Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


Lemon Balm, come on “bee” happy!

This little herb has a very dear place in my heart, it is one of the first plants I went out and bought when I first got interested in herbal medicine in my early teens. I remember planting it in my little patch in my Mother’s garden, and how it pretty much took over everything. This is a great plant to grow yourself, but like many mint’s, yes its a member of the mint family, lemon balm will grow rapidly and pretty much take over. I tend to plant it in pots to help control its wanderings.

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Once you start to use this herb it is hard to stop, you find ways to add it to everything, and it seems most of humanity feels the same. It has a long history and many historical uses. The latin name of lemon balm is Melissa officinalis. Melissa means in Greek “honey bee” and there is a strong association between this plant and honey, bees, and gods. (I will be going over the details of honey’s awesome abilities in later posts.)

Throughout Mediterranean culture the bee was associated with earth and  goddesses. The Ephesians believed that the life of the bee was the model for society. The queen bee is the representation of the Great Goddess (Great Mother), and the people the worker bees who are also her children. They worshiped the goddess in bee form as well. So anything that was good for bees, or bees preferred, became a revered piece of vegetation.

Gold plaque embossed with winged bee goddesses, perhaps the Thriai, found at Camiros Rhodes, dated to 7th century BCE

Gives new meaning to being the Queen Bee

In Greece the same earth ties were made, but the most frequent was Artemis (Diana in Roman myths) who’s priestesses were called Melissai. This is all important since hives were part of temples and lemon balm was planted around almost all of the hives, as it was believed it would help keep the bees happy and content. Many medicinal writers from Dioscorides to Galen wrote about its properties, and Pliny the Elder said  bees were “delighted” with this plant above others, and lemon balm would be planted around, or rubbed empty hives to lure in wandering swarms, or to keep existing ones. It most likely originated in Turkey and spread to the Middle East and Mediterranean from there.

Lemon balm is also frequently used to sweeten the air, and is strewn about on the floor. Around the 10th century it was probably brought to mainland Europe and was planted, at Charlemagne’s request, planted in all monastery gardens. Monks were thought to have had a hand in further spreading the herb, though it may also have been the influence of the Arab cultures brought home from the Crusades that introduced lemon balm to Europe.

From monasteries is where one of the most well known historical uses of lemon balm was from. Lemon balm was a key ingredient for Carmelite water. Which was more often used for aromatic, than for medicinal use. Aromatic use since most illnesses were considered to be carried in bad smelling air, or miasmas. Even Shakespeare wrote of lemon balm in his plays, since it was popular during his time, but later fell out of favor with later medical practice, since it doesn’t have powerful purgative effects.

Lemon balm is in a lot of ways like turmeric, that is something you should try to include in your everyday diet. It has the wonderful effect of reducing anxiety and stress, and can be mixed into tea blends for anxiety, stress, stomach problems, or sleep. You can add it to teas, water, foods, pretty much anything! Not to mention, it’s lemony scent is rather lovely.

One thing we all don’t get enough of is water, water has recently reclaimed it’s spot as the number one beverage of the world, but we all should drink more than we do. It is also important because most pain medications dehydrate and it is very important to drink water with them. Also when you topically or internally use oils, it can be diuretic or cause drying, and it is important to hydrate after any type of massage or Graston session.

Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Stress Water Infusion or Lemon Balm Spa Water

  • 1 gallon jug with spigot (a jar and dipper will work too)
  • 1/4 of a cucumber sliced into medallions
  • 1 handful of fresh lemon balm, slightly bruised
  • Water

Wash and slice the cucumber and throw them in the jug (or jar), wash and slightly bruise the lemon balm. To bruise it just simply lightly squeeze it until you can smell the lemon scent get stronger. Add the water and let sit for at least 10 minutes. If you have this sitting out you can put ice in it, or keep it in the fridge. If you don’t you will need to toss and re-do the water every morning. I find with the stress of procedures, pain, and just daily life this is a welcome addition to my arsenal to combat stress.

ProTip: You can pretty much add any fruit or veg combination with fresh herbs. I found that basil and watermelon goes great, and blackberries with lemon balm is fantastic. For the fruits slice them if they are hard like apples, or puree them if they are soft like watermelon or berries and add them to the water. Be creative!

I also find when I make my herbal waters, I end up drinking more water. This is a good way to not only reduce stress, but a great replacement for people trying to quit soda, drink more water, or just reduce the amount of sugary drinks in their diet.

Of course you can make a herbal tea of lemon balm, and you can take it every day 3 times a day, just like turmeric. While you should be careful with most herbal medicine, this is one that you can sort of label mostly harmless. Drinking the tea will help with stress and anxiety as we have discussed, there is also mention that it will assist with memory. I haven’t noticed any differences in memory but others report they are sharper and can remember more. Lemon balm is an anti-viral and can help you get up and going sooner, or hold it off completely if you are coming down with virus.

