Image courtesy of Men's Health

When illness strikes, you can let your doctor wage war for you. Or -- like these six tough guys -- you can take matters into your own hands and think . . .

We lead heroic lives. Then we get sick. Achilles had his heel problem. Superman his allergy to kryptonite. Dylan his pericarditis (and worse, no words that rhymed with it). And our reaction to sickness -- be it interstitial or interstellar in nature -- is not a battle cry, but denial, then some creative profanity, then surrender.

Well, fellas, that plan is obsolete. You can beat any ailment -- actually hold it at arm's length while it snaps at the air like a baby bulldog in a Tom & Jerry short. We've assembled a group of men who have done just that to their worst health problems. The guys have one thing in common: They took control of their situations, found their own help, and found a way back. Are they medical miracles? Nope, just regular guys with great stories who want to show how you, too, can kick the tail of what ails you.

(Looking for another solution? Click here for easy solutions to 6 MORE common health problems.)

Back Pain

How he beat it: Rock climbing

At age 63, George Knorr was the stereotypical old man shuffling down the street, holding his back. On the worst days, he'd go 50 feet before he'd have to stop to let the pain subside. His doctor diagnosed arthritis and recommended Tylenol. His chiropractor twisted him like origami for a full year. "And my back still didn't feel any better," he says.

Then his son opened a climbing gym in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Knorr watched men of all ages pulling themselves up the walls. One day, he reached up, grabbed a handhold, and hung from it. "My back didn't hurt any more than it already did. So I kept doing it," he says. After 2 weeks of hanging out, his back felt good enough to do easy climbs two or three times a week. After a few months, the pain was gone. Now a spry 69-year-old, Knorr still climbs. And walks. And runs. "I can do anything," he says.

Make it work for you: "Stretching is the bottom line for beating back pain," says Ronald Lawrence, M.D., founder of the American Medical Athletic Association. "By climbing, George stretched muscles he would never have stretched otherwise." And he did it right -- started slowly, saw results, and then upped his workouts.

To get the same benefit (without wearing a harness), Dr. Lawrence recommends this wake-up stretch: Lie on your back and bring your right knee to your chest, clasping your ankle. Hold for a 10-count. Straighten your leg and repeat with the left leg, then do both legs at once.

High Blood Pressure

How he beat it: Tomato juice and cayenne pepper

Jerome Kotch, 55, stews in his share of daily stress as a bank examiner for the Federal Reserve (no, he doesn't know Alan). Fifteen years ago, the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, resident was diagnosed with high blood pressure (147/95) during a routine physical. His doctor put him on a diuretic blood-pressure pill, hydrochlorothiazide. Only problem: "It made me dizzy, and I'd feel like I was about to pass out," he says.

After follow-up blood work showed that the diuretic was lowering Kotch's potassium and magnesium levels, his doctor prescribed supplements to take with the medication. But Kotch still felt like a man without a floor under him. Fed up, he stopped all the pill popping and tried a natural remedy: tomato juice and cayenne pepper. "It's an acquired taste," says Kotch. But after only a month, the spicy new cocktail had lowered his blood pressure. Kotch now walks and bikes regularly, and his BP checks in at a robust 123/80.

Make it work for you: Before you agree to go on blood-pressure medicines, ask your doctor if you can try Kotch's daily concoction: 8 ounces of low-sodium V8 juice with a teaspoon of cayenne (stirred well).

"There are probably three reasons why it worked," says Joe D. Goldstrich, M.D., F.A.C.C., a cardiologist in Henderson, Nevada. First, cayenne delivers capsaicin -- the "heat" in peppers -- which has been found to have some positive effect on blood pressure. Also, the antioxidant punch of the lycopene in the tomatoes could knock out free radicals, an excess of which can raise blood pressure. And then there's the high potassium content of tomato juice. "Potassium tends to take the place of sodium in the body's tissues," says Dr. Goldstrich. Too much sodium can cause arterial walls to retain water, boosting BP.

(Protect your pump for good by avoiding these 5 Causes for High Blood Pressure.)


How he beat it: His imagination

Wigging out is no picnic. Wigging out in high school, on a bus to a football game, coming this close to screaming, "Stop the bus!" is excruciating. That was the moment when Terry Welch, now a 31-year-old communications specialist in Kansas City, Missouri, realized that his claustrophobia was beyond his control. But professional help wasn't wired into his thinking. "I grew up in a small town in Kansas," he says. "You didn't go to a psychologist for your problem. You rubbed some dirt on it and moved on."

One night while he was bathing -- in a small bathroom with no windows -- panic crept in again . . . and Welch decided to try something radical. He shut the lights off and stuffed a towel under the door, creating a pitch-black environment where, for 15 minutes at a clip, he could pretend he was in smaller and smaller rooms. If he started to wig, he flipped the light on, and the bathroom would seem like an auditorium. After 8 months of on-and-off "self-treatment," he started to feel better. The big test came when he joined the navy and had no trouble sleeping aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln -- an aircraft carrier with three-deep "coffin racks."

Make it work for you: Working with a doctor is advisable, of course, but "if somebody practices control, he can get over his phobia," says Harold Levinson, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of Phobia Free. According to Dr. Levinson, the key is training yourself to recognize and adapt to your anxiety triggers. That's what Welch did, albeit unknowingly. "Bathrooms and tubs are enclosed spaces.

By turning off the light, he allowed his apprehensions to escalate. By concentrating on these apprehensions, he lessened his anxiety," says Dr. Levinson.

(Click here to learn how to save your life by combatting negative feelings.)