Archive for the ‘Pain relief’ Category

Ask Marilyn: Are there any natural ways to prevent tension headaches?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Q: I suffer a lot from headaches, which often feel like a tight band restricting my forehead. My doctor says they’re tension headaches and has recommended painkillers, but are there any ways to prevent them naturally?


A: Headaches are caused when blood vessels in the head constrict or dilate leading to pressure on the nerves. Adrenaline, toxins, food allergies, eye strain, hormonal changes and problems with your neck, shoulder and jaw can all contribute to this.

Tension headaches are more likely to occur when you’re stressed and chemicals such as adrenaline are released, making your blood vessels tighten and reducing blood flow to your brain. I would recommend trying yoga, meditation or breathing exercises and 300mg of magnesium citrate before you go to bed to relax the blood vessels. Alcohol, smoking and caffeine can all trigger headaches too, so cut down on these. Food intolerance may be a culprit so keep a food diary to see if there are any possible trigger foods. A number of people get headaches after eating a class of chemicals called amines, which include cheese and chocolate so try to pinpoint if these are the cause and if they are eliminate them from your diet for a while.


Liver function affects the quality and flow of your blood and if it’s not efficiently getting rid of toxins this can trigger headaches, so you may want to try the liver-boosting herb milk thistle. It goes without saying that a healthy diet and regular exercise will also boost circulation and help your body detox naturally. If there is a misalignment of your neck discs or jaw joint, cranial blood flow will be restricted and this can cause a headache. See a cranial osteopath to correct any misalignment. And finally, eye strain may be the trigger. If you spend long periods of time every day staring at a computer screen or find it hard to read small print it may be time to take better care of your eyes. Take regular breaks every 20 minutes when working on the computer and keep your eyes moist by blinking regularly. Visiting an optician will also be of benefit to see if reading or computer glasses are necessary.

Natural pain relief for arthritis, back pain, PMS, headaches and more

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you’ve ever suffered from arthritis, back pain, headaches, PMS, or a number of other conditions that cause pain, you may have reached for ibuprofen or over the counter medications to give you pain relief. In some cases this may offer temporary relief, but an increasing number of my patients have found that they don’t work and even if they do the relief is not permanent, not to mention unpleasant side effects such as stomach upsets. In short, over the counter pain relief medication simply doesn’t cut it.

If you’re wary of pain relief medication the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives – natural ones – that have science on their side. From herbs that attack inflammation to techniques that encourage the brain to release natural pain killers into your body, nature offers a number of remedies for painful conditions such as arthritis, headaches and muscle strain. Here are some natural remedies you may want to consider experimenting with; they can help ease pain and leave you feeling healthier and happier for the long term – without the side effects.


Fish Oil: for arthritis related joint pain or autoimmune disorders


Studies have shown that fish oil breaks down into a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins which can reduce inflammation. One study, from the University of Pittsburgh, showed that about 40 per cent of the arthritis sufferers who took fish oil every day were able to cut their use of pain relief medications up to a third. People with neck and back pain seemed to fare the best. After about 10 weeks nearly two thirds were able to stop taking pain relief medication altogether.


Taking Omega 3 fish oil every day has been shown to help the heart by boosting circulation, but for pain the dose needs to be higher. For osteoarthritis you should take 2,000mg daily and you may need even more for rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases associated with joint pain, such as lupus. It’s always best to consult your doctor before self –medicating, especially if you have high blood pressure and take heart medication because high doses of omega 3s can thin the blood. If you do want to take supplemental fish oils don’t be tempted to supplement with cod liver oil capsules. In the sea the fish can accumulate toxins and mercury which your body doesn’t want or need. If you don’t want to take fish oils consider supplementing with 1,000 mg daily of linseed oil. Linseed, also called flaxseed oil, contains both omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, which offer natural pain relief.


Do make sure you look at the EPA and DHA content of the fish oil you’re using and don’t be swayed by how much total fish oil content there is. Take at least 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA a day. Ideally, you are aiming to do this in the smallest amount of capsules. The one I use in the clinic is called Omega 3 Plus, which contains that amount in just two capsules. 


Capsaicin: for arthritis and headaches


An active component of chilli pepper, capsaicin can desensitize pain prone skin nerve receptors called c-fibres; soreness is diminished for 3 to 5 weeks while they regain sensation. One study from Oxford University showed that nearly 40 percent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for one month and 60 percent of neuropathy patients achieve the same after two months. Patients at a New England Centre for Headaches decreased their migraine and cluster headaches intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.


For arthritis try 0.025 or 0.075 percent capsaicin cream, one to four times daily, for at least two weeks.


Magnesium: for PMS

Up to 90% of women will experience Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) related pain at some point during their reproductive years. While over-the-counter medications can help with bloating and pain, they do little for mood swings and depression and often have unpleasant side effects, such as poor digestion. In a study published recently (in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation) women with PMS were treated with 250mg of magnesium a day over a 3-month period. The study led to a reduction in symptoms by up to a third. Another study (in The Journal of Women’s Health) found that 200mg a day of magnesium reduced PMS fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by 40 percent. Magnesium is classed as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ and women with PMS have been found to have lower levels of red blood cell magnesium than women who don’t have symptoms. Supplementing with magnesium may therefore be extremely useful in alleviating PMS related pain and even more effective when taken with vitamin B6 – another important nutrient that can ease PMS related symptoms.

