Musculoskeletal First Aid

Musculoskeletal First Aid

In continuation of my “First Aid Kits” series, this newsletter will focus on some of my favorite approaches to Musculoskeletal Issues. We’ll talk about muscle cramps, headaches, and joint pain.
Muscle Tension and Cramping:
Many musculoskeletal issues (such as muscle cramps, muscle aches, and headaches) are a result of muscles tightening or cramping in a particular area of the body. Almost half of Americans consume less than the Recommended Daily Intake of magnesium and many medications can cause magnesium depletion. Add to that the fact that emotional stress has been shown to deplete magnesium and we’ve got epidemic proportions of magnesium deficiency in US. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and magnesium deficiency can cause muscle to cramp up.
If you’re experiencing muscle tension, muscle cramping, or headaches (tension and migraine type), a magnesium supplement may be a very good idea!
I typically recommend starting with about 500mg of magnesium. You can increase to 750mg as needed and as tolerated. Try this when you have muscle tension, headaches, or muscle cramping (including menstrual cramping).
Magnesium is inexpensive and relatively safe. If you take too much, you may get magnesium (in this case, divide the dose through the course of the day and, if that doesn’t help, reduce it slightly). If you can’t tolerate magnesium supplementation, you can also try a topical application (Epsom salts bath or a magnesium gel like MagneGel). It is contraindicated in end stage kidney disease and should be used with caution in patients on ACE inhibitors (common medications used to treat high blood pressure).

Joint Pain:
The most common cause of joint pain, especially in older adults or those who have sustained a joint injury or do any sort of repetitive movements involving joints on a frequent basis is osteoarthritis. Other common causes of joint pain (though more acute) are strains and sprains.
1) Cabbage: The first thing I start with here is wrapping the joint in a cabbage leaf! Yup, you read correctly! Wrap that joint in a cabbage leaf. A 2016 study found that cabbage leaves wrapped around the joint for at least 2 hours can be an effective treatment for osteoarthritic pain. I’ve found them beneficial in strains and sprains too.
2) Anti-inflammatory foods: a change in diet can be very helpful in managing joint pain caused by inflammation. Reducing animal proteins and refined carbohydrates is a really good start. Increasing produce is also important. Anti-inflammatory fats can also have a major impact so incorporate fish (such as wild salmon and sardines), nuts, and seeds into the diet. In fact, a number of studies have recently been showing that sesame seeds (40g, about 4Tbsp, a day of ground seed) may reduce joint pain (significantly more than Tylenol), markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and even cartilage damage in osteoarthritis.
3) Turmeric and Ginger: these two herbs pack a punch when it comes in joint pain and inflammation. You can prepare a tea with turmeric powder and a couple of slices of fresh ginger (be sure to add a sprinkle of black pepper to dramatically increase absorption of the turmeric). Steep covered for 10 minutes and drink 3 cups a day. If that’s not enough or you the taste is not tolerable for you, consider a supplement.

Many of my patients have chronic headaches. Magnesium can be a help for a number of different types of headaches (see above). Here is one more remedies to try:
Ginger: ginger has anti-inflammatory effects and can be very powerful medicine for migraines. In a 2014 study, Ginger was compared with a common migraine medication called Imitrex and found to be of similar effect without the side effects. Interestingly, ginger is also helpful with nausea which often comes along with migraines. Most migraine medications come with long term side effects. Try 500 mg of ginger in a capsule at the start of a migraine. It can also be used daily for prevention of migraines.

So there you have it: remedies to keep on hand, in your fridge or in your cabinet, for your First Aid Kit for headaches, muscle cramps, and joint pain.
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