I have the unfortunate honor of being the klutz of the family, which has resulted in some long-term pain (and amusement by my kids at my expense). In years past, I could bounce back from my latest broken toe or sprained ankle – but now that I’m reaching middle age and my body is starting to betray me, I’m finding myself healing slower, discovering new aches and pains, and even feeling renewed pain from injuries that healed ages ago. When I started taking Ibuprofen at least three times a day for my chronic shoulder pain that resulted from more than five years of waitressing, I hardly felt any lessening of the agony. I didn’t want to get a potentially habit-forming prescription of pain pills, either. I felt inspired to look for alternative sources of relief, and discovered that there are ancient treatments for more ailments than just pain.
For over 2000 years, the Chinese have been practicing the use of natural herbs and medicines to relieve just about any type of complaint. Traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become extremely knowledgeable about many types of plants, and their uses in treating almost every part of the body. The surprising part is that now, modern science is starting to embrace more traditional approaches to medicine. Scientists are seeing proof of how natural remedies and supplements work, and even some insurance plans accept a few of these treatments. Here’s what I learned when I started researching traditional Chinese medicine:
Joint and muscle pain.
When it comes to the crushing type of pain I experience in my shoulders, as well as muscle soreness and joint pain, Chinese medicine is all about topical oils, ointments, and patches. Herbal supplements also play a part. Pungent plants like menthol, peppermint, wintergreen, and camphor soak deep into the skin and soothe the pain away with a feeling of icy heat. You see a lot of the same with over-the-counter muscle creams that have been the staple for athletes and arthritis sufferers in the U.S. for decades. The reason is simple: It works. Another natural remedy for joint and muscle pain that’s not very often seen here is capsicum – these chili peppers cause the system to release endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain-blocking friends.
Sinus pain and infections, cold and flu aches and pains.
Once, just after recovering from a nasty head cold, I went out for sushi. My sinuses were still clogged and I had that stuffed-head feeling. I love the ginger slices you get at sushi bars, so I munched on ginger while waiting for my order to come up. By the end of my meal – several spicy quail egg shooters and a pile of ginger later – I realized my head had cleared up, and I was able to breathe through my nose for the first time in days. When researching alternative medicines, I discovered it’s no accident that ginger is included in Chinese remedies for sinus pressure and stuffy heads. Its spicy kick helps to clear out sinus passages, and you can do this by both chewing on the root or breathing in the comforting fumes from ginger tea (another plus is that ginger is known to settle upset tummies). Also helpful in clearing your head with bad colds and flus are licorice root, mentha herb, and angelica root – all of which are staples in Chinese medicine.
Strengthening the immune system.
Too often, we hear complaints about Western medicine targeting the symptoms of a condition, rather than getting to the root of the problem. Modern medicine has made incredible breakthroughs and found cures to many serious diseases, but can sometimes ignore simple solutions like strengthening your immune system. An interesting discovery I found was that many health problems can be caused by chronic inflammation. It’s true that my shoulders can cause me a lot of grief just by being inflamed and painful. But what I also learned was that deep inside your body, the tissues lining your bones, organs, and arteries can also become inflamed. Poor diet, inactivity, injuries, and aging can all cause this. It can be easy for a doctor to prescribe pain medicine to treat the symptoms of inflammation – but it doesn’t treat the source. Many Chinese treatments, found in teas, oils, herbal supplements, and even meals and special recipes, can strengthen your body’s immune system naturally and help it to fight off inflammation and infection.
After researching, I looked into a few herbs and supplements found in ancient Chinese medicine to help with my shoulder pain. I also started doing some beginning stretching and strength-building exercises for my arms and joints. After a few weeks, I started noticing an improvement in how I felt overall, increased energy, and a lessened need for over-the-counter pain medication.
Lauren Hill is a contributing author for Solstice Medicine Company, a traditional Chinese medicine company offering eastern and western remedies for joint, muscle and overall pain relief.