The subject of neuralgia came up last week and, while I’m getting to grips with a whole-new “lightbulb” reason why this has been such a challenge (see my last post), I’m also appreciating the massive recovery strides that have been made already. I’m noticing how this autumn-into-winter season (normally the most challenging of the year…) has been markedly easier to cope with. At least two main symptoms of neuralgia are in retreat, which is worth shouting about.
Yes, neuralgia is still a big part of my reality; mostly as localised sharp pain, red-hot burning sensations and related symptoms such as heart palpitations, tooth pain, numbness…yet, compared to where I was a year ago, this is a walk in the park. One of the big absentees is brain fog (most of the time…), which has been immensely uplifting, allowing all-new optimism to flood in. Having your intellect take a hike every day or so because your nerves are feeling overwhelmed (worsened by cold weather) is one of the most horrible things about neuralgia and I’m glad to let it go. Lifting the fog also snaps you out of the catch-22 where you feel awful yet can’t seem to do anything about it since having your razor sharp mind back gives you the traction to get back on top of things. One of benefits of this symptom backing-off is that the strong sense of seasonality (like an enforced hibernation) has been reduced since I’ve been finding I can keep almost as busy and initiate as much new work in the colder months as I can at other times of the year. In other words, life doens’t have to just grind to a halt for several months of the year; which can be so hard to deal with.
Another main difference is the dramatic reduction of killer headaches, which I haven’t been getting for months now. This is in stark comparison with previous years (last year especially) when they were only getting more frequent and intense. I’m noticing how, at times that other people are still reporting mega-migraines (there is a global pattern…), I’m sensing their potential yet, for me, they don’t seem to develop or hang around for very long. So what am I doing differently? These are some of the key things that I think are making that huge difference and which I wanted to share in case they nudge anyone else into a more comfortable place:
Stretching and moving
While my version of it might not be terribly glossy, that thing I call yoga is something I do little and often; having missed it just a handful times since the start of September. It’s not so much what I do (as I’ve writen about before in Yoga-ish) but the regularity of it, and the fact I do it as soon as I get up, that makes the difference, stretching and rolling out my body before the day begins. In fact, I use a roller in my routine and the back manoeuvres I do using this help ease out those most fleshy parts of me that are teeming full of nerves all along the spinal column but which can stagnate if I don’t make the effort. Doing gentle neck stretches is also key – the occipital nerve can be a huge source of neuralgia in the head and easing this along its length by turning the head from side to side, back and forth can be a strengthening and straightening exercise that makes all the difference for this hot-spot of nerve pain. The other thing yoga offers is an opportunity to stretch out the wrists (the median nerve that passes through the well-known carpal tunnel) and all those zillions of nerves in the feet and ankles. Which is why I use…
Spikey pilates balls
…morning and night, even when I’m just sitting on my sofa, to roll out the soles of my feet and my hands. When it comes to the feet especially, the feeling of this is quite blissful (like walking on a sandy beach) and has a compounding benefit, not only for all those nerves but to every other corner of the body, since the one small area of the foot is connected to them all. When I do the same with my hands, I know I’m set up for a day of using keyboards and holding paint-brushes.
The feet have a zillion nerves in them, connecting to key organs and profoundly impacting their functionality and health. You could think of the foot as a control centre on the neurological circuit-board (which is why the unabating symptom of burning feet can be so common; our feet tell us about the state of our overall health). So, how do we “massage” all those organs, given they are deep inside of us if not through our feet!
The effect is powerful and, I believe, reminds our nerves what they are there for, whilst making them feel appreciated. If numbness and pain has become their chronic domain then maybe they just need reminding how crucial they are for delivering the right messages to other parts of our body that we can’t reach so that they can step up to what they are designed for…as the key-communicators of our body, sending happy impulses to the brain (which can be encouraged by seeking out any pleasurable sensation). A good abrasive massage of hands and feels tells you its powerful because it feels so good; the body tingles all over with newly released endorphins and it’s just so easy to do. These small plastic balls aren’t expensive or difficult to purchase; I have half a dozen lying around the house and slip my shoe off to quickly massage my soles whenever I walk past them…which, I believe, delivers massive health benefits…though walking on rough sisal floors or outside without shoes can have a similar, if less focussed, benefit for the nerves. Which brings me to…
Keeping in touch with the ground
…by wearing barefoot shoes – all year round! I discovered the health benefits of barefoot about four years ago when I invested in my first pair of barefoot shoes and the change in my feet and overall health was profound (you can read about those benefits here).
A few years on, I have several pairs but one thing has recently changed and made all the difference – which tells me how powerfully supportive of health these shoes are. I used to wear them all spring and summer long but would change over to conventional, thick-soled, knee-length, well-insulated boots with good grips as soon as it got cold, muddy and wet because my instinct was to protect my most vulnerable part. So then I would do all my winter walking in these boots…and watch my health go down the pan. The difference in how walking made me feel between seasons was profound and getting more stark by the year.
