Chronic pain, different from acute pain, is any pain lasting 1-month over and above the normal length of time associated with recovery from a specific injury, illness, or surgery. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimates that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. That is a staggering figure. Chronic pain costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year in terms of medical expenses, lost wages, and lost productivity.
Common Triggers for Chronic Pain Include:
Manifestations of Chronic Pain
The overall ramifications for an individual who suffers from chronic pain are very serious. Side effects can include:
- Mild to severe depression
- Substance Abuse/Addiction (often to prescription medications administered persistent pain)
- Digestive Disorders
- Pain in unrelated areas triggered by the body's attempts to compensate
- Loss of appetite which leads to malnourishment
- Weight loss
- Problems with memory/attention
- Weight gain
- Inability to maintain employment
- Loss of relationships
- Loss of desire to take part in things one enjoys
With such a wide range of side effects, it's no wonder that chronic pain can be challenging to manage and/or treat. Unfortunately, traditional medicine often starts - and ends - with prescription medications.
Ironically, the side effects associated with commonly prescribed pain medications are nearly identical to the symptoms associated with chronic pain. While they may reduce pain, they often bring additional side effects which cause equally debilitating outcomes. Patients can feel like they have substituted one set of negative side effects with another equally or more challenging set.
Alternative Treatments for Chronic Pain Relief
Holistic medicine has thrown the doors wide open in terms of non-traditional methods for treating chronic pain relief. Some of the most successful methods of treatment include:
Meditation and/or Breathing Techniques - Breath work and meditation can be used to train the mind/body connection to find a focus outside of the pain continuum. Sometimes, the bio-chemical change produced by breathing and meditative relaxation can physically reduce pain. However, even if pain remains the same, learning to focus one's attention elsewhere can provide relief.
Massage/Body Work - Chronic pain can cause muscles to remain perpetually tense, which has a holistically negative effect on the body. Chronically tense muscles prohibit circulation, create pockets where toxins can collect, and alter the body's natural posture, which results in residual pain or injury. Bodywork therapies work with muscle and skeletal tissues to stretch and release long-held tension. It also increases circulation and releases endorphins, which reduce pain. Relaxation allows the mind and body to be "re-set" and enjoy the momentary peace of pain-free existence.
Acupuncture and/or Acupressure - These practices are founded on the ancient belief in energy meridians located throughout the body. Blocked points along these meridians can cause multiple debilitating side effects. Using thin needles, in the case of acupuncture, or acute pressure, in the case of acupressure, at key points along these meridians will help to restore healthy energetic flow and help reduce pain and inflammation.
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – Chronic pain can be so severe it can debilitate those affected. Sometimes integrative approaches can be useful in combination with Alternative treatments.
Nutrient Therapies - Whether nutrition is balanced in terms of diet and lifestyle changes, IV Nutrient Therapy, or the use of herbal supplements, nutrient therapies ensure a patient's body is properly nourished. Clinicians will ensure the patient's body is provided with the nutrients it needs to promote healing and allow the immune system to work effectively.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) - This treatment has had success relieving chronic pain, especially pain resulting from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and migraines. By infusing cells with extra oxygen, the immune system is stimulated, inflammation is reduced, and the healing process is facilitated in injured tissues.
Integrative medicine has played a large role in relieving chronic pain, and its myriad side effects, for many who feel the traditional medical model has failed them.