Lemon Balm Tea

  • 2 tablespoons Dried lemon balm, or a handful or two fresh
  • 16 oz boiling water
  • Mints or other herbs for additional flavors (optional)

I recommend making a large teapot of this and drinking it through out your day. It is such a refreshing tea, you will want to drink it a lot. It definitely feels like a steamy cup of sunshine when you have a mug of tea on a cold day. And with fall here, and winter on its heels, we will all need a winter pick me up. It also can be easily made into a nice iced tea. Just add the steeped tea to a pitcher and filling the rest of the way with water and ice, and enjoy! You can drink this year round, all day every day, and is a great addition to outdoor picnics and BBQ parties.

Lemon balm is also good for digestion, and if you suffer from lactose intolerance like I do, or any digestive issues, this is a good tea to just have on hand like Peppermint to soothe any digestive problems. Really this tea is good for any stomach upset from taking medications, or pain, and is also effective against, heartburn, flatulence, and intestinal cramping.

Digestive Distress Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried lemon balm
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried catnip
  • 1/2 teaspoon Caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fennel seeds
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep in covered teacup for 5 minutes and drink. If you are going to make a teapot double all amounts.

Another great tea is one to help with sleep, lemon balm’s calming qualities lend a great helping hand to the calming effects of other herbs. The tea recipe below is rather strong and is good when you feel that sleep just isn’t coming, and you need the big guns.

Sleepy Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 2 teaspoon Lavender flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Chamomile flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Dried Lemon Balm
  • 1 teaspoon Skullcap
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger (or a few fresh ginger slices), or Licorice root (these are optional)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup and drink. Again you can double, or triple this if you are making a teapot. This works well when aches and pains keep you up, for tension headaches, migraines, and when you need some help sleeping and regular chamomile or holy basil isn’t enough. You can add Valerian root, but I will talk about that in other posts.

You can also make anti-stress, anti-anxiety sorbet, which I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but sorbet medicine is just about the best thing ever.

Lemon Balm Sorbet (Discovery Health Recipe)

  • 2 large Apples, finely chopped (Fuji, Gala, or other sweet apples are best)
  • 2 cups Fresh lemon balm
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 cup local Honey
  • Juice of 2 lemons, or about 6 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, preferably citrus flavored if possible

You can puree the apples and lemon balm together if you prefer a smoother texture, mix all ingredients and chill for a few hours to ensure an easy mix in your ice cream maker. Follow your ice cream maker’s directions, and store in a sealed container in the freezer. You can eat this every day, and while it is a tasty treat, it is also good for you! This is really a great way to add this herb to your diet.

Lemon balm’s final amazing attribute is that it combats dreaded cold sores, or fever blisters. Cold sores are a result of a form of Herpes, not the same as the STD, but still not very fun. They can be socially awkward, like acne, unlike acne they are caused by a virus and because of that will respond well to anti-viral for home treatment.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Compress

  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Finely shredded lemon balm leaves
  • 3/4 cup Boiling water
  • Bowl
  • Towel or wash cloth

Steep the tea in a bowl, and allow to cool. Soak towel and wring out excess moisture but allow towel to be damp, not dripping. Apply to blister multiple times a day, at minimum 3.

You can also use lemon balm essential oil to treat the blisters, as well as any skin blemishes. A drop or two can be added to teas instead of the dried or fresh herb to get the same awesome effects. Remember, therapeutic grade oils only.

If you are interested in purchasing lemon balm essential oils go here.

Really you can add lemon balm to just about anything you cook – fish, poultry, soups, desserts, cheeses, anything that lemon pairs well with. Since it is a softer flavor than actual lemon it is good for adding a slight lemon flavor to a dish. Just make sure when you add any delicate herb, especially when using fresh, add it near the end of the cooking time.

So go out and get you some lemon balm! Treat yourself to some relaxing beverages and food. While this is mostly harmless, be sure to check for reactions, like allergies or interactions on WebMD. And if you are in doubt, even in the slightest amount, ask a professional.

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Arnica, a klutz’s best friend

Arnica is a member of the sunflower family, with soft furry leaves that are most likely the origin of its name since arna is lamb in Greek. Only the flowers are used in herbal medicine, and while rare is a large part of local medicine where ever it grows. It is a fairly global phenomenon, growing in the more chilly higher elevations across Europe, Siberia and North America. Used for centuries for topical treatment of bruises, sore muscles, and healing. It is a great anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and personally I use it quite often to treat bruises and sore muscles.


photo by lunatik2811

Plus look how happy it looks! 🙂

It is great for after a session of Graston, after some intense exercise, or will even alleviate the irritation of sunburn. Graston sessions tend to produce bruising, and the application of arnica means less time between visits and therefore faster improvements in my mobility or reduction in pain. 

