Natural means can help control pain

My Mom’s recovery from knee replacement surgery is going well. On Friday, she went to the doctor’s to have the staples removed.

My Mom’s recovery from knee replacement surgery is going well.

On Friday, she went to the doctor’s to have the staples removed. The doctor was surprised how the well the bruising and swelling is resolving. The nurse was happy to see my Mom walking without a walker just two weeks after surgery.

I attribute the rapid healing to a herbal oil I made for her. The oil is an infusion of arnica flowers (Arnica montana), comfrey root (Symphtum officinale) and balsam poplar buds (Populus balsamifera).

Prior to having the staples removed, she gently massaged the oil over the bruises — avoiding the staples. These herbs should never be used directly on an open wound.

The challenge she faces now is pain. Healing the bruises and decreasing the swelling has eliminated some of the pain, but her leg still throbs.

She is becoming inpatient and strongly dislikes the physical and mental experience of the prescribed pain killers. It is a difficult balance for her at the moment.

This is a challenge many face. It surprises me how many people live in pain, day in and day out.

As a herbalist, pain is a not always easy to resolve. Particularly since the strongest herbal pain remedies are illegal. That being said there are still many ways to help someone who is in pain.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “Perhaps the pain is all in my head.” Of course the pain is all in their head. After all it is the brain that interpets pain.

However, I most frequently reply, “And your head is attached to your body.”

To demonstrate this I like to use the pain of depression. The mental pain of depression is often accompanies aching muscle.

Ads on TV selling anti-depressants, promise to resolve both mental and physical pain by sending actors from the couch to jogging in the park.

Anti-depressants can ease both aspects of depression as they increase the amount of serotonin, the feel good hormone, not only in the brain, but also the body.

Serotonin plays a role in healing inflammation. If there is not enough serotonin circulating in the body, inflammation which causes pain, takes longer to heal.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perfoliatum) is traditionally used to relieve pain through healing inflammation. The uplifting effects it has on the mind are considered a fortunate side effect.

Sculcap (Scutellaria latrafolia) is a herb with similar effect.

Another herb not necessarily considered a pain remedy but is frequently use to ease the pain of inflammation is echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia).

Echinacea is the cleaning lady of herbal medicine. Inflammation makes a mess in the body leaving behind dead and damaged cells. Echinacea stimulates the lymphatic system which mops up the debris resolving the last stages of inflammation. Black Cohash (Cimmicifuga racemosa) also has similar action.

Tension is another cause of pain. The simple solution to tension is relaxation.

I am reminded of a time when I was working at The Red Deer Hospice. I was helping a woman roll over in bed. Because of pain, her body was very tense. The tension exacerbated her experience of the pain. I suggested she relax.

“Relax! Easy for you to say,” she winced. She did not appreciate the suggestion to breathe either.

Relaxation is not always easy to achieve. For most people, letting go to a relaxed state of mind and body takes practice.

There are many ways to practice relaxation. A warm espom salts bath with 10 drops of lavender essential oil will quiet both the body and mind. Sitting in a sunny window stroking a purring cat is a fine way to relax.

Personally, I think the most effective form of relaxation is meditation. There are many studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of meditation in easing the effects of chronic pain.

The effect of meditation on pain is all in the head. Meditation is all about brain chemistry. The repetitive thoughts or actions (as in Tia chi which is a form of meditation) used in meditation produce feel good neurotransmitters and hormones.

Brains can only receive and interpret so many neuro-chemicals. If there are more feel good chemicals than pain chemicals in circulation, the feel good chemicals win the brain’s attention. This in turn eases the experience of pain.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at abrah@shaw.ca

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