This post is not about how pain is in our head. It’s about how paying attention to the pain and exploring the circumstances around it can help us figure out the root cause: Using our intelligence to put the pieces together.

All too frequently I get asked the question:

My leg/knee/arm/hand {select one} hurts. What supplement should I take?

It’s easy to just think you can take a pill – whether medication or supplement, and everything will be sorted. But reality tells a different story. Instead of looking for the quick fix, why not spend some time trying to figure out the root cause of the pain. It seems obvious. But so often we don’t bother.

What sort of pain are we talking about?

What I’m referring to are those aches and pains we get. Often dismissed as “old age” and “to-be-expected”. Or maybe you assume you must have moved in an awkward way and something has hurt ever since. Or it could be headaches or backache.

I’m not talking about pain in your gut or heart or liver. Nor am I suggesting that you don’t go and see your doctor about pain – wherever it may be. 

And maybe you have seen your doc about an ache/pain and nothing has improved? Yes, maybe taking some curcumin to reduce inflammation can help. But don’t stop there. We want to figure out what is going on to cause that pain in the first place.

Sometimes just using some brain power instead of reaching for a pill can help us figure out what is the root cause.

Consider some basic questions like:

  • When did it start?
  • What time is it worst?
  • What makes it better?
  • Does it change with different environments? e.g. when I went on vacation, it disappeared
  • Is there something specific that I always do before the pain begins?
  • When I do “this” it doesn’t hurt, but when I do “that” it does. 

Pain in my right arm

I offer up my own example, so you can see what I am talking about. 

Last year I started getting a pain in my right arm. It was muscular. And it limited my range of motion so that I couldn’t raise my arm very high. 

I didn’t remember doing anything to cause it. And I’m not old enough for it to be “old age” pain!!!!!!

I upped the anti-inflammatory foods in my diet and tried vaious physical approaches. But it persisted. It wasn’t a constant pain. But an intense pain when my arm was in certain positions. It wasn’t getting worse, but was persisting and not getting better either. 

After I’d had it a couple of months, I started really thinking about it in detail. What I figured was that during the day when my arm went in a certain position, it would hurt acutely, so I tried to avoid those positions as much as possible.  But it was actually the worst at night. It was stopping me sleeping. And nighttime was the time when I felt it the most. 

So I considered how I slept and, without going into all the details, we decided to turn over our mattress and use a different pillow, as mine was quite old.

Tada! That was it. So simple. The pain disappeared. It was how I was sleeping. There was a dip in the mattress, the old pillow had no support and I think I was compressing nerves or something in my arm, leading to pain. Every night I had slept in that same situation so it couldn’t heal. A simple flip of the mattress and different pillow and the pain started to diminish in a couple of days and disappeared altogether in a couple of weeks. And that was after having it for months. I now have my full range of motion back and zero pain. 

New York Times Article 

A similar situation was mentioned in a New York Times article recently. The writer was having headaches that seemed to be associated with cooking for company and when sewing drapes for the house.  She wondered if she was allergic to natural gas or the fabric. 

But then she realized that she tensed certain facial muscles when concentrating intently on a project. Cooking for herself, she was calm and relaxed. But when she was entertaining others, she felt a pressure on herself. Regular sewing was OK, but the drapes seemed like an expensive, important project so caused tension.

Once she became aware of this tension, she consciously relaxed her muscles during these activities and voila! No headache. 

Start a pain symptom diary

A great way to start exploring pain further is to start a food and symptom diary. 

You may wonder why I’d suggest food diary? But food reactions can have a significant impact on pain. Take for example, food sensitivities and how they have been seen to relate to osteoarthritis pain and migraines. 

So write down when and what you eat and also when and in what circumstances you feel the pain. If the pain is constant, does it get worse or better at certain times? 

Maybe you have finger joint pain that gets worse some evenings but not all. Is it after you’ve been on the computer for a lot of hours? Maybe your ergonomics for typing isn’t great i.e. there is little support for your wrist on the keyboard, affecting the nerves and leading to pain. Or you hold your arm with tension while typing. Does it happen on those days when you carry a heavy bag to work and not at weekends? Or maybe it’s only when you drive and get stuck in traffic. Hmm, it happens on days you eat wheat or nightshade vegetables like tomatoes and peppers……  

By writing down what you do in the day, what you eat, and your routine actions, maybe you can start to see patterns.  If we don’t write it down, it all becomes vague scattered memories that we can’t interpret. 

Also, talk to your partner or friend about it. Maybe they can watch you and see if you show signs of tension when you are doing specific tasks. 

Awareness

Once you find an association, that awareness can make a huge difference. Then you can start thinking about what you do and make changes.  Even with pain that you’ve had for a long time, by making simple changes like relaxing shoulders or improving posture, you can get quick relief.

But it takes thinking about it. It takes spending some time; getting someone to ask you questions; filling in that diary to figure it all out. 

And maybe the answer isn’t tension, certain foods, or pressure. Maybe it is magnesium deficiency. But the more you explore, the more likely you’ll find a solution. If you don’t get the answer, maybe you need to work with someone so they can help you. 

Yes, this post is another simple, obvious thing from Ruth! But it is something we often don’t make time for. So give it a go. Buy yourself a diary that looks nice to you. You will then be more inclined to write in it. And just start.

Solve the problem, not mask it. 

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