Natural remedies to cope with joint and muscle pain

If you have experienced constant joint and muscle pain from menopause, sport injuries or pregnancy at least once in your lifetime, you would know that you cannot take painkillers all the time and instead you need to opt for natural remedies.

I have the mind of a 20 something trapped in the body of a 50 something…  This causes problems because my young mind makes me do hazardous things that a woman in her 50s would not do without consequences. But I strongly believe that life has to be lived to the full. The Romans said Mens sana in corpore sano, Latin for ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.

woman's back with shoulder pain

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The consequences of inactivity

With a huge section of society forced, unprepared and almost overnight, to begin working from home in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has had some lasting impacts, not least on our musculoskeletal health. A new survey commissioned by Deep Heat, the number one selling range of topical warming products for soothing muscles and joints, paints a bleak picture of Brits’ back and hip health, with a staggering eight out of 10 survey respondents reporting that they’d experienced back pain (45%), hip pain (13%), or both (22%). Yet, instead of taking an opportunity to self-care, for example, by using simple, convenient heating therapies, we’re sticking our collective heads in the sand.

Postural alignment specialist Jan Keller and an advisor to Deep Heat reminds us that: “Back pain is now the single biggest cause of disability in the UK and hybrid working is only inflaming the issue.”  Indeed, a study in the Annals of Translational Medicine confirms that the problem of lower back pain reaches beyond borders, being the leading cause globally of years lived with disability (years which would otherwise have been lived in good health). We might be inclined to write it off as an issue of wear and tear with age. But NICE, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, reports that older people are not the only ones affected. Their statistics on long-term disability due to low back pain show that, while it impacts 5 to 7% of over-45s, a worrying 3 to 4% of under-45s are also affected.

Indeed, as many as 60% of UK adults can expect to experience low back pain sometime during their life, according to NICE. Th survey shows that more than four in 10 adults (45%) across all three age brackets (18-29-year-olds, 30-44-year-olds, and 45-60-year-olds) have experienced back pain.

When asked what’s causing this epidemic of skeletal health problems on top of joint and muscle pain, postural alignment specialist Jan Keller explained: “Many people have stuck to homebased working, for at least some of the week, despite restrictions easing. Some have found great benefits from getting rid of the commute, from spending more time with the family to having more time and energy to exercise. But it’s not been all sunshine and roses.” He goes on to discuss some of the research on the issue: “For example, almost half (49%) of the 388 respondents to a survey published in Musculoskeletal Care said they’d experienced back pain since Covid.

Since most said they hadn’t had back pain before, this suggests it may have been brought about by the increase in home working.”

Everyday back and hip pressures

Back pain is clearly a big problem among Brits, especially with the uptick in hybrid working. There are the obvious activities, like heavy lifting without protecting your posture, which many mums of little ones can relate to besides those who work in manual jobs. However, we often forget that pain can also be caused – or made worse – by sitting at a desk or behind the wheel of a vehicle all day. Sitting for long periods can weaken muscles, shorten tendons, make postural problems worse, and increase back and hip pain. So, those who drive for a living or spend long hours behind a desk are also at risk.

Indeed, four in 10 (41%) survey respondents for Deep Heat felt that increased home working had reduced their activity levels across the day. Whereas before the pandemic, many would be walking or cycling to the office or train station, and running around to get to appointments, much of their time is now spent sitting down in the same position on endless video calls.

Sitting has even been dubbed ‘the new smoking’ as it’s considered to be such a key health risk, with evidence suggesting that it’s becoming an increasingly common trigger for back pain as well as joint and muscle pain. Personal trainer and advisor to Deep Heat, Chris Ruxton, warns: “Lower back pain is often a sign that your sitting position needs realignment, so make sure you’re not slumping and have adequate lower back support when using a laptop and computer, or when watching TV.”

What’s more, a cross-sectional study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health   found that hybrid working and working from home increased the risk of musculoskeletal problems among Italian workers, particularly affecting the spine. To make matters worse, hybrid and home workers who suffered with musculoskeletal pain reported lower levels of job satisfaction.

Interestingly, though, survey respondents didn’t put their postural pain down to sedentary behaviours. Over half (56%) thought they knew what had caused their back pain, and these were the top answers they gave:
23% picked something up awkwardly
22% just put the problem down to wear and tear
13% thought overdoing the housework was to
blame
9% thought they got carried away with the
gardening
8% put it down to a fall or injury.

While some people have used home working as a good excuse to kick start their exercise routine, by running more or doing online fitness classes, this may have led to incorrect posture or unsafe technique, placing unnecessary stress on muscles and joints. Indeed, more than one in 10 (11%) blamed their back ache on an exercise-related injury

Impact on Brits’ lives

Staggeringly, 82% said the pain they experience impacts, at least to some extent, their ability to get on with their daily routine. This includes one in six (16%) who said this is often the case. The ways in which pain impacts us are particularly concerning, such as limiting normal activities. This includes a worrying 44% of respondents whose pain means they have trouble walking.

