Pain Relief off-grid in the High Desert of the Americas

“And when neither their property nor their honor is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways.” Nicolo Machiavelli (The Prince)

The following article is ONLY for people who have ability in the woods, this is not for the weekend glamping barely sentient masses. In fact if your version of camping involves hot showers and paved roads, STOP READING. I am NOT giving medical advice, only relating to you what I have found works for myself. This is NOT meant to be taken as anything other than my opinion and approach with this.

Pain relief is something that is of great concern to many who desire to live off grid. After all there are those who do so who have as a result of either military careers or civilian accidents or birth defects issues that cause immediate or long lasting pain. Pain by itself will cause many other occurrences naturally within ones body.

Pain relief is on its own a misnomer, as pain relief cannot exist without the cause of the pain being cured. Though the ability to mentally avoid or ignore the pain becomes possible as a result of the use of a variety of methods. As someone who suffers chronic pain as a result of grade V spondylolisthesis or spondyloptosis as it is known medically I have a mixture of nerve, bone and muscle pain as well as the arthritis most often associated with multiple surgeries and large amounts of built up surgeries. I have dealt with this for over 26 years now and live daily understanding that the day I am in could be the last day I walk.

Recent advancements within the medical community allow for advanced forms of non chemical related treatments though none are long term. As a result it is my personal responsibility to engage in activities and approaches that allow me to function at the levels of which I am accustomed and to not allow the pain related depression (rapid changes in chemical balances within the brain as a result of extreme or long lasting pain cause this) to affect my interactions and life with others.

A quick back story for those interested, I was first diagnosed with grade IV spondylolisthesis at the tender age of 11 directly following a van roll-over. While the disease itself is in this case hereditary, and does not rear its ugly head until the early to late 20’s. The van roll-over exacerbated the impact and quite literally thrust me into a world of pain. Since this time and dozens of major and minor surgeries later, I have become used to the pain. What I have also done is continue to live my life. While I do look like a swayback mule with a corn cob up his ass (a term quite often thrown at me by siblings and peers alike throughout my youth) I gained something none of my other siblings and most of my peers could have. I gained the ability to first understand my limits and second to adapt regardless the situation as was required for each individual instance. I also have become a cynical virtuoso able to take the barbs often thrown my way and reverse them or absorb them, or in some cases prove that even half crippled I am twice the man most that surround me today are.

This does not of course stop the pain nor does it reverse the various chemical imbalances that occur quite regularly. And so I have become quite good at adopting various approaches to remain as chemically free as possible with regards to pain management. (another aspect is the possibilities of infections, this will be addressed in the next article/ Natural Antibiotics in the High Desert of the Americas)

First it is important to understand the different types of pain and what they most commonly represent.

  1. Skin related issues, ranging from sunburns through abrasions and cuts the skin is our natural protection for our muscles, bones and nerves. Puncturing or wounding this often causes a mixture of pain types. Some of the more easily understood are burns which are sharp, throbbing and achy. Cuts or abrasions are often sharp, achy and depending on location bleed, this alone can cause panic, dont, rather apply pressure for minor cuts and for major cuts or arterial types use a tourniquet with pressure being applied to the area of the wound itself. Additionally for both burns and cuts that bleed, HYDRATE, this is absolutely essential.
  2. Muscle/ cartilage pain, most often a twisted ankle, sprained joints and or deep bruising will cause this pain. What you feel will range from deep throbbing to extreme tenderness in the area of the impact or twist itself. It will differentiate from bone related in that you will normally still be able to put weight on it and the pain is considerably different.
  3. Bone related injuries, this is a pain that some of us have experienced but few ever want too again. It feels like someone is grinding together bricks or rocks inside your body and can easily radiate outwards with additional aches and throbbing occurring. Bone related injuries to extremities will often lead to loss of ability to put weight on that area. Depending on where it occurs and the surrounding events, you may need to set the bone if it is an acute fracture, however, if it is a fracture to a rib or sternum or not acute (extreme bones completely separated) this can be understood by manipulating the area gently to feel (except in the case of the neck or back) for movement or change. If it is a leg, you will need to try and stay off of it as much as possible- which is why hiking or camping with buddies is really highly recommended.
  4. Nerve related pain, this always has a tingling, sharp, radiating pain. Similar to being poked with a thousand red hot needles. Often beginning around the injury but in some cases ending with the pain itself becoming most intense quite a distance from the actual injury.

