Maybe you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on the latest and greatest new thing, only to have it not work and take up space at the back of the cabinet. Maybe you’d prefer to get back to basics to treat basic things. Or maybe you just heard the dreaded “out of stock” – again.
I think that in 2021 we are learning to adapt more than we have in the past; treating aches, pains, scrapes and the like is no exception. You probably have plenty of things at home that can go a long way toward helping with some of the common, routine things that many patients experience.
Here are my top eight items from around the house to try:
1. Epsom salt – I recommend this to my patients with sore muscles. Epsom salts are generally easy to find in the store and reasonably priced (a recent search tells me you can get four pounds at the big box retailer for less than $3). Add a scoop to a hot bath to soak overall tired or sore muscles. Add a small scoop to a basin of warm water to soak aching feet. My favorite: add a scoop to a sink full of hot water, dip a towel or washcloth in it, and make a compress to apply directly to a cramped or sore muscle – great for necks, shoulders, and other hard-to-reach body parts, and the moist heat from a compress penetrates better than dry heat (like a heating pad). You can also add a small amount to a body wash of your choice to exfoliate skin.
2. Tennis ball – if you have a tight muscle, grab a tennis ball. Put it between the affected area and the wall (or floor), lean into it as much as is comfortable and roll to relieve tension. I suggest starting gently and slowly increasing the pressure; you don’t want to cause a new problem by using too much pressure to start. Depending on your preference, you can use a tennis ball (which has a little more give), or a firmer ball (like a racquet ball), or even a large, softer ball (like a children’s playground ball).
3. Water bottle – if you have cramping in your feet, especially the arches (like my patients with plantar fasciitis), ice massage is a great way to treat. Take an empty plastic bottle, fill it 7/8 of the way and stick it in the freezer. Once the water is frozen, wrap the bottle in a towel, and roll it under your foot right where you feel pain (or any other affected area). The ice will help with local inflammation, provide pain relief, and help decrease swelling. A word of caution: don’t apply ice directly to skin, and don’t apply for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
4. Towel – having muscle pain that gets better if you sit in just the right position? A folded-up towel is a great way to get firm, customized support. You may need to experiment a bit to find the right fold to help; you can fold it in quarters, roll it like a log, or use a couple to provide firm support for an area like your lower back or to elevate an arm or leg.
5. Olive oil – dry skin is super common in the winter. Applying a bath oil soon after bathing is a good way to combat it (or, ideally, prevent it). A small amount of olive oil (think a tablespoon or so) rubbed into your skin right after getting out of the shower will lock in moisture (just be careful not to put any on the soles of your feet!). You can also add it to your bath; a dab on lips can help with chapping. Rubbing it into cracked skin can also help to heal.
6. Pot of water - when the heat comes on, the air gets dry – which can dry out not only your skin, but your nasal passage, making them more inviting to respiratory viruses. Putting a pot of water on the stove will help put some moisture back in the air. If you have a wood stove, you can put a big cast iron pot on top (check it periodically to make sure it’s not empty); you can use a stockpot on a cooktop. Fill with water and set to simmer; if you are feeling fancy, you can add some spices or citrus rind to get an air freshener out of it, too.
7. Rice sock – one of my favorites! A great way to get deep heat to targeted areas of the body. Take a clean, dry sock (cotton is best), fill about three quarters of the way with dry, unused rice and tie a knot in the end. Put it in the microwave (the amount of time will vary based on the power of your microwave and how much rice you have used), starting with less time and adding more time if needed – 30-60 seconds is probably a good start. Be careful when you take it out, as it might be much warmer than you would expect (wrap it in a towel if it’s too warm to start). Apply it to exactly the spot that needs relief – knitters and crocheters really like to use these on stiff joints in their hands, and I know other folks who have liked to use them as bed warmers on cold nights.
8. Corn starch – a good substitute for talcum powder, which has been found to be harmful. Dust on sweaty feet or underarms, or on a moist rash to help dry it out. For a mildly itchy rash or bug bites, you can mix cornstarch with a couple of drops of tap water to make a paste and apply it to the affected area.
There will always be more expensive and more complicated options to treat what ails you. Why not start with something simple, budget-friendly, and that you may already have on hand? If your concern does not get better with simple at-home treatments as described here, contact your healthcare provider to discuss the appropriate next steps.
Jessica Reeves, MSN, MPH, APRN is a Nurse Practitioner based in Keene. Learn more at OUR-clinic.net.