In addition to magnesium, the herb Agnus Castus is also great for easing PMS related symptoms. Agnus Castus works on the pituitary gland and has a balancing effect on the hormones in the second half of the cycle. I recommend combining other herbs including black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle and skullcap and take for three months. (See Agnus Castus Plus at

 (For more information on natural ways to relieve the misery of menstrual cramps see the article on them in this newsletter.)


Yoga and gentle exercise: for back pain


The worst thing you can do if you have back pain is take to your bed. Hull university researchers found patients who followed a programme of stretching and low impact aerobics made a faster recovery from back pain than those who did not exercise. So to keep back pain at bay try the following gentle stretching exercise four to five times a day – it will help to keep your back flexible: from a neutral standing position lean forward gently and then lean back and then move from side to side. Repeat.


You may also want to try the following yoga stretch, called a cat stretch, which can help keep your spine mobile and rid it of tension. To perform a cat stretch, kneel down and place your hands on the floor in front of you so that you are on all fours with your knees, feet and hands about a foot apart. Now slowly arch your back into a hump, dropping your head. Hold for a few moments and then gently and slowly lift your head and at the same time gently drop your lower back and stick your bottom out. Repeat this three times slowly and without strain. Just doing this part of the exercise is great for removing tension from your spine and can really help with an aching back. Then gently bend the elbows and place your chin on the floor between your hands.


In addition to gentle exercise and stretching, applying heat or ice can reduce pain, stimulate blood flow and speed the healing process by bringing blood cells to clear the damaged tissue site. Generally, heat should be applied on the first day of injury and ice is better for spasms. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel, for no longer than 15 minutes at a time though or the cold itself could trigger a muscle spasm. If cold doesn’t help try using a hot water bottle and applying for no more than 15 minutes at a time, up to four times a day. A bath with Epsom salts can also soothe pain, as can Bromelain or Devil’s claw tablets. Bromelain is an enzyme derivative of pineapple and research has found it can be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving back pain – without the side effects. Devil’s claw is an African herb and trials at the University of Reading have found it to be effective in treating pain relief if taken for a minimum of six weeks.

(For some lovely Epsom salts infused with essential oils go to and click on Natural Lifestyle Products.)


Arnica: for acute injury and post surgery swelling


Arnica is a herb that comes from a European flower and research has shown it has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Taking oral homeopathic arnica after a tonsillectomy decreases pain, according to British research, and one German study showed that it can reduce surgery related knee swelling.


If you want to give arnica a try for acute injuries, use homeopathic arnica as well as ice, herbs or conventional pain relief. Rub arnica ointment on bruises and strained muscles.


Count out loud: for needle stick pain


And finally, if you’re frightened of the pain from injections counting backward from 100 out loud during an injection can decrease pain, (according to a recent Japanese study from the Yokohama City University Medical Centre in Kanagawa). None of the 46 patients who counted backwards complained afterwards and only one of them could remember pain from the injection at all. Among the 46 who didn’t count, 19 said the injection hurt and 10 recalled what it felt like. Counting out loud might work by distracting the brain from processing the sensation of pain. The trick is probably only useful for short or acute periods and the degree of pain reduction really depends on how well the patient concentrates on counting.

Ask Marilyn – Star Question: are epsom salts effective and are they always safe to take?

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Q: I’ve read up a little about Epsom Salts or Magnesium Sulphate, and they sound great for some skin problems, helping the body to detox, as a muscle relaxant (good for muscle cramp/spasm?) and de-stressor. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject and if there are any cases where it would not be recommended (such as during pregnancy?).

A: We think of magnesium generally as nature’s tranquilliser as it has a calming and relaxing effect on the body including the muscles.  Epsom salts are just hydrated magnesium sulphate and when used in the bath, the magnesium is absorbed through the skin, hence the relaxing effect on problems with muscle cramps and spasms.  This relaxant effect is also useful for women who have painful periods because the womb is a muscle and can also be helpful for other conditions where muscles are affected e.g. fibromyalgia.  The magnesium can also help reduce inflammation so may be useful for people with arthritis and general aches and pains.

Epsom salt baths can also be helpful for skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis as it can reduce inflammation in the skin.  Soaking in Epsom salt baths can also be helpful for relieving a flare up of genital herpes and when suffering from shingles. 

It is also thought that Epsom salts can help draw toxins out of the body, so helpful if you are doing a detox and want something to make the detox more effective.  It is not advisable to detox during pregnancy because the toxins will be released into the bloodstream and can pass into the baby.  So I would suggest that in pregnancy only the feet are soaked in Epsom salts.

For a regular bath use one to two cups of Epsom salts in water temperature that is comfortable (not too hot).  You could do dry body brushing before you get in the bath as this will help to open up the pores to increase the absorption of the Epsom salts.  An Epsom salt bath is best at the end of the day because at the end of the bath, just dry yourself off and get into bed, it is better not to rinse off the salts.