Tuesday, March 1, 2011

12 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

If you were interested enough in this article to begin reading it, I'm sure I don't need to tell you how debilitating it is to suffer from chronic pain of any type. It robs you of time and energy. It sucks away the joy that you could be having from experiencing other things. It takes away opportunities to spend time with friends, to be productive at work, to do the things you want to do... not to mention the things you have to do. Pain is the enemy, and it's time to fight back.

Many people choose to fight their pain by using medications as their first line of defense. While drugs are a perfectly viable and acceptable method for dealing with chronic pain, there are many things reasons why some people choose not to go the route of medications. What if the side effects are too difficult to handle? How about dependency or addiction issues? Cost is often a factor as well. And, while some pain medication is fine occasionally when you need it... if you're dealing with a chronic situation, you may decide to seek out alternatives to taking a handful of pills every day.

At the age of 33, my back pain became unbearable, and I finally sought medical help. The diagnosis was degenerative spinal disc disease. My lumbar region has reached a level of degeneration that is rarely seen in a person my age, and much more often seen in someone in their 70s. Often, I am unable to walk for longer than 10 minutes at a time before feeling the need to stop and rest. There are days when the pain is so intense that I can't do anything except stay in bed, wrapped up in my blankie, wishing that I could trade bodies with anyone else. Very often, I miss out on fun things that are taken for granted by people who enjoy good health. After extensively researching the subject of pain management and trying all sorts of methods to alleviate my own severe discomfort, I have found that there are quite a few ways of treating pain without resorting to surgical treatments or the use of medications. Allow me to share some of the best methods that I have found with you.

Cutaneous stimulation is just a fancy term for applying various sensations to the skin. Heat and cold are typically applied to achy body parts in an effort to soothe their discomfort. Heat is good for muscle stiffness or cramping; cold is best on inflammation or tired aches resulting from overexertion. There are many ways to use heat: heating pads, even fancy "moist heat" producing ones, work well; but my favorite methods are tried-and-true simplicity: a hot water bottle, a lovely steaming hot shower, even a sock filled with rice or lentils and microwaved until they're warm and placed on the problem area. I also love stick-on heat patches for soothing relief, especially just before bed, to keep me toasty and comfortable all night long. Cold therapy is much simpler; just use an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas on the pain. Remember to wrap these in a towel first, as you don't want to injure the skin with burns or frost bite!

Massage is a wonderful way to relax, but is also a fabulous source of relief for many types of muscular pain. Massage the area firmly, or get a friend to help you out if it's in an area you can't reach by yourself. Stimulation like this enhances the circulatory system and helps to flush toxins from the body as well as aiding and healing your body and mind.

Rest is an obvious pain control method, but is too often overlooked. If you're not feeling well, do you really need to vacuum under your couch today? Leave it alone, and do it another day when your pain is easier to manage. We all want to live up to our full potential, but straining yourself when you're at your worst is not going to benefit anyone, and it may turn one bad day into several. Give yourself a break and rest until you're feeling better.

Physical therapy is a very sensible, effective treatment method if you have certain chronic physical issues. Much muscular pain is caused by misuse or overuse of the part that hurts. Strengthening your body can help to correct a multitude of problems, as well as to promote healing if your pain is associated with an injury. Stretching the muscles can also provide relaxation and relief from pain which can show results in only a few sessions, but remember not to overdo it! Even a chronic condition such as arthritis can be helped by physical therapy; by strengthening the muscles around the inflamed joints, you are sparing the joints from as additional stress and giving your body added support. I have not gotten relief from my DDD with physical therapy, but it has helped a the arthritis in my knees and hips, as well as weakness in my shoulder's rotator cuff area.

Electrotherapy is very much like a massage that is done manually, though in this case, electricity is used to achieve similar results. This is usually done with a TENS machine, which applies an electric current through the skin to help alleviate pain. It sounds a lot scarier than it actually is; in fact, electrotherapy can feel fantastic on aching muscles. Like an old-fashioned massage, electrotherapy can enhance your circulation and relax your muscles, both of which are very helpful in controlling pain.

Changing your diet to include anti-inflammatory foods is one of the easiest ways to manage painful physical symptoms. Every type of food has an impact on the body, and by arming yourself with knowledge of which foods can increase or decrease inflammation, you are taking better control of your day-to-day wellness. Green tea, blueberries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and extra-virgin olive oil are all wonderful foods that help combat inflammation naturally, without the use of drugs. Try looking into your diet a little deeper to eliminate or cut back on the foods that are causing inflammation, which may also ease other uncomfortable symptoms.

Biofeedback therapy is another little-known treatment that some people rely on for the treatment of chronic pain. This therapy trains a patient to consciously control bodily functions that otherwise occur involuntarily. Biofeedback therapy primarily focuses on stress management and health conditions that are often exacerbated