by using “contrast therapy.” Contrast therapy is the process of alternating with ice and heat.
Get an electric heating pad or a hot water bottle and make it as hot as you can without being uncomfortable or burning your skin. It should NOT hurt when applied. Then take a wash cloth and wet it with warm water. Squeeze out the excess water so the cloth is damp. Apply the wet wash cloth to the painful or stiff area, then place the heating pad or hot water bottle directly on the moist wash cloth. Leave on for 20 minutes.
Avoid using just heat alone during the first 2-3 days after a significant injury. Heat alone can increase inflammation and lead to more problems. If you simply have stiffness or tightness with little or no pain then you may be able to use moist heat alone without using ice, but pay attention to how you feel
afterwards. If you notice an increase in pain or swelling then make sure to oscillate with ice.
If you have time only for one thing, do the ice protocol above and take a quick hot shower or bath after. But if you can do both then here is the best timing: Ice for 20 minutes, rest and walk for 20 minutes, moist heat for 20 minutes, rest for 2-3 hours. Repeat until pain goes away.
This works because: ice reduces the swelling and alleviates some of the pain. The cold pack compresses or “squeezes” the tissue, then contrasting heat warms up and “expands” the tissue which improves circulation, drawing life giving nutrients to the painful-damaged area. Ice-Heat oscillation creates a 'pumping' action in the tissue pushing out damaged cells and inflammatory chemicals and drawing in nutrients and pain relieving chemicals.
3. Apply topical gels like Arnica Cream or Tiger Balm gel to the painful area. These gels help to improve circulation, reduce pain and inflammation and improve function. I have found the most effective ways to use these gels are in combination with the moist heat protocol above. Apply a liberal amount of the gel to the painful area. Place your moist wet towel over the area. Place the heating pad on the towel. Follow the rest of the protocol above. You can leave the gels on even when you use Ice packs. Apply more gel each time you do another heating session.
Warning: Tiger Balm is warming on its own and has two strengths. The stronger Tiger Balm gel can get really warm feeling to the skin even without heat. Judge how much you want to use before you apply the moist heat. Wait 10 minutes after you apply the gel before you add moist heat. If it gets too hot then remove the heating pad and wash the skin off with soap and cool water.
4. Walk and move slowly. Walking is one of the best ways to get rid of back and neck pain. When you walk your spine gently twists back and forth moving all 24 vertebrae. This gentle twisting movement allows your vertebrae and muscles to move and circulate blood and other life giving fluids. It lubricates the joints and activates all the small muscles along the spine. Gentle movement is essential in restoring normal muscle and nerve function to an injured or painful area.
5. Stretching and Yoga. Know when to stretch and when NOT to stretch. If you have an acute painful injury or a sharp stabbing pain it is best not to stretch the area until the pain subsides significantly. Use the above protocols until you feel that the pain is manageable and you can stretch the area without exacerbating the pain. If you notice during your stretching that the pain is worsening then stop and do the above protocols.
Timing of stretching: it is best to stretch when your body is warmed up a little. I have found that the most effective use of stretching is after the moist heating protocol, and/or after a walk or exercise. You can help your stretching by applying the above gels to the area before your stretching. Go for a walk before and/or after you stretch, then repeat the icing protocol because stretching can stir up some inflammation in injured or painful tissue. Always stop if it becomes too painful or you notice negative benefits.
6. Use supplements and homeopathic remedies. Certain foods, supplements and homeopathic remedies improve the inflammation response. Even if it appears that you had no injury you can still have internal, localized swelling causing you pain. I prefer staying away from the over the counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medication due to the well-documented side effects of these drugs (search: NSAID side effects, leaking gut, ulcers, liver toxicity and back pain). And it’s also worth noting that you don’t want to necessarily eliminate the inflammation, but IMPROVE the process with natural supplements or homeopathic remedies. Inflammation is actually a beneficial process which we don’t necessarily want to fight with powerful medications. But if you must use medication, use it conservatively and wisely, stop as soon as you can and avoid prolonged use if possible.
*Note: I am a Doctor of Chiropractic and am not licensed to give advice on medications. You should consult with a medical doctor if you have questions about the use of medications.
Natural anti-inflammatory supplements such as Arnica Montana, turmeric and homeopathic remedies are effective (although often not as strong or quick acting as drug therapy). Arnica tablets are especially effective when used in conjunction with the above ice and heat protocols. Also, Omega 3 oils (found in cold water fish, chia, flax, hemp) support our body's innate inflammatory system. It works best if you eat these foods on a regular basis to help maintain adequate levels of Omega 3 in your body.
7. Rest your body and your mind! Chill out and give your system a break from stress! Stress is the leading cause of back pain, neck pain and head-aches. Take some time to reduce your stress levels. Laugh a lot. Watch a funny movie. Meditate. Sing. Play games with your friends or family. Walk in the park. Take out a
notebook and write about all of the things you appreciate about your body.
*Laughter improves your mood and increases the release of healing chemistry in your body, which in turn speeds up recovery! The key is to do anything you can to get your mind in a good feeling place.
8. Go for a swim. If your pain is manageable enough to tolerate moderate activity, swimming is one of the best things you can do. It's not jarring on your joints and it helps your body to reduce pain and improve function. If you have the time complete steps 1 and 2 above before and after you go for a swim. Using the Ice/Heat before and after the swim is great therapy.
9. Good posture. Avoid activities that can strain your neck or back such as using your mobile device with your head dropped forward or slouching in soft chairs or couches. The best resting position for neck and back pain is on your back with your legs resting on 1 or 2 pillows (underneath your knees). Avoid slouching down in a chair, this tenses your spine. If you must sit, sit upright with your head above your tail bone.
10. Rolled towel. For neck pain and head aches specifically use the following extra protocol. Roll up a bath towel (dry) so it is about 4-6 inches in diameter (larger for taller/longer necks, smaller for shorter necks). Tie or tape the towel so it stays in a tight roll. Use your ice pack from protocol #1 or your heating pad from protocol #2 above and place it on the towel roll. Lay down (on your back, face up) with the middle of your neck draping over the top of the towel roll/ice pack. The ice pack/ towel roll should fit naturally in the curve of your neck. You want your neck to be slightly stretching in a natural curved position. Your head should be gently resting on the ground/bed on the upper side of the towel.
***Caution: If you experience any worsening of pain from any of the above protocols then immediately stop and consult your Chiropractor or medical doctor.
Keep in mind that, along with using the above protocols, seeing a Chiropractor is one of the best ways to get of of pain fast and will ensure that your injured areas heal properly!
Questions? email: email@example.com or call 530-270-9533.