Hopeless. Depressed. Anxious. Angry. These are just a few of the words an individual with chronic pain knows intimately, a condition experienced by many millions of Americans.
Chronic pain affects most Americans at some point in their lives, and many suffer without adequate care. A variety of factors serve as barriers to receiving care. Some of these include a lack of health insurance, living in an area isolated from a provider with the necessary specialty, financial limitations, and so on. However, even those who do receive care for their pain see providers who respond the best way they know how, with a prescription pad.
Americans crave instant gratification and western medicine views pain and illness through a fix-it framework. This framework and instant-gratification approach to healing leads providers to prescribing medications to “fix” the pain, often prescribing opiates. While medication plays a valid role in chronic pain recovery, patients often build a tolerance to prescriptions. As tolerance builds, the patient experiences an effect called hyperalgesia. Hyperalgesia refers an increase in pain sensation and the need for a higher dosage to achieve the same effect… and then the tolerance builds again, leading to a higher dosage required to have the same effect… and the cycle continues, quickly leading to provider-prescribed addiction.
On top of that, emotions play a direct role in the presence and severity of pain. Approximately 70% of a person’s physical pain is an emotional response to the physical pain. The only way a person feels pain is with the brain. Anger fear, frustration, anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, depression, grief, and trauma all activate the nervous system, which increases a person’s level of pain. When a person fights pain, pain increases. This means an attitude of acceptance must be developed in order to decrease the pain and therefore increase quality of life.
All of this points to the fact that chronic pain comprises of much more than physical symptoms. A holistic perspective comprehensively addresses all of the components of chronic pain, so a holistic remedy best serves patients for sustainable recovery. A variety of other approaches provide the full and lasting healing every patient deserves. Opiates are not the answer. Painkillers do not address all of these other factors and leave a gap in treatment when only a prescription is used to treat the pain.
Additionally, these holistic approaches are found to be highly effective without the same risks associated with opiates. Some of these risks include addiction, complications with the kidney and liver, constipation, insomnia, and brain fog. These approaches also enable individuals living in isolated areas, without insurance, or with financial limitations to begin recovery without a huge (or any) out-of-pocket expense.
Check out the list below to learn about alternative approaches for chronic pain recovery and why they are effective:
*Yoga therapy incorporates stretching and movement of the body as well as mindfulness techniques to regain a connection between mind and body through light stretching.
*Qi Gong is a slow-moving and gentle physical practice that enhances balance, cleanses the body, and circulates chi.
*Exercise can be challenging for an individual with chronic pain, but is vital to regain motion and use of the full body. Starting with regular exercise that is tolerable from the patient’s pain perspective can lead to retraining the body and eventually increasing the exercise amount. Regular exercise also provides a steady stream of regular endorphins in the body, which enhance the emotions of an individual, therefore decreasing the level or severity of pain. Exercise has been found to increase strength and lower stress, which also contributes to a lessening of pain.
Acupuncture places small, sterilizes needles along the pressure points, or energetic pathways, along the body to balance and increase flow of energy throughout the body.
Acupressure uses pressure of the fingertips on the same pressure points, or energetic pathways, along the body in order to achieve the same effects as acupuncture. Acupressure offers an alternative approach to acupuncture for individuals uncomfortable with or unable to use needles.
Nutritional and herbal remedies cause the body to boost its natural immunity, reduce pain-inducing inflammation, and decrease insomnia. Some of the herbal remedies include omega-3 fatty acids, ginger, turmeric, and MSM. Please ensure to consult your physician before changing your diet or adding herbal remedies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) refers to a framework that considers the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of an individual as directly related to each other. Chronic pain directly correlates with emotions, so the use of CBT teaches patients to change thought patterns in order to change emotions, therefore decreasing pain.
*Meditation involves focusing on something specific (a word, phrase, or image) in order to quiet the mind.
Guided imagery involves imagining the body performing an activity in order to challenge one’s physical reality. This method enables the neurotransmitters in the brain to experience new pathways in response to experienced pain. Imagining the ability to perform these actions starts creating new pathways in the brain, telling the brain these actions can be done, even while pain is being experienced. Over time, the development of these new pathways becomes so strong that pain decreases due to the new thoughts and beliefs associated with the pathways.
Biofeedback uses a unique machine to become more alert to body processes and learn to control them. This enables the patient to become more in control of their body processes and therefore more in control of their pain.
*Relaxation techniques address the underlying stress of chronic pain and the emotional detriments associated with pain. Using relaxation techniques enable the individual to relax themselves while experiencing the pain in order to relieve stress and negative emotions, which contribute to increased pain.
Massage incorporates the manipulation of tissue to reduce knots of muscle fiber, restore mobility, decrease blood pressure, alleviate stress, release chronic tension, and increase circulation.
Chiropractic realigns the vertebrae and joints into to relieve stress.
*Lifestyle changes make a huge difference in the life of an individual with chronic pain. Some of these include changing to a positive work environment, incorporating sleep hygiene habits, developing a positive relationship with pain, regular exercise, and regular sessions with providers to address the pain and find healthy and sustainable remedies.
*Positive work environment involves having a comfortable working space and control over one’s own activities to develop a sense of mastery over one’s pain.
*Healthy relationships serve as a support system to the patient living with chronic pain. These relationships encourage, support, and care for the individual in a healthy way. Unhealthy relationships cause stress on the patient, which can exacerbate pain.
*These are remedies that can be incorporated in the home or DIY by using resources such as YouTube for videos about these remedies and chronic pain.