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Natural Pain Relief

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Martial Arts of Japan

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by Alan Starner

    I’m not a doctor, but I play one at home, and, at times, in the dôjô. In both cases, it’s usually nothing serious, just questions pertaining to the little aches, bruises and soreness that come from giving it your all, and what might be the fastest fix for this type of pain. Through my years of training in the martial arts, I have gained some insight into this subject, and in the process, some relief.
    Be it excessive activity at home or training hard on the tatami, we all know when we’ve pushed ourselves too far. Symptoms manifest themselves in many ways--from headaches to sore muscles, to minor swelling. In fact, in a recent survey, 46% of women and 37% of men experience pain daily. Although I’m not prepared to discuss why the percentage is higher for women, I will share alternative solutions to over-the-counter treatments for pain relief.

No Pain, No Gain?
    Although intense training in martial arts can decrease your sensitivity to pain, it’s mostly genetics that determines your pain threshold. (Tests were done on certain genetic strains of mice and rats. The rodent’s tails were dipped into hot water. Some of the strains could barely stand it, while others didn’t mind it at all.) Consequently, the best choice in pain relievers and the dosage required to relieve pain will vary by individual.
    We have been told that we can adapt to pain. But the fact is the second and third time you dislocate your shoulder will hurt just as badly as the first time. Studies have shown that our sensitivity to pain will slightly diminish in “high pressure” situations such as the ones we might find ourselves in during training in the martial arts.
    A study at the University of Wisconsin concluded that people could withstand painful pressure on their index fingers significantly longer after a vigorous 30-minute workout than before the workout. On the mat, our pain receptors tend to “dull” during long periods of training. It is only when we finish, and start to cool down and stretch, that we feel the full effects of our activity.

Over-the-counter Pain Relief
    A quick review of the pain relievers we usually reach for includes:

Generic Name                General Use
Aspirin                            fever, pain
Acetaminophen              fever, pain
Ibuprofen                        joint pain
Naproxin                         joint pain

    As Dr. Nickels stated in a recent article in this journal, each of these pain relievers have the ability to ease muscle and joint pain; however, each has characteristic risks. The same can be said for the natural alternatives.

The Natural Choice

Arnica and Ginger
    These herbs are good for inflammation of the joints and for sore muscles. Not to be taken internally, these remedies are applied directly to unbroken skin for relief. Possible side effects include redness and itching caused by an allergic reaction.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin
    These supplements can be found together in many popular brands such as Sundown’s Osteo Bi-flex. Both glucosamine and chondroiton are a nutritional approach to maintaining the fluids needed to lubricate joints and cartilage. Sundown states that our bodies produce enzymes that can be a factor in cartilage breakdown. These two supplements, taken regularly, can inhibit this type of activity in our bodies, enabling our system to maintain and promote new cartilage and connective tissue.
    Glucosamine is an amino-sugar found in the body that stimulates growth of new cartilage. Consequently, it can also help to reduce joint pain. In studies, patients using glucosamine experienced as much pain relief as those taking over-the-counter medications. Due to possible blood sugar irregularities and an increase in insulin resistance, diabetics should consult a physician prior to starting a glucosamine regimen.
    Chondroitin has been shown to improve joint mobility by maintaining the fluid needed in the core structure of cartilage. This protects cartilage and promotes healing. There are no known side effects, although there is an ongoing debate on how well the body can absorb this supplement.

Antler Velvet
    A natural source of glucosamine and chondroiton, Antler Velvet comes from domesticated animals (no harm comes to the animals) and has been used in Asia for thousands of years. It is known to reduce pain and recuperation time, in addition to increasing strength and stamina.

Methylsulfonylmethane
    This mouthful is a supplement naturally occurring in plants and milk. It can help in reducing muscle soreness after strenuous training.

Liniments
    Although this category might not be considered “all natural,” these topical pain relievers tend to be most effective when they contain methyl salicylate (wintergreen oil). This oil can have the same affects as aspirin, without the side effects that might come from aspirin digestion. Wintergreen oil penetrates the skin to deaden the sensation of pain.
    A Chinese liniment I found to be effective in the reduction of soreness is Zheng Gu Shui. The active ingredient is menthol (an alcohol), which warms and stimulates the area where it is topically applied, masking the pain caused by overexertion of the muscle. If used too often, this product can irritate the skin.
Capsicum oleoresin (red pepper) has the same medicinal qualities of menthol in that it warms and soothes the area in which it is applied.

I Feel Your Pain
    Pain relievers will affect everyone differently. In some cases, these products can cause side effects ranging from mild to severe depending on dosage, how it’s taken, and your body’s genetic make up. When deciding on any pain relievers, the best choice for you is what relives the pain the fastest, with the least amount of side affects.
    Muscle soreness or joint pain, caused by intense training on the mat should decrease or disappear completely within a week or so. Pain lasting longer could be a symptom of a more serious injury that should be looked at by a qualified physician.

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