One of the common ways to find arnica is as an oil infusion. You can apply this directly to any painful area, or sore muscles. Any bump or bruise is a good candidate for treatment. As an oil it isn’t easily portable for use on the go or at work, so when I am traveling I carry a spray version of it.

Arnica Bumps & Bruises Spray

  • 2 oz spray bottle
  • witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • distilled water
  • 1 tablespoon arnica infusion oil

Put the tablespoon of arnica oil in the spray bottle, fill halfway with witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, and the rest of the way with water. Shake well before using and just spray and rub into sore areas.

If you would like to make your own oil infusion, it is fairly easy.

Arnica Oil Infusion

  • Clean mason jar (of any size)
  • Arnica flowers (enough to fill the jar shaking them down but not packing tightly but leaving about a half inch from the top of the jar)
  • A good quality oil (olive, avacado, jojoba, coconut, etc)
  • A sunny spot
  • citric acid (optional, will help to preserve and extend shelf life)

Fill jar with flowers, leaving gap at top for expansion, and then cover completely with oil. Sit in a sunny spot and everyday turn the jar over once and back then set it back in its spot. It is ready for use in 2-3 days but if you let it sit for six weeks it will be at its most potent.

You can also prepare a good salve for soothing achey muscles or bruises with this recipe, by WellnessMama.

WellnessMama Arnica Salve

Directions: Warm oil in double boiler. Add beeswax and stir until melted. Add Wintergreen Oil in desired amount (warning-wintergreen is very strong!). Pour into desired storage container (we use small tins or little jam jars). Let cool.

Can be used on bruises, sprains, strains, head bumps, etc.

Sometimes if it is a particularly sore or difficult bruise or painful area a tincture works great. You can apply it to a towel for a compress, or directly on a gauze for all day application. You can make a tincture just like you do the oil, except replace the oil with vodka or grain alcohol and store in a cool instead of sunny place. It is also commonly available at herb stores and online in pre-made bottles.

Arnica Tincture for Bumps and Bruises

  • 1 tablespoon arnica tincture
  • 1 pint water (warm but not boiling if you are using a compress)
  • gauze pad or towel

Combine tincture and water and then dip towel in and wring out and apply for a compress, or dip gauze pad into it and wring out and tape to affected area.

Warning! Warning! Warning!

Like all remedies herbal or otherwise, treat this with respect. Arnica should never be taken internally. It is highly toxic, as it contains helenalin, and cause severe issues – liver, heart and kidney issues. No one wants those. Topically if you have sensitive skin it can cause irritation, always do a test patch first to see how you react before using it. Never use on open wounds, or take it internally at all.

Some sites do recommend that you can take homeopathic versions of it internally, since there is no actual molecules of the plant in most preparations they are basically safe. Personally, I do not encourage or endorse any homeopathic remedies, since they are proven through many clinical trials to do no better than a placebo, or contain even a molecule of the herbal item it is claimed to contain. So it is just a bit of a waste of time and your hard earned money.

Remember always do your research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

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Is your Doctor listening to you?

One of the most upsetting things I hear when speaking to other chronic pain sufferers, or just any person seeking medical attention, is that they don’t like what is being done but because it is a doctor, and therefore a position of authority, they are complying anyway. This is one of the worst things you can do, you should always question and always educate yourself on the available options. Never just take what you are given without asking the whys and hows. This holds true for any medication Western or Herbal, do not ever treat any medication of any sort as mostly harmless. If it is strong enough to work, it is strong enough to be bad in large doses. Be smart, know as much as you can about anything you do or put in you. You are much more in control of your pain management, or medical treatment of any sort, than you think!

This is something I have had to learn for myself the hard way, not all doctors are created equal. Many are just in it for the money, no real care for you, it is just the most expensive procedures so they can get a fatter pocket. This issue is rife within the Pain Management section of medical treatment. I had to go through many, many pain doctors until I found one that would listen to my requests. I did not want to be put back on opiates for another two years, and I wanted a medication that was less addictive and did not make me feel so awful. Before her, I was just handed a script, and told to just take it. And when I told them I was still in pain, I was offered even more powerful, and addictive medications. Nothing was done to find out why I was hurting. I felt they were not listening to me, and my pain wasn’t being addressed properly, and I was right. 

This goes the same for Chiropractors as well, don’t them just adjust you then ask questions. They should sit and talk to you, ask you where the issues are and then only adjust the issue areas (unless of course you both discover a new one). If they are just adjusting whatever they want willy-nilly, you can end up even more injured. 

A grievous sin of the Western medical community is just slapping a band-aid on some symptoms and considering the patient treated. Just treating symptoms and not attempting to attack the root cause of the issue is something I can hardly stand to hear. It is upsetting for me, because I have experienced it and it only leads to more suffering for the patient. If the doctor is not treating the root of your issues, you definitely need to start looking for a new one. You shouldn’t be handed pills as a solution for everything.