Other problems people report due to their back or hip pain include:
Difficulty standing (44%)
Low mood or depression (28%)
Pain in other parts of the body (26%)
Missing out on social events (20%)
Missing work (15%)

Lack of hobbies (14%).

 

Brits aren’t tackling these issues early enough

With over a third (34 percent) admitting that they never think about their musculoskeletal health, including 46 percent of 45-60-year-olds, it’s no wonder we have a mobility crisis. It’s also particularly staggering that 58% know that ignoring muscle pain could lead to future complications. But it’s not that Brits don’t try to manage their hip or back pain – it’s just they could delay taking appropriate action. Survey respondents confirmed that they have used the following self-care
treatments:
Pain killers (54%)
Rest (38%)
Hot baths (28%)
Heat patches/ hot water bottle (23%)
Topical gels (20%).

However, over half (58%) admitted that they simply don’t know how to look after their muscles. Wishful thinking seems to be one method used by some, with three in 10 believing that painful muscles will eventually heal themselves, and nearly half (49%) saying that they won’t do physio-based exercises if their muscles are hurting. But, with 29 percent saying they’d experienced a recurring muscle injury, maybe these methods aren’t working.

 

Self-care for our skeletons

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a panel of international experts recommended that desk-based workers should break up their day with standing-based work, or switch to a sit-stand desk, initially aiming for two hours of standing or light activity every working day, building up to four hours a day.

Personal Trainer Chris Ruxton says: “It’s really important that back strains are prevented with good posture – for example sitting up straight and using the stomach muscles while sitting at a desk or driving the car, and early use of therapies when muscular pain is first noticed. This can include heat therapy as well as stretching, massage with a tennis ball, and, of course, regular exercise.”

But there’s an unfortunate lack of knowledge around how to help ourselves as the survey results demonstrate, with 58% unsure when cold and hot therapy should be used.

 

Heat therapy and science behind it

There are beneficial psychological effects of heat by helping to relax the area. Nerves in the skin release pain reducing chemicals as they respond by increasing the tolerance to heating. When we suffer from joint and muscle pain, heat benefits by helping to relieve muscle spasms. It increases circulation of blood lymph which benefits cellular nutrition, oxygenation and detoxification, and has a sedating and relaxing effect on nerves.

Over half (52%) believe that heat therapy can support muscle rehabilitation and long-term recovery from an injury. Additionally, more than four in 10 (43%) have tried a topical heat therapy in the past for back or hip pain, with four in 10 (39%) saying it worked for them, and 38% finding their pain was calmed by the heat.
These survey results are also borne out by research, with a study in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine listing the physiological benefits of heat therapy which include:

Pain relief
Increased blood flow
Increased metabolism
Increased elasticity of connective tissues.

 

When to use cool theraphy

Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is most commonly used for injuries sustained within 48 hours and which cause inflammation. This therapy reduces inflammation by decreasing blood flow. When cold is applied to the body, the blood vessels contract, which reduces circulation and decreases pain. It helps also with common joint and muscle pain caused by inactivity and menopause.

 

Prevention is better than cure!

Tips on coping with joint and muscle pain

The cold weather can be problematic for people who suffer with joint and muscle pain. Nerve endings in joints and muscle tissues are sensitive to changes in weather pressure and temperature which in turn cause stiffness and pain, worsening in cold, damp conditions.

Keep warm externally by layering up clothes and ensuring your extremities (hands, feet and head) are kept toasty with gloves, thick socks and a hat. If you suffer with neck and shoulder pains, always wear a scarf and protect the lower back by tucking a thermal vest in so as not to expose that area.

Keeping warm internally will help to increase your metabolism, thus warming you up all over. Opt for hearty soups, warm drinks and spicy food if you like chilli! Add some ground turmeric to soups as this natural spice has anti-inflammatory properties which will help to ease pain from swollen muscles.

Use a natural pain reliever when possible. Taking over the counter pain relievers may help in the short term but many have problematic side effects and cannot always be used for long periods of time.

Taking a warm bath will soothe aching muscles and help them to relax. Add some detoxifying Epsom bath salts or Arnica salts to the tub for an extra health boost. If possible, spend time in a hot tub as the water jets will gently massage a sore back.

Staying active is important all year round but more so in the winter when our bodies naturally stiffen up a little. Exercising indoors is a great option if you don’t fancy braving the outside weather, so research some local fitness classes or do a work out at home. Remember to be gentle with your body if you are in pain and don’t do anything that hurts.

Increase your vitamin D intake with a natural supplement. Vitamin D is mainly gained from the sunshine but this can be scarce in winter. A lack of vitamin D increases the risk of osteoporosis and rickets, leading to joint pain. There is a wide variety of supplements available nowadays but always check with your doctor before taking anything as it may interfere with existing medication or health problems.

 

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Sitting is the new smoking: How to tackle muscular troubles 

How I deal with muscle pain with natural pain relief solutions – also in pregnancy

Sunlight: Risks vs. Benefits for elders

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