Pain; What is it really telling you?

clinical naturopathy Aug 12, 2020
Today i want to talk about pain.  After that nice long weekend we've had, some of you might be noticing that your headaches, or general aches and pains have subsided a little?
Or, if you're anything like me, maybe youve acquired a few more pains after trapsing through swordgrass and forests wearing shorts? lol ( good idea at the time....)
Take a moment and reflect a little.. are you experiencing any pain right now? If so, where?  How long has it been there?  When did it originate and why?
Regardless of the type or location of the pain, one thing that most of us fail to remember is that pain is merely a sign that the body has something out of balance- headahces are not normal, period pain is not normal, and neither is that lower back twinge that you've been carrying around for decades.  Just because something is common or frequent, i will say it again.. It is not normal.
Of course, you can take a painkiller or even get a prescription for something stronger, but consider that masking that pain will, in the long run, only make matters worse.
More and more, i am meeting people in clinic who have been diagnosed with some sort of 'chronic pain syndrome', such as Fibromyalgia or 'Regional Pain Syndrome'.
The majority of the time they have been told there is 'nothing more that can be done for them', although recently i have met a number of people who have been put onto antidepressants or even Morphine(!) for the pain.  (Both of which could carry their own side effects and issues).
In order to differentiate the pain and treat it succesfully and permanently, i'd like you to consider some of the factors which might be contributing, and ask yourself if they may be relevant to you:
Inflammation, Insulin and High Blood Pressure:  I wont get into the detail of this too much, because really as a first port of call if you have consistent pain, i would suggest a visit to your GP for some bloodwork to rule out any of these factors. If you have insulin resistance (does not have to be as far as diabetes), you are far more susceptible to pain and inflammation. .. However.. if the bloods come back as an 'all clear', as they so very often do, then there are several other things that i, as a Naturopath, would then encourage you to investigate:
Dehydration: Possibly the most common reason people get headaches and cramps, is dehydration. Dehydration can come about due to a lack of water, but can also be encouraged when you drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, as these are both strong diuretics (will leach your system of water). Make sure you get at least 8 glasses of non-caffeinated fluids every day. More if you are active or in hot weather.
Coffee Addiction: This one is a little technical in nature, but to sum it up easily an addiction can be the source of many forms of pain. When i say addiction, it can actually be to  anything- food, drugs, coffee, sugar.. The one thing these all have in common, is their ability to give you that 'high' when they cause a surge of Dopamine and Cortisol in your brain. This is all very good and well, but after that surge has finished and your brain is left with a deficit of these chemicals, guess what happens?  Yep.. it is often pain. Physical pain.
Cortisol is our natural painkiller. So it only figures that if you are low in it, whilst at the same time going through low Dopamine, you will be hurting.. yep, Caffeine addiction is very real!
Mineral or Vitamin deficiency: Many of us have figured out that if we get cramps, minerals such as Magnesium can save the day... but did you also know that low Calcium, Potassium and Sodium can do the same thing?  Any of the electrolytes can cause muscular, or even neural pain when they are out of balance, not to mention the effect on your heart and brain.
Another pair of nutrients which can can cause pain when low are Vitamin B12 or Vitamin D.  B12 is responsible for maintaining nerve health, so this should always be assessed if you are experiencing any nerve pains such as sciatica or Trigeminal neuralgia.  Vitamin D is more like a hormone, and plays a major role in controlling inflammation in the body.
Anxiety:  This might seem like an obvious statement, but strong negative emotions, including anxiety, can be major drivers of pain throughout the body.  A stressed or anxious individual who is engaging their Sympathetic Nervous system (aka, Fight or Flight), will metabolically burn through far more of the nutrients above, and therefore run the risk of a deficiency in them over time.  Unfortunately, i believe that anxiety and Sympathetic Dominance (SD), is a centrepoint for many other health conditions in the body, due to its ability to set the body into overdrive. Take a break, and breathe once in a while.
Hormone imbalance: When i say a hormone imbalance can be a driver of pain, im talking about many different hormones, not just one.  Underactive thyroid can do it, as can Estrogen Dominance. .. and remember what i said about Cortisol being your natural painkiller?  When you are stressed, drink too much coffee or dont sleep enough, your body produces Cortisol in order to keep you functioning.  In order to make more Cortisol, a woman will break down Progesterone, and a man will break down Testosterone.  In the short term your body will cope with this over-production of Cortisol, but in the long run your stores will become depleted, and you will develop 'pain'.
In a nutshell, if you have any chronic pain or aches, remember to get your hormones checked!
Mechanical:  Posture.  With a background in PT and fitness this is the first thing i look at when someone tells me they are experiencing pain.  Unfortunately it is a factor which is far too commonly overlooked.  If you pain is constant, or at least constant when you make one particular movement- chances are it has something to do with your physical body.  If you have pain on one side of your shoulders, neck or head, i would strongly suggest you get yourself assessed for posture and even get some properly supportive shoes.  The people who tend to tell me im a 'miracle worker' in clinic, are the ones who simply need to have (eg) one arch lifted or corrected.  See a good physio, osteo or even a podiatrist, and strengthen your whole body to support that frame of yours.
Allergies:  Once again this might be a no-brainer to some, but allergies and histamine can most definitely cause some crazy headaches or joint pains.  This is another area which become quite complex, because a good practitioner also needs to take into account any genetic polymorphisms that a person might have that may hinder them from metabolising Histamine, and support them accordingly.  Perhaps if you have checked all of the other factors and are still getting seemingly-random pains, start a food diary and marry it up with your symptoms.  Can you see a correlation between the pain and times of day? Seasons? Location or foods?
Parasitic: Ahhhh one of my favourites... Parasitic infection can cause pain.  Usually this is in the form of stomach pain, but i have also seen some parasites mimmic Gall Bladder issues, and also cause some horrific headaches.  Probably not something most of you want to think about, but if you get to a crossroad of where your pain might be originating, it might be worth considering parasites.
So as you can see there are loads of possibilites when it comes to what is driving your pain, and of course you are not expected to be able to differentiate these on your own.  The point i am trying to make here is, whilst taking a painkiller to ease your pain is ok in the short term, try and consider what it is your body might be trying to tell you, and how you might be able to make some changes to rid yourself of it for the long term. I guarantee you if you fix the driver, your entire body will thankyou for you.

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