So just like finding a good life partner, you have to go through a lot of weeds to find a flower when hunting for a good doctor. Here is a list of things you should do to help yourself find a good doctor.

Read Reviews & Check Online

Google them! Look on Yelp, any site that has reviews and testimonials from existing patients. Look for things like “listened to me,” “receptive to input,” etc, etc. And also look at satisfaction, did they feel they were well treated and issues resolved. Did the doctor fix the root cause, were they asking for input from the patient on their treatments, or were they just band-aiding things. The NY Times wrote a great article on how to do research on doctors before visiting them and it is a great resource for online places to look up reviews, go here to check it out. 

Speak Directly to Patients

If you can, this is a great way to find out about a doctor, if you have friends or relatives with pain issues ask them who they use, and why. Look for support groups for chronic pain online and in your area, ask them who they are seeing and if they are listened to. Are their issues being treated to their satisfaction? This is a lot like reading reviews, but you get a much better idea of a doctor when speaking to people about who they see and why.

Talk to Nurses

They are the best resource ever is Nurses. Nurses always know the good from the bad doctors and will usually be happy to share that information. Hospital Nurses are easy to talk to and you can sometimes just call a Hospital and request to speak with them. You can also look online, there are sometimes Nurse lines depending on your area.

Ask Your Insurance Provider

Call your insurance and go to their sites, see who is available, if they are rated. Find out what will be covered and not with visits before you go. No one likes a surprise bill or charge. Insurance providers can be a great resource for you in finding a list of available doctors in your area.

Interview Them

Talk to them, do you like them? Do they seem nice? Are they interested in what you have to say? Your doctor should be someone you trust, someone you can say “Hey, I don’t think this is working can we try something else?” And they listen, and provide you with options. You should feel comfortable with your doctor and feel you can trust that they are giving you all the available information, and receptive to your input.

If you would like another article on how to pick a good doctor check out this article.

Do Your Homework

Like I always say, educate yourself because no one will do it for you. Make sure you know what you are taking, or having done to you. Ask your doctor questions, then look things up for yourself get as MUCH information as possible. Make sure you aren’t taking medications that will react with anything that is prescribed to you by other doctors (trust me I have had this happen, it pays to check for yourself). And remember you can voice your opinion, if you look something up and you don’t think it is a good idea – tell your doctor. They should be able to discuss this with you and provide either a better reason why, or an alternative option.

Finally, remember your doctor and you should have a relationship, a give and take from both sides. Not just you taking what they give without question. Empower yourself, and you will receive better care overall, and all the hard work you put into finding that awesome doctor will pay off.

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Your Mindset Matters

I recently got some bad-ish news. I may be looking at a yet another surgery in my future, it isn’t terrible news but not the most fun. Surgery is really an inevitable thing with my current issues, but it is disheartening that it is so soon. Plus no one (well I would hope no one) gets excited about going under the knife.

Stuff like this happens, such is life, especially in chronic pain issues. There are times where it feels like all the hard work, emotion, effort, blood, sweat, tears and ground you have gained is lost with one fell swoop. It could be a fall, a really bad pain day/week/month after a reprieve, or even just a bad day at work. Small things can seem HUGE when you are in pain or low on sleep or just feeling like you have reached your limit. There are two choices when you are feeling emotionally and physically pushed to the extreme.

First choice – give up, throw your hands in the air and just throw in the towel on life. Things like “it’s too hard,” “it’s not fair,” “I can’t.”

Second choice – knock the lemons out of life’s hands, punch it in the solar plexus, pull it by its hair to the ground, and sit on its chest force feeding it the lemons until it whistles Dixie. ( 9 ._.)9 bring it!

If you can’t tell, I am more inclined towards the latter. It wasn’t always so, I struggled in my early years with depression and nearly lost the fight a few times. And I admit I tried to give up a few times, but thanks to having good people in my life, I made it through all of those times. Learning along the way, with failures and successes, I came to understand that those who give up will always lose. Those the fight for everything with all their body, mind and soul, will always succeed in what they set their mind to.

Everyone has heard a news story or heard of someone who was told they wouldn’t be able to walk, or use some limb, live past a certain age, and then out of sheer determination were able to. If you look at the people who do this, they all are incredibly focused on regaining what was lost, or keeping what they have. Some even seem to accomplish their healing through sheer force of will. And it is scientifically possible that their mind actually did play a large role in their healing.

Really. No joke.