Now we understand a basic road-map of the types of pain that occur. Hopefully for your sake you have not experienced these, however, the odds are as a human we have experienced at least one of these types of pain. How does one prevent additional pain and move forward as is necessary in a grid down, no medical available situation with this pain in the High Deserts of the Americas.

  • One of the first recommendations I always make to people is to learn to control your breathing properly. A proper breathe comes in through the nostrils, the diaphragm expands causing the lower abdomen to expand as air is pulled into the lungs fully, it is than expelled through the mouth by using the diaphragm to collapse the lungs forcing the bad air back out through the mouth. It is amazing how quickly you can get relatively minor and many major painful situations under mental control through the utilization of proper breathing.
  • Next I suggest learning to enter a meditative state through the use of repetitive mental exercise, causing your mind to focus on everything or anything except the pain itself. I have been involved in situations where the act of figuring out a solution to the injury itself allowed me the necessary time to regain control of my mental faculties and avoid the use of additional pain management as a result. Remember what pain actually is, it is the body telling your brain that something is wrong, if you already know something is wrong and focus instead on fixing it you can override the bodies natural desire to release chemicals which cause the pain and instead work on releasing natural pain relief chemicals like endorphins and oxytocins.
  • Next, LAUGH! Yes, I said it, LAUGH, you can easily train your self to respond to major self trauma through laughter which by itself will retrain your body to assist in communicating pleasure to the brain releasing natural pain killers.

Obviously, these are mental and physical actions that we use.

What if the injury makes it quite difficult if not impossible to do any of these?

  • Aspirin, by itself is a blood thinner and one of the most potent naturally occurring pain medications available in the world.
  • Naturally occurring hot peppers can be cut in strips and pressed to release their juices which can be rubbed on the areas where pain is occurring, (I do not recommend this for OPEN wounds or sun burns!) But rather for pulled muscles or minor bone fractures. The capsaicin or the flavor for the peppers works quite well in deadening the areas causing pain when rubbed on topically.
  • For sunburns there are several dozen approaches, I will address a couple for you. Mud, mix water with local clays or dirt and make muds to keep moisture in and aid in healing, honey is amazing spread directly over the burn itself. Additionally there are the aloe vera, chamomile which works very well in relieving the sting and promoting healthy skin growth.
  • Open wounds MUST be thoroughly cleansed with running clean water, packed with honey and wrapped too promote healing. Keeping a wound moist with sterile or as sterile a solution as you can maintain will promote healthy growth of the skin itself. It will also reduce the pain directly.
  • The willow tree’s bark holds chemicals that are directly related to or used in the manufacture of aspirin, making a tea with the bark will help alleviate headaches and more. Willows are common anywhere where there is water. Learn what all these plants look like!

There are many other plants and naturally occurring chemicals that can and do work very well for individuals who need pain relief. The poppy, marijuana, some mushrooms, barks of some trees, sap of others, yarrow root and leaves and more have several uses, however, due to the potential danger involved I am not going to relate how that works here. There are even pain relieving parts of various animal bodies. What I will say is that pain is a direct result of external stimuli affecting our internal chemical balances. If you have the time and money attend a local course on flora and fauna and the uses of them. There is a VERY large difference in reading about something and actually doing it.

Remember, YOU are in control of your BRAIN, if you panic, you will die.

So cry a little, but shake it off when you are done.

The situation is almost never as bad as it seems and in every case of someone dying in the wilderness there is always a series of bad decisions or decisions made in haste or without fully considering the results leading up to them.

I highly recommend purchasing the following books as these along with decades of in the bush experience have helped me figure out much about where I live.

Edible and Useful Plants of the Southwest

A practical guide to edible plants in the southwest

High Desert Plant Guide

Growing Food in the High Desert Country

Complete survival in the southwest


Free the mind and the body will follow


About Jesse Mathewson

Jesse Mathewson is the author of the popular blog, and provides commentary to many varied places based on a background that includes education in criminal justice, history, religion and even insurgency tactics and tactical training. His current role in his community is as an organizer of sorts and a preacher of community solidarity and agorism. He also runs Liberty Practical Training, a self defense school specializing in the practical applications of defensive approaches versus the theoretical. As an agorist, voluntaryist and atheist his life is seen as crazy and wild by many, though once they get to know him most realize he is a bluntly honest individual who will give you the shirt off his back if he believes it is necessary to help you. Very simple, "That which is voluntary between all individuals involved is always right, if it is not voluntary, it is always wrong."
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