Natural Pain Relievers
Here’s an excuse to stay in bed this weekend with zero guilt: Logging extra hours of sleep can reduce pain sensitivity and increase daytime alertness, according to a new study soon to be published in the journal SLEEP.
The small study included 18 healthy—but mildly sleepy—adults between the ages of 21-35. Their level of sleepiness and pain sensitivity (how quickly they moved their fingers off a hot source) were measured before and after the study. Half the participants stayed in bed for 10 hours per night for four nights, while the other half continued their normal sleep habits. Not surprisingly, the group who stayed in bed longer slept an average of 1.8 hours more than the other group, which led to increased alertness. But the group who slept in also showed a 25% decrease in pain sensitivity by the fourth day!
How does it work? Researchers say it may simply be that we feel more pain when we’re exhausted. "We’ve seen that when you take healthy people and you deprive them of sleep, you increase the amount of pain receptors in the blood system," says lead study author Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center of Henry Ford Health System. "This suggests that extra sleep potentially has an analgesic effect, particularly if you can do it in anticipation of the pain," says Roehrs. Essentially, being well rested reduces that sensitivity.
So the next time you’re training for a marathon—or just planning for a week of awful cramps—sleep in for a few days. Here, 8 more ways to reduce pain without meds:
Get a massage Treat sore muscles or back pain with a trip to the spa. A once-a-week massage treatment was found to be more effective at treating pain than regular medication, according to a 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Stay hydrated When your head is pounding, reach for water. Often headaches are brought on by dehydration, says functional medicine specialist Michael Sharp, M.D. You may just need to gulp down a glass or two of water to fight off the throbbing (especially if it’s post-hangover pain).
Do a little yoga "Many people are in pain because their muscles are tight and contracted," says Sharp. "So one of the most successful strategies is stretching." Sometimes it takes heat to relax the muscles, he says, so hopping in a hot shower or bath before you get your om on can be even more effective.
Distract yourself Focusing your attention on a difficult task—like reciting the ABCs backwards—can actually inhibit pain signals to the brain, according to a recent study published in the journal Current Biology. So the next time you’re getting a flu shot, try doing long division in your head for instant relief.
Add ginger to your meals "The spice has been found to help with menstrual cramps," says Sharp. In fact, it’s as effective as an OTC pain reliever, according to a 2009 study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mix it into your meals or add it to hot tea to fight PMS pain.
Focus on your breathing Meditation can help relieve belly pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome, says Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic. "Take a few moments to bring your breathing rate down to six breaths per minute," he says. "That helps your body produce a relaxation response, your blood pressure comes down, and many people find their pain levels to be much more manageable."
Turn up your iPod Listening to your favorite tunes can actually reduce your pain, especially if you’re particularly anxious about it, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Pain. Freaking out while getting your blood drawn? Pop in your headphones and crank up the Katy Perry, stat.
Try acupressure Think of it as the less terrifying (and zero needles) approach to acupuncture. "In the last 10 years, a lot of people have been turning to acupressure," says Bauer. "And many studies show that it’s nearly as effective as acupuncture." Try one of the most basic pain-relieving moves by squeezing the fleshy area between your thumb and forefinger for one minute.
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