There are tons of psychosomatic disorders, where a belief in the mind actually causes a physical manifestation in the body. One of the most dramatic (or at least I think so) is Pseudocyesis. This is a false pregnancy that due to the strong belief in the mind that the body is pregnant, and the body starts to display symptoms of pregnancy. There have been studies that prayer, of any sort, can help heal where other conventional means couldn’t. The religion doesn’t matter, praying for your self, or knowing others are praying for you really does help. You don’t even need to believe it seems in some cases, it seems just knowing that people are praying (and therefore caring about you) can help with healing. Prayer has been studied for the past few decades by medical science, and we still do not know why it works, but it does. There are also lots of studies being done with phantom limb pain and the mind, by tricking the mind to believe that the body is whole with mirror visual feedback or through other methods pain and other issues are able to be treated.  People who study martial arts, especially in a traditional way, will know that you can use “brain hacks” to trick your or your opponents body into behaving the way you want it to. The most famous mind trick is the placebo effect, scientists still don’t fully know why a sugar pill in some cases works as well as the actual medication. The mind is a powerful thing, but it can be fooled, and you can use that to your advantage.

How does this all relate to you and your pain? Well in loads of ways, I used to study Yoga, currently practice Tai Chi and have thoroughly studied many meditative practices. The one thing in common is the harnessing of the mind and the senses, and bending them to your will. Yoga itself means to harness, to rein in the senses. Basically actively taking steps to control your emotions and stress you will improve your mood, it will help greatly with pain, and has a positive impact on recovery. You are worth the effort, and you deserve to live well. So how do you start?

The positive man will pass. 

The positive man will pass. The positive man will pass. The positive man will…

Oh Indy! *swoon*

Anyway, your mindset matters. In all of your treatments and most importantly in your everyday life. Have a positive outlook on everything- your pain, your mood, even painful procedures. This can mean the difference between a great recovery and a mediocre or even a poor one. Trust me it is difficult, to be positive all the time, but this is something you can “fake it ’til you make it”. I remind myself constantly that I have no choice in what I have wrong with me, but I DO have a choice in whether I am going to be happy or not. You decide to or decide not to be happy, it is all up to you. You are completely in control of this and no one can do it for you.

Again I struggle to make that choice some days, there are many mornings when I wake up in horrible pain, and I know I have to push on through a long, long day. I could just give in to being grumpy, it would be so easy to, and a ton of excuses to back it up. But if I am the people I interact with will be grumpier, the day will get worse, and I will spread my grumpy malaise faster than an influenza virus. I stop looking for the things that make me happy and you can easily fall into the trap of wallowing in your pain. Some migraines make me so short I will cause more stress on myself just due to the pain I am in. The grump takes hold, the pain takes over and then when friends reach out to you…

I am…Nacho!

If I consciously make the choice to not do that, and to be happy instead, I usually have a super day and my pain decreases, and better controlled by whatever method I am using. Plus I just feel better overall, you really do start to feel happy pretty fast even if you are just faking it at first, and the grump just melts away. 

Just the simple act of smiling releases endorphins and we all know how great those free pain chemicals are. Plus if you are smiling people automatically smile back at you, they really can’t help it sorta like yawning. Try it! Go to a grocery store and just wander around with a smile, you don’t even have to make eye contact, and count the people that turn their frown upside down because they looked at you. You will be surprised, and you will feel kind of good about it. Like you’re a smile ninja.

Take pleasure in the small things, delighting in the small things uplifts the mood and reminds us that not everything is horrible. Look for that silver lining, if you think you have it badly, remind yourself that things could be worse. You remember the old “eat your green beans there are starving children in China” routine your parents tried? Well, remember it always, it is very true, not everyone has it as good as you do. If you have one form of something, there is bound to be someone much worse off. Don’t let yourself be negative, eliminate it!

Don’t Stress it!

If you are thinking positively, it is much harder to be stressed out. Stress, as we all know, is one of the worst psychosomatic “illnesses” one can have, but it is also the most common. Stress literally kills. But stress is not something that you have to have, you can take the bull by the horns and kick it out of your days.

There are lots of things you can do to combat stress, the big three ways to combat it are:

  1. Exercise – get up and MOVE. Do it! Even if you can not move far or very much, movement is vital. The saying “move it or lose it” is so, so true. If you stop moving you lose flexibility and muscle mass, so do your physical therapy, get exercise, park at the back of the parking lot and hoof it, just move as much as you can. Regular exercise is key to a healthy body and mind, and is something that everyone needs to make time for. No excuses about you are too busy!
  2. Sleep – it is so important to get enough sleep, your body heals when you sleep. With the lives we live these days, it is difficult to get your 8 hours, and even more when you are in pain. Set up a bed time routine, this helps the body realize “hey, I should shut down” at the right time. Keep glowing screens and phones out of the bedroom as much as possible, try to not use one at least 2 hours before bed time. Make your sleeping area as dark as possible, wear an eye-mask or get light blocking curtains if you need to. You can diffuse calming smells, things like lavender work great, and so do “sleepy” teas. Remember keep the bed area for sleeping only, and if you have trouble try some of the sleep aids I list.
  3. Environmental/Action – assess your surroundings, and daily activities. Where can you make improvements to reduce stress? Can you take a break and do some exercise at set times? If you sit all day, can you exercise at your desk? Do you get up and stretch at least once an hour? Are you taking mental breaks through out the day to think about something that is other than work? Can you diffuse/burn relaxing smells? Even if you are in a highly restrictive workplace you can sit and be still for 5 minutes and meditate, pray alone or with people, do focused relaxation exercises, or deep breathing.

