Try these drug-free ways to beat your aches and pains instead. They can be just as good, says Karen Evennett
1 Go to the dentist
You may not know if you’re grinding your teeth at night, but it’s a common cause of headaches and around 10% of us do it – especially if we drink, smoke or have a high caffeine intake (more than six cups a day).
‘A mouthguard (from your dentist) is a good temporary solution,’ says Clare Chavasse, principal dentist at Titchfield Dental Health in Hampshire.
‘But, if you’re in pain, ask about a Michigan (upper) or Tanner (lower) splint to alter the way your jaw muscles are working.’
2 Say yes, yes, yes to sex!
Neurologists from the University of Münster, Germany, say sex can be more effective than painkillers, with more than half of migraine sufferers experiencing an improvement in symptoms, and one in five gaining complete pain relief after making love.
Sexual fantasies also work on pain, acting as a form of meditation as they relax and distract us.
3 Slip off to the ladies
Going to the loo can help – especially if you are constipated. ‘Constipation leads to a build-up of toxins that cause a headache,’ says consultant neurologist Dr Dougall McCorry.
4 Change your bra
Eighty per cent of women are wearing the wrong size bra. This not only leads to bad posture (a common cause of headache and back pain) but also creates indents in the shoulder muscles where straps have been digging in, reducing blood flow and affecting the nerves, both of which contribute to tension headaches.
‘Ensuring your bra fits correctly can make a huge difference,’ says physio Sammy Margo.
5 Pump up the volume
In a small study at Glasgow University, women with rheumatoid arthritis could walk 30% further when they listened to music. Top pain-busting tracks include Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel), Angels (Robbie Williams), and Albatross (Fleetwood Mac), according to a Lloyds Pharmacy survey.
6 Look at something lovely
When researchers at Italy’s University of Bari used lasers to sting volunteers who were viewing art, those who were looking at the pictures they liked felt far less pain than those who were looking at works that left them cold.
Even scanning your phone for favourite family snaps will release pain-relieving chemicals, according to a study at the University of California.
7 Stroke your dog
Dogs provide companionship, pleasure and they force us to exercise – the three helpful components of the ‘pain triangle’, according to Dr Martin Johnson, a GP and co-author of The 10-Minute Consultation: Persistent Pain (£9.99, Cedilla).
Studies found that owning a pet raises levels of the hormone oxytocin, which eases pain by making us feel happy.
8 Have a bath
A warm bath floods sore muscles with oxygen, reducing inflammation and removing the chemicals that cause you to think, ‘Ouch – that hurts!’ For extra help, add two cups of Epsom salts to your water.
‘The magnesium in the salts relaxes tense and painful muscles, and will even help a headache,’ explains medical herbalist Lucy Stephens (from revaclinic.com).
9 …Or take a shower
‘A lot of my patients swear by a shower for easing their headache,’ recommends Dr Dougall McCorry. ‘As well as being pleasurable, the burst of water gives you a quick and easy head and neck massage.’
10 Spice it up
Researchers at the University of Miami say people with knee pain caused by osteoarthritis suffered less when they took ginger supplements. Other studies have shown turmeric to be better than aspirin for pain relief. ‘Look for products containing at least 80% curcumin, the anti-inflammatory ingredient,’ says Lucy Stephens.
11 Peel an apple
A Chicago study found that migraine pain decreased when sufferers sniffed the scent of a green apple. Previous studies have found it reduces anxiety, and it could reduce muscle contractions.
12 Be mindful
‘Focusing on breathing can help distract from pain,’ says Dr Austin Leach of the British Pain Society. ‘It also helps you relax, reducing muscle tension.’
13 Pop an alternative pill
Homeopathy is targeted more precisely than orthodox pain relief. ‘You may take nat mur for migraine, ignatia for chronic headaches, or belladonna for a pulsating pain,’ says Dr Tim Robinson, a GP and spokesman for the Faculty of Homeopathy. Herbal salix alba works like paracetamol, and viburnum opulus tackles period pain, adds Lucy Stephens.
14 Knit one, purl one
Pain subsides when we treat it biologically (such as exercising), socially (feeling less isolated), or psychologically (‘mind over matter’). ‘Knitting – especially in a group – fulfils all three of these requirements, with amazing results,’ says Dr Martin Johnson. ‘Knitting distracts the mind from pain and is a sociable activity, while also providing sufficient exercise to release painkilling endorphins.’
15 Have a cuppa…
By constricting blood vessels, the caffeine in tea and coffee can be faster and more effective than a painkiller for some people, according to researchers at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. For tension headaches, choose chamomile tea. It’s caffeine-free, but will calm your nerves and ease your head that way.
16 … Or a glass of water
If you’re dehydrated and not drinking enough, any joint or muscular
aches and pains will be exacerbated, says Sophia Kupse, author of Desperately Seeking A Pain Free Self (£7.99, CreateSpace). ‘Studies show that over 50% of the UK population are chronically dehydrated and don’t know it.’
17 Give it the needle
For long-term pain, ask your GP about acupuncture. The government health body NICE recommends up to 10 sessions for people with chronic migraines or tension headaches and many GP practices now offer it.
18 Lean body control
A study at York University found that practising the Alexander Technique could reduce neck pain by a third. Exercises focus on changing the way we use our bodies in everyday activities like getting up from a chair. Find out more from stat.org.uk.
19 Eat chocolate
The pleasure that eating a bar of chocolate brings helps to ease pain, says Dr Dougall McCorry. ‘Its joy factor comes from uplifting substances such as phenylethylamine (PEA), N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine.’
20 Swear: yes, go on!
A study at Keele University found that volunteers who were allowed to turn the air blue could endure the pain of having their hand in a bowl of ice for two minutes. Those who held their tongues could only manage half that time!