Aches and pains: My favorite home remedies (Part II)

sleeping-in-symmetryHere are my favorite home remedies for routine tweaks and twinges–and a word on the psychosomatic factor.

RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation)

Rest. The best and simplest remedy is hardest for me to comply with. When I notice a twinge or tweak, what do I do? I might ratchet down, but short of full R&R.

When I attend class and the teacher says, “Does anyone have anything to report?” I tend to underreport. Then, instead of forgoing the class sequence, I adjust my intensity accordingly; there’s a big difference in doing a pose at 75% versus 85% versus 95% capacity. I admit that an individualized modified practice might be much wiser.

liz-koch-constructive-restTo “justify” rest, I sometimes recall a position (and turn of phrase) that my first yoga teacher called “constructive rest.” Yes-sir-ee, rest is constructive. No need to feel lazy or guilty about resting.

Ice is bracingly effective to me, but also messy and inconvenient. Non-ice substitutes are ideal. (Long ago I found an ice pack composed of small gel-filled plastic pillows (like ravioli). Magically, they keep cold for several hours. Today I can neither identify the brand nor find anything remotely as effective.)

Compression and elevation make sense, but I find these options cumbersome for non-limb muscles and joints. Compress and elevate my hamstring origins?!

OTC drugstore remedies

I have no qualms popping two Advils (Ibuprofen) when I’m hurt. To me, it’s important immediately to reduce inflammation and the sensation of pain. Otherwise, acute pain from a legitimate injury can become chronic pain, due not to tissue damage but to misguided neurologic activity.

Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article “The Itch” disturbingly explains the brain’s effects on sensation: what we think we feel through our senses might well be “made up” by our brain. I don’t want to give my brain a chance to cling to pain!


Besides ibuprofen, I’ve tried the herbal arnica remedy Traumeel, which I found ineffective, perhaps because I’m skeptical of homeopathy and it’s “Law of Infinitesimals.” More recently I’ve tried Voltaren Emugel (Diclofenac; available only by prescription in the USA). On a whim I tried the gel last year for mild plantar fasciitis. Soon, my feet felt fine. Due to Voltaren? Due to stretching my soles and Achilles tendons? Without a control, who can know?

My favorite home remedy harks back to my childhood: Salonpas. Maybe every Japanese kid remembers the unmistakable camphor-menthol smell of a grandparent’s Salonpas. The smell alone could cure (or so it seemed). Wake with a stiff neck? Slap on one of these patches… Ah!


The year before I first tried yoga was turbulent: breakup, landlord clash over harboring cat in no-pets apartment, move across town. I suddenly felt inexplicable back discomfort, primarily while sitting. Strangely, the pain was inconsistent, flaring up at work (despite ergonomic chair) and vanishing at home. A yoga classmate recommended that I read Mind Over Back Pain by John Sarno.

mind-over-back-pain-coverSarno hypothesized that pain is subjective based on mental state; tenseness disrupts circulation, reduces blood flow to specific areas (especially the back), and causes pain. He had studied patients with actual spinal-disc injuries: some felt excruciating pain, others felt nothing despite similar physical abnormality. Thus pain can be a function of the mind. The cure: change your mindset.

Note: Sarno has written two follow-up books, Healing Back Pain and The Mindbody Prescription. I happened upon the latter and found it over-the-top in its crusading claim that all illnesses and injuries are “in the mind.” Read a clear-eyed review here.


Undoubtedly, my favorite antidote to aches and pains is massage. It is both preventive and curative. Sometimes my body simply craves deep-tissue massage and, if I book an appointment, my mind also relaxes in anticipation.

I do wonder whether my craving for massage signals Sarno-type tension. Do people exist who are truly tension free? People whose muscles are strong and firm, yet uniformly pliable and smooth? Sarno might conclude that massage, while soothing, is only a Band-Aid.

Or maybe it’s more like a prop: with massage, I can feel more myself while working on myself.


Image: Liz Koch in “constructive rest” position



  1. Salonpas is a favorite remedy at home too. My cousin who went to China brought us what I would call an updated version of Salonpas. I don’t know the name since its in Chinese. It’s also a patch but the side that is sticking to the skin is made of gel. It must also be covered with another sheet that goes with it to make it adhere to the skin longer.


  2. A feng shui consultant I’ve met once said that yoga is a great stress reliever. I might consider the home remedies included in this article. Great post, though.


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