Reducing your stress, at work and at home, forcing yourself to make active changes to improve your mood will help make life over all easier, and less stress a habit. And that is a habit I am sure we all need.

There isn’t a lot a sufferer of chronic pain can control, and your mood is sometimes the easiest, and sometimes the hardest to do. But it is worth it, most chronic pain syndromes have very high suicide rates, and low return to work rates, I think choosing to be happy and not becoming one of those statistics is not only worth it but so important. The main reason is it makes the sufferer’s life that much easier, but also their loved ones who suffer in different ways. When you, and the people around you are happy, everything else will follow too.

If you are interested on more information on phantom limbs and the brain check out this video with V.S. Ramachandran


Breathing, it’s more important than you think

Breathing. Do you think about it? You really should. Mindful breathing while going through a mental relaxation technique is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce your pain. Stress from the daily life, and the stress on your body pain causes can be significantly reduced by using relaxation techniques and these always include breathing.

Breathing is so automatic hardly anyone thinks about it, as a T’ai Chi practitioner I always try to focus on how I breathe. And I definitely notice a difference in myself before and after practicing and when using the same techniques to relax. I also am able to tolerate longer sessions of Graston if I am focused on breathing. Since pain can make you involuntarily hold your breath, it is extremely important to focus on deep breaths when you have a lot of pain.

The first reason is it is calming, and it does distract you a bit from the pain. The second reason is chemistry, everyone knows about endorphins and that they are released by the body to deal with a plethora of things, but most commonly known for pain. There have been lab studies stating that in a relaxed state, we produce more of these endorphins than the usual resting state. Adding in some deep breathing and you increase the oxygen in your blood which allows more production and better absorption of those chemicals so your body can naturally deal with pain. Endorphins are basically opiates chemically and can deal with pain extremely effectively, and all it takes to take advantage of this is just relaxing.

There are loads of relaxation techniques and ways to do this, personally I prefer T’ai Chi, but there is also Yoga, meditation, abdominal breathing, stretching, light exercise (like walking), mental and body relaxation techniques. Any of them are effective, pick the one that you enjoy most and is most effective for you. Some simple ones you can start with are:

Abdominal Breathing

Sit down, on a stool preferably, low chair with no back, or with legs crossed on the ground. Place your hands on your stomach right below your belly button. Breathe in deeply and slowly, you should feel like your belly is inflating and deflating with each breath. Sit for at the very minimum of 5 minutes doing this, but the longer you do so the more beneficial it is. Focus completely on your breathing and filling up slowly with as much air as possible, and then exhaling as slow as possible until you feel you are deflated completely.

“Shape” Breathing

Picture a cube or another shape with corners in 3 dimensions in you mind. Start on one corner and trace the edge of the shape in your mind inhaling as you go, as slowly as you can. When you reach the corner go down the next edge exhaling as slowly as possible. Rinse and repeat!

Body Relaxation Exercise

Lay down if possible, if not sit again on a low chair, stool or on the floor. Start with your “pinky” toe, on each side and thing about relaxing all the muscles for that toe. Continue to the next toe relaxing it and move up through the body relaxing each part fully as you go. It may help at first to slightly tense that part and then relax it in time with an inhale to tense and exhale to relax. Make sure you are breathing in a natural and easy manner, and completely focus on relaxing each part as you go.

ProTip: If you are having trouble keeping your mind focused on this one, imagine you are drawing your blood, or imagine drawing in the tension as a color of light you find pleasing, you can use those images to help keep the mind engaged and focused on relaxing your body.

These are all great ways to relax, and there are other techniques out there than just the few I have mentioned. Remember that every person is different and you will need to try a few to find the one that works best for you. I did Yoga for many years and thought it was tops in body/mind relaxing, but then after looking into T’ai Chi I found it much more suited my extremely active mind giving it a lot to focus on therefore keeping it engaged and focused on the task at hand and not the world going on about me. It may not be the thing for you, so give a few things a try for at least a week each before making a decision.

To not take advantage of this, would be silly, I mean your body makes FREE, effective pain killers. Plus it just makes you a happier person, and really doesn’t take that much effort. Remember stress kills! Keep it mellow!

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Cloves! Nail that pain down

Cloves are one of those ancient spices, most people are at least familiar with clove cigarettes. Or you may have seen clove and orange pomanders at Christmas time, my husband says that clove smells like Christmas food to him since it is a common ingredient in fall holiday foods. I used to love Clove gum as a girl, though it is harder to find now sadly.

Delicious I promise! Get some if you can find it!

