What to do about pain RIGHT NOW?


Surprise! I’m not going to talk about food, at least not directly.

My book, It’s All about the Food, is about how the right foods can make you healthy and how the wrong foods “don’t”. But sometimes, just sometimes, what makes us healthy (not sick) is less important than what to do about pain RIGHT NOW.

A few days I was stopped by “Mike” with a question. “What can I do about this headache I keep getting?” The headaches, caused by nerve damage in his neck he said, just weren’t responding to the over the counter drug he was taking a lot of. Between the nerve damage and the headaches, he was miserable.

He was miserable and I was, quite frankly, frightened for him.

So what causes pain? The answer is inflammation and swelling, always impacting nerves and causing pain. The most popular treatments are drugs like Aleve, Motrin, and Advil, all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) found on the shelf at your drugstore and sometimes prescribed in larger doses by doctors – that stuff that Mike was taking. I’ll bet you have some in your house right now.

There are some potentially ugly, possibly deadly consequences attached to NSAIDS. But don’t take my word for it. Let me give you real examples of real people.

John (not his real name), a long time resident of Montgomery County, has arthritis in his spine causing extreme pain as well as numbness/weakness in his legs. While various doctors and surgeons considered surgical alternatives over a long period of time, John popped NSAIDs on a regular basis every day. Last October he was rushed to the hospital with serious bleeding caused by, you guessed it, all those pills he popped. His doctor’s instructions; “Never take any of those again”.

John has since had surgery that resolved the pain in his legs, leaving him still with lower back pain. He says, now, that the therapy that has helped the most is physical rehab, strengthening his core muscles. And he is taking Tylenol, not an NSAID but could do damage to his liver and has to be monitored. Drugs of any kind have consequences.

Jane, on the other hand, has lived in MC for less than a year. Many years ago her job involved reading tiny little print on paper. The eye strain gave her perpetual headaches and the NSAID bottle sat right on her desk for easy access. During treatment for another health condition the doctors noted deterioration in kidney function. That deterioration continued until she was eventually on daily dialysis with 1% kidney function, waiting desperately for a kidney transplant.

Six years passed before that kidney came along, including 24 surgeries in one year. She will be on steroids and drugs to keep her immune system from rejecting her transplanted kidney for the rest of her life. Jane has residual nerve pain from the dialysis and surgeries. She just deals with it.

Mary, an old friend of my daughter, was not as fortunate as John and Jane. She died from kidney failure caused again by NSAIDs. Mary was a personal trainer and did weight training. The good news was she built muscle which always causes inflammation and soreness. That is just the way it works. The really bad news was that she popped NSAIDs trying to make that soreness go away and she died as a result.

Over the last several years the FDA has issued warnings about the potential for heart attacks and stroke caused by NSAIDs and removed at least one drug from the market. The examples I am sharing here show damage beyond the heart. So maybe you want to know how NSAIDs work.

NSAIDs block enzymes (Cox1 and 2 to be precise) ) involved in several ways in keeping blood vessels relaxed, avoiding blood clotting, and protecting the stomach/small intestine tract (otherwise known as the gastrointestinal tract). In other words, the action of these enzymes is important to your body and you have to consider the implications of blocking them.

Inflammation is not necessarily a bad thing. It is the body’s way of initiating healing. But there is also pain. So the (sort of) good news is that this inhibition of Cox enzymes stops the development of inflammation and associated pain.

The bad news is that it tightens blood vessels, raises blood pressure, reduces blood flow to the heart and kidneys, and can cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. I may have already mentioned this; all drugs have unintended consequences.

You have big arteries carrying blood in and out of the heart. You have smaller vessels carrying blood in and out of the kidneys, liver, etc. you have really tiny capillaries in your feet, hands, brain, etc. I think you can see how potentially detrimental slowing/interfering with blood flow might be.

It appears that the occasional one dose of an NSAID might not be a problem. But chronic, ongoing usage is clearly dangerous. Better to find natural ways to avoid/eliminate chronic inflammation and the inevitable pain.

For starters, your diet really does matter. Chapters 6 and 7 in It’s All about the Food are specific to causes and avoidance of chronic inflammation. But once you are in pain, I’m betting you will think that doing something about it NOW is the most important.

John found that building his core muscles took the pressure off of his lower back and reduced pain. Jane learned that she could just “deal with it.” I have a couple of friends with fibromyalgia who found that acupuncture would give significant relief and this may have potential for Jane as well.

I know many people who find that simple turmeric (the seasoning) is a very effective anti inflammatory/pain reliever. In fact there is a Turmeric Users Facebook page with about 35,000 members. There are other herbs that provide relief for some.

It may take some research on your part but if your pain is chronic, try to find the source of the problem. And be diligent in avoiding NSAIDs for chronic pain.