Towards the end of last winter, when I was starting to alternate back into my barefoot boots on the drier days, I noticed how these on and off days coincided with pain levels. So, this year, I have a pair of Vivobarefoot wellies (see their website, left) and, though they don’t have massive grips for coping in the sludge, I don’t care since I just love the way they feel; the delicious intimacy with the ground so that you can feel every bump and lump of the earth (which isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds – in fact its addictive). I can wear thermal socks or slip in a liner if its cold but I would much rather have that health-giving contact with the earth – which massages and flexes the foot in ways that have massive benefits to nerve and organ health, posture, muscle and balance – than have the kind of foot protection that separates me from what I’m walking on.
There’s an instinctive logic to this; the closer you get to the earth, the healthier you feel, not to mention the fact that – given our nerves deal with electricity – we are grounding the whole time we walk in such close proximity with our planet, without all the barriers of thick heavy soles keeping us separate from the soil. The way my foot is able to flex and roll with every step is an enhanced foot-massage every time I go out – for about an hour or more every day – which runs energy through my nervous system in a way that feels so dynamic compared to other years, when my foot hardly moved inside the fortress of my winter boots. I KNOW this has made a vast difference to the way I am coping with winter’s challenges as the sense that my walks aren’t as health-imparting as they are in summer has dissolved away, making health much less seasonal than it used to be. Which brings me to the obvious one
…even if you don’t have the excuse of a dog , which is the best route to nerve-health that I know. Doesn’t have to be far, fast or even anywhere picturesque just so long as you walk for at least half an hour a day – its as simple as that. Nerves stagnate so flushing them through with an active circulation and stimulating them with all the sensory delights of being out-of-doors is crucial to their health.
Lions mane mushrooms
Something I wrote about (in Repairing Your Myelin) a few months ago, being very highly regarded for myelin repair, I have to bring this in again since I believe it has made a vast difference to my nerve-health. The months that I have been taking it have coincided with that sudden die-off of migraines that I already mentioned, not to mention more brain-clarity than I’ve enjoyed in the winter months for years! Add to that a lessened sensitivity to household electricity, to shops (I’ve managed numerous shopping excursions in the last few months) plus a vastly improved ability to night-drive and I’m left marvelling a little at what I think this has helped me to achieve. A very affordable supplement with – for me – huge benefits.
Sculpting your own electrical environment
What do I mean by this? I mean its nigh-on impossible to eliminate electrical stimuli in the modern environment but at least have some say over it. My rule of thumb is to switch Wi-Fi off at night, to put it back on only when needed, to almost-always have mobile phones “off” or on airplane mode in the house, to use the computer rather than mobile phone to speak through (i.e. never hold a live phone to talk), to not have a DECT phone in my house and to monitor how I’m feeling…and STOP doing anything that is cranking my nerves.
Believe me, I can notice immediately when an electrical source is too much for my nerves; sharp, sometimes overwhelming pain or even dizziness and nausea and a toxic feeling rising in my body…so I take that cue and eliminate the source. The more times I do this, the stronger my system seems to be the next time; so getting better is not a case of forcing your nerves to acclimatise since the nervous system doesn’t respond well to that kind of bullying at all. Also, as written about before (Living with Electro-Sensitivity), I have an isolator switch near my bedroom that turns off the whole electrical circuit while I sleep and I believe this has had the single most impactful health benefit of all these modifications in the ten months since it was installed. For advice on installing one of these, I suggest Geovital (who provide these switches) in conjunction with an experienced electrician.
Cut out the sugar
If you can, cut sugar our of your diet altogether; if not, at least reduce it significantly. What more can I say? This one is so well documented and I am living testament to it; so much so that one small relapse over Christmas reminded me – spectacularly – why I don’t normally eat sugary cake! There is simply no short-cut to this one and its over to you. To be clear, I still eat fruit-derived sugar (fruit is so important to a balanced diet and I eat naturally sweetened jam without adverse effect). I also tolerate agave and honey as alternatives; so these are what I use in my cooking and food choices. Making this diet change isn’t as bad as it sounds and can offer all the benefits of discovering great new products (there are more and more out there) and losing weight without even trying.
Make friends with licorice
Not everyone likes licorice…and I used to be amongst them…but its interesting how I have grown to love it in proportion to how much nerve pain I’ve been experiencing. When I started drinking licorice tea, it was on a recommendation for its herbal benefits but now its one of my biggest go-tos for an episode of nerve pain and I can feel the aggravation go down by degrees whilst I sip; in fact I find it so soothing that its a daily staple, with multiple health benefits of which healing the nerves is just one. There are plenty of varieties around – I like licorice & mint or licorice & fennel but do experiement as they can taste vastly different depending on the brand and the mixture.
There are probably more things I could list but these are my top eight recommendations towards a vastly improved experience of neuralgia. Not only are these stand-alone useful tips but, by giving our nervous system a break from overwhelm, some good sensations and the building blocks for creating myelin, we help to repair it and get so much closer to enjoying a “normal”, pain-free life all of the time; which I believe is perfectly achievable and is where I am certainly heading.
Related post including a useful source of a recovery protocol for neuralgia – “Shingles without the rash?”
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