Cloves are actually the dried buds of flowers from a tree, they were found on those infamous in European history “Spice Islands” and since they were so prolific they were harder to monopolize the trade of them. They have their name as we know it now derived from old french for “nail of a gillyflower” and they do look like tiny little nails.

Tiny, delicious smelling nails that is.

Europe quickly became obsessed with spices during the Middle ages, especially once they were brought back from the crusades. During outbreaks of disease, usually plague, or just generally existing in medieval cities could be quite smelly. Most medicine at the time believed that disease was caused by bad air or miasmas. So often sweet or strong smelling items were used to “fumigate” themselves from disease. One that has survived to this day is the pomander. Pomander can be used to describe a lot of things, but the main one most will recognize is an orange studded with cloves. I love these and they make great holiday gifts!

So festive looking! They will think you spent days making them!

So festive looking! They will think you spent days making them!

Historical medical uses tend to focus on digestion, the mouth, and teeth. A Han emperor required people to chew cloves before addressing him, to sweeten their breath. Ibn Battuta, the famous Arab traveler, mentions them and was familiar with them as they were traded all around Arabia and India and everywhere in between. Most uses focus on using cloves for tooth pain, and the commonly known remedy, cloves and especially clove oil is great for easing tooth pain from any sort of issue, and is a mild anesthetic. The fabulous Sam wrote a great post about dealing with wisdom tooth pain using ginger and clove tea that you can read here. But I should caution that there has been laboratory tests on extended use of clove oil for tooth pain and if used over and extremely extended period of time there could be damage to gums, tooth pulp, and mucous membranes. Cloves are known as warming, and help with digestion due to this, and that is some of the reason it can be hard on the gums. Since it can be slightly irritating to delicate skin areas, nothing as bad as peppermint, but still not something you want on chapped lips, or near your eyes or other places. As a topical oil for external use it is fantastic for pain. I would rate it a close second to frankincense in speed and efficacy in reducing muscle pain from spasms. I have had some great success using clove oil in this way, and of course I use therapeutic grade oils so that they do not have adulterants. All I need is a drop or two, and rub it directly on the area that hurts. Remember everyone is different, so test this for yourself, see what works for you, and educate yourself! Know what you are putting in and on you before you do anything and always check for reactions like on WebMD. If you are ever in doubt about anything always check with a professional!

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Frankincense, no not that guy that’s afraid of fire and walks with his arms out.

This is maybe one of my favorite pain remedies, it smells so amazing that you almost want to just wear it all the time. That distinctive smell is what sent people, and this wonderful resin all over the globe after it was discovered.

Who knew such a crusty rock could be so cool?

It probably helps my love of this fragrant resin, that one of my personal heroes has a story about her attempting to get Frankincense directly from the source. Hatshepsut, first female Pharaoh of the land of Km.t and all around bad-ass lady, proudly documented on her tomb walls the excursion to the land of Punt to obtain valuable frankincense for their temples. This was so very important since the remaining charred frankincense was then ground and was called Kohl, that lovely black eyeliner the ancient Egyptians are so famous for. Frankincense being a hard resin was used frequently in their cosmetic preparations and in religious ceremonies. This usage is pretty much how it was used in other cultures as well, most well known in the Judeo-Christian world as a consecrated incense, or as one of the gifts to the wee baby Jesus. It’s current Western name comes from the Frankish crusaders that brought the precious resin back and re-introduced it to Europe. Herodotus mentions it, and along with cinnamon, its story is one of my favorite lies that developed to protect the trade secret.

“When they gather frankincense, they burn storax (the gum which is brought into Greece by the Phoenicians) in order to raise a smoke to drive off the flying snakes; these snakes, the same which attempt to invade Egypt, are small in size and of various colors, and great numbers of them keep guard over all the trees which bear the frankincense, and the only way to get rid of them is by smoking them out with storax.” – Heroditus 3.106-116.

This is the sort of history they should teach in schools!

The original controversial historian, best recognize.

Modern medicine has just caught on to this and there have been studies starting in 1996 and continuing on that show that Frankincense has had proven lab results with pain. I can definitely verify that through my personal use, I have found that it is almost instantaneous relief when applied to muscles in spasm, or just general soreness. (I have been using therapeutic grade essential oils, I plan on covering why you want therapeutic vs other grades in later posts so if you can’t wait google it, and you will see why I have this preference.) I have been using the Young Living brand oils myself, I trust their purity, and though this is a pricier remedy this is one that you truly get what you pay for. (Distilling essential oils and why that is difficult is another upcoming post!)

Pro Tip: Always remember to check the labels of any essential oils you buy and avoid any with adulterates, these reduce the effectiveness of the oil. Think of it like watering down your cough syrup, if that helps. You get more product, but you lose potency. (I will go into what the difference is between essential oils and other oils you may come across as well in future posts too.)

