Pain has a way of ruining your day, be it from your joints, your back, your head, or otherwise. Check out our simple, science-backed secrets to relax tense muscles, ease creaky joints, soothe a stomachache, and more.
1. Short-Circuit Body Pain
To sidestep persistent pain, message your sister to chat about her weekend plans or check in with a fellow book club member about this month’s novel. Regardless of what type of note you send, Cornell University investigators say that the simple act of texting will engage several pathways in the brain, busying the nerves normally used to transmit pain signals, so fewer will get through.
2. Relax Stiff Knees
To alleviate the joint discomfort that often accompanies damp, cool weather, rub two drops of warm sesame oil ($9.99, Amazon) onto achy knees daily, then wrap them in a warm towel for 10 minutes. A study in the journal Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine found that this pampering aids the unique compounds found in sesame oil (sesamin and sesamol) to better penetrate the skin and tamp down the production of soreness-inducing compounds, cutting pain by 59 percent within one week.
You can also arrange a reminder to take a two-minute stroll every half hour to reduce knee pain and stiffness by 55 percent in 24 hours, according to a review of 23 different studies. These regular “mini walks” will flush inflammation from tender knee joints and encourage speedy tissue repair.
3. Ease Achy Muscles
Plummeting temperatures can cause muscles to contract, making them less flexible and more prone to aches — especially if you call on them to perform demanding winter activities, such as shoveling snow.
To the rescue? A comforting bowl of potato soup. The spud is packed with magnesium and potassium, two minerals that will speed up nutrient-rich blood flow to damaged tissues. Australian investigators say this can reduce muscle tension by 40 percent.
4. Dial Back Stress
Channel warmer weather by queuing up a playlist of nature sounds, and you’ll send pain packing. According to neurologist Fiona Gupta, M.D., noises such as birds chirping or waves lapping against a sandy shore will dial down stress hormones that are known to promote painful swelling, quickly dulling discomfort.
5. Quiet Back Pain
For overnight relief from an achy back, grab an extra pillow before hitting the hay. Back sleepers should place the pillow under their knees, while side sleepers should tuck one between their knees. Experts at the North American Spine Society say this alignment tweak can remove 55 pounds of pressure off the lumbar region, allowing inflamed muscles to heal while you snooze.
Practicing yoga stretches daily can also decrease backaches by 55 percent, often as soon as your very first stretch, say Boston University scientists. The poses also work to improve flexibility, which reverses stiffness in your spine.
6.Tame a Headache
The frequent barometric pressure shifts that come this time of year are known to trigger head pain, but relief is just a click away: Simply put your feet up for a 30-minute veg session with your favorite TV show. This brief relaxation break will spurs the production of a hormone (GABA) that German scientists say calms even stubborn aches in 10 minutes. By taking this daily “me time,” you’ll also cut your risk of future headaches in half.
You can also try dabbing a menthol gel (from $8.76, Walmart) on the back of your neck and behind each ear to provide fast relief, a study in Frontiers in Neurology found. This mint compound helps to block pain signals from traveling up the spine that can intensify a headache.
7. Soothe GI Upset
Hearty winter fare makes up to 66 percent of us prone to bellyaches. But draping a hot water bottle across your midsection can ease GI upset in just 10 minutes — that’s faster pain relief than you’d get from an over-the-counter medication! British researchers say its warmth encourages abdominal nerves to send signals to your body that release digestive enzymes, which in turn help move food along and calm intestinal muscle spasms.
You can also try rubbing your fingers across your abdomen in large circles, as research out of the U.K. shows that you’ll calm your enteric nervous system, which can quiet painful GI muscle contractions.
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This story originally appeared in our print magazine.