60-second pain hacks

When you're in pain, it's like nothing else matters. Here are eight little tricks to cope. Also, a boneheaded mistake on my part, and 7 other things worth your time.

Do you remember that Carly Simon song from the 1970s? “Haven't Got Time for the Pain”?

I'm pretty sure it was about heartache. But when you're in physical pain, it can be almost impossible to get past it.

That’s why I was glad to come across a series of YouTube videos a while back by Amy Rushlow, formerly of Prevention magazine, explaining how to make several common discomforts disappear.

Some of them are pretty cool, and they seem to work. Here are her eight quick fixes—how many of them are new to you? (Note: I’ve embedded the YouTube videos as we go along):

1. Cure a stress headache with a pencil.

In 2021? This one is relevant, to put it lightly. According to Rushlow, stress headaches are often caused by unintentional flexing of the muscles between your jaw and your ear.

So the trick is to consciously relax those muscles. Here's how: Grip a pen or pencil lengthwise with your mouth, but don't bite down.

Balancing requires you to relax your jaw muscle, which should ease the headache after a minute or so.

2. Cure a sinus headache with peppermint oil.

You'll need to plan ahead for this one, but if you're prone to sinus headaches, it makes sense.

Rushlow suggests mixing a few drops of peppermint oil—you don't need much, because it's highly concentrated—with a small amount of another, unscented oil. (She uses jojoba oil, but baby oil will work as well.)

Then rub the concoction on your temples and work inward along your brow bone. Peppermint oil contains menthol; menthol helps clear sinuses.

3. Cure other headaches with acupressure.

A friend taught me this one in law school. It works magically—if you can find the exact spot.

You’re looking for the point on your left hand where the bone from your thumb meets the bone from your index finger. Press firmly right in that spot, using both the thumb and forefinger from your right hand, then slowly rotate in small circles.

It takes a few minutes, but you should feel relief. The explanation is that the nerves that signal headache pain are associated with the nerves in that spot on your hand.

4. Clear a stuffy nose with your tongue.

If you've got a stuffy nose, rather than trying a bunch of medicines, all you have to do is gently rock a bone in your skull back and forth.

OK, I know this sounds crazy, not to mention kind of gross and maybe even dangerous. But it's perfectly safe, and it works.

Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and then press your fingers against your skull, pretty much between your eyebrows. Alternating like this for about 20 seconds will gently rock the vomer bone in your skull back and forth, which will help dislodge whatever's stuffing up your nose.

5. If that doesn't work, hold your breath.

Yep. Tip your head back, take a deep breath, pinch your nose, and hold it as long as you can—really, until you can't stand it and have to exhale. Voilà: instant unstuffed nose.

Why? You're tricking your brain into thinking that there's some kind of emergency preventing you from getting enough oxygen. Its response? Unstuff your nose.

(Left for discussion elsewhere: Why doesn’t your brain just unstuff your nose in the first place? But if it works, it's probably better not to argue.)

There are also a few quick fixes for back pain in the video series. These aren't quite as miraculous—more like exercises and stretches—but they're still designed to make the discomfort go away.

6. Ease back pain by relaxing muscles.

A lot of us have back pain because we’ve been sitting in an office environment or at a makeshift work-from-home setup and have unintentionally clenched our back muscles while scrunched over a computer all day.

To help, make a fist with one hand in front of you and wrap your other hand around it. Roll your shoulder blades toward each other for five seconds, and then shake it out. 

"Your muscles will be completely relaxed," Rushlow says.

7. Stretch your pecs.

According to Rushlow, you can also wind up with back pain because your pectoral muscles contract—again, typically from being hunched all day, whether in front of your computer or pecking on your smartphone.

Her solution: stretch your pectoral muscles—30 seconds on each side—by using a doorframe as a brace.

8. Make a Y and a W.

The last stretch involves standing with your back against a wall and elevating your hands over your head until you're basically making a Y with your body. Next, slide your arms downward and bend at the elbow, until you've mimicked a W.

The key is to make sure your back, shoulder blades, and arms all stay in contact with the wall. 

"Do that 10 times, and do it once a day for the best results," Rushlow advises.

OK. Call for comments: I am 100% sure that at least some of you will have additional pain and health hacks to share. Let us know in the comments.

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Missed Tuesday’s Understandably Live?

No problem; it’s right here. I talked with Brian Moody, executive editor of AutoTrader (and fellow guy-who-still-uses-AirPods-with-wires), about how to buy a new car in the unique 2021 economic situation.


Just spell my name right!

Classic journalism advice: If you do nothing else, get the names right. And yet here I am, having to admit that I misnamed the winner of our trivia contest. Our winner was Teri Benaron (not “Bannon.”) Mea culpa!


7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pxfuel. I wrote about some of this at Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.