Young Living Frankincense Essential Oil

Now, frankincense is well known for its skin healing properties and I have to say it fixed my KP as a happy side effect of my pain treatments, but other than it making my skin more lovely, I haven’t had any bad reactions and have only experienced a significant reduction in pain with its application. Which is generally one drop rubbed into the sore area. This totally beats the prescribed topical pain gels I had been provided in speed of pain relief, no drunk feeling side effects, and frankincense smells loads better than pain gels! You can again make capsules (see the Turmeric post for info on that) for it, and they work well I have heard, but I have not used that personally. I have spoken with a woman that also uses YL oils that suffers from Crohn’s disease and swears by frankincense pills for pain.

As always, each person is different so go through your own trials and see what works best for you. Always educate yourself, check reactions on WebMD and consult a professional if you are ever in doubt!

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Begin at the Beginning, Turmeric

We all have to get started somewhere, so let’s begin at the beginning of my treating my pain naturally. One of my first remedies I came across is turmeric. Turmeric is wonderful, and has been used by humanity for a long time, pretty much since written records existed. I heard some of the more senior in age ladies at my T’ai Chi Ch’uan class discussing their use of it for reduction of arthritis inflammation, and this inspired me to start looking into it myself.

So pretty! And so useful!

An extremely brief history of turmeric is that it originated in South Asia and quickly spread throughout the region and as far East as Hawaii. It has been used as medicine, dye, preservation, and for spiritual/religious needs and ceremonies. Manners of ingestion also vary as well from smoke inhalation to an application of turmeric paste. I personally have three favorite ways of ingesting it.


If you like to cook I am sure you have run across Turmeric it is in a lot of yellow foods we consume most commonly plain old yellow mustard. You can sprinkle it on most foods, like meat or eggs, but I like to cook Indian and South East Asian food so it is a frequent ingredient in those recipes. The only downside to adding it to food is, everything tastes of turmeric. Which if you don’t care for the strong taste, can be off putting, and you can start to quickly tire of turmeric everything.

Tea (or Coffee)

I first came across this while watching Grow Your Own Drugs with James Wong (I love him so!). He has an amazing recipe for a Turmeric Teh Halia which inspired me to give it a go. It is a bit time consuming as a recipe, there is a listed quick-fix version but it still involves a pre-mix and heating milk. So being the on-the-go sort of lady I came up with my own “quick” recipes. If you can find it, it is best to use loose black tea, but most supermarkets these days only sell them in sachets. I like to use one sachet of a good Earl Grey, or if you are a die hard coffee drinker and can’t start your day without it, you can use coffee too! You just brew a cup of tea or coffee as you normally would, then you can add:

  • 1 tsp ground dried Ginger
  • 1 tsp ground dried Turmeric
  • 1 pinch Black Pepper
  • Honey (or other sweetener) to taste
  • Milk (or your preferred Milk substitute)
Everything you need! Normally I use "So Delicious" Coconut Milk but my store was out :(

Everything you need! Normally I use “So Delicious” Coconut Milk but my store was out 😦

You can start with a half tsp and work up to a full one if you find the turmeric too over powering. If you want to make the premix without the tea portion, just follow the linked quick-fix recipe but leave the tea out and add about 2 tsps to the cup. Up to 3 tsps can be added but more could be overkill). It is great in tea, but I really love it in a good cup of coffee in the morning.

Best way to start your day, Turmeric Coffee!

Best way to start your day, Turmeric Coffee!

I am extremely lactose intolerant and have used a few different substitutes and I find that coconut milk adds a nice flavor and most of the time sweet enough to where I don’t need to add any honey. Also, I usually have trouble with low blood sugar in the morning and generally find myself without an appetite for breakfast, but turmeric can be slight appetite stimulant and has helped me become better about eating in the morning. Overall as long as I work turmeric into my diet my inflammation is less, and I have found that if I miss a day or even a few days that the inflammation and pain levels slowly start to increase.


When I don’t have time to make a cup of coffee before I dash somewhere or dive into work, turmeric capsules are a fantastic backup. These are almost laughably easy to make, so much so I really do wonder why most people do not do this for themselves. There is a great tutorial on how to fill them by Mountain Rose Herbs (whom I highly recommend if you do not have a local herb store, or they don’t carry what you are looking for).

I generally use size “0” capsules at home and for myself I have been taking about a gram of turmeric a day. If you want to make larger capsules or smaller (I definitely recommend smaller if you have a difficult time swallowing pills) you can, I generally make mine about as close to half a gram each so two capsules are about a gram. For more information on capsule sizing, and general capsule information) try here.

Now, I will say this for the first time and definitely not the last (you may actually get sick of me saying it) each person is different, you should start with small doses and work your way up. Always, always, always, educate yourself and make sure that you are not taking medications that will interact negatively with the turmeric. I generally trust WebMD, and will review interactions and side effects they list on their site for whatever I am looking into taking.

If you are ever unsure about anything, consult a professional! You will be glad you did!