Colleen Kelly Alexanderisn’t alone in her pain. A 2015 analysis by the National Institutes of Health showed an estimated 126 million American adults reported some type of pain in the three months prior to their being surveyed. Elena Klimenko, M.D., isn’t surprised. Every day in her integrative medicine practice, she sees patients looking for pain relief. Here are her top five recommendations:
Avoid overexertion. Exercise helps manage pain, but don’t overdo it. “People get excited about doing something new,” Dr. Klimenko says. “But if they’re not already in shape, they pay for it.” Intense exercise creates a painful buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide in the muscles. Start with 15 minutes of exercise, then boost each new session by one minute, she suggests. Be sure to stretch beforehand and drink plenty of water.
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts more pressure on joints and lower back muscles. Visceral, or intra-abdominal, fat triggers inflammation. “Add a minor trauma and you have a perfect storm for creating pain,” Dr. Klimenko says. Sprinkle flaxseed on your salads, and cook with mustard seed, ginger, turmeric or cayenne pepper, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Meditate. Meditation, including prayer, is a proven tool for quieting the mind—and the fears that can actually prolong suffering. “Meditation doesn’t only mean sitting with your legs crossed,” Dr. Klimenko says. “You can do it listening to music or even dancing. Or with focused breathing.” Or practice gratitude, as Colleen Kelly Alexander does.
Consider homeopathic medicine. Homeopathic medicines have a low risk of side effects and don’t interact with other medications. Dr. Klimenko recommends using an arnica-based medicine, such as Arnicare, to relieve muscle pain and swelling from injuries. It is made from a mountain daisy and available over the counter in gel, cream and ointment topical forms as well as oral pellets and tablets. “It’s ideal for people of all ages,” she says. “I use it for my 5-year-old son and 90-year-old mother-in law.”
Sleep. Get seven to eight hours of restful sleep each night—an often overlooked remedy for pain. “Sleep is essential to health,” Dr. Klimenko says. If you’re constantly tired, your anxiety levels are likely to increase, making it more difficult for your body to heal. Don’t watch TV in the bedroom, and stop using cell phones and other devices an hour before bedtime. Opt for a soothing, warm bath instead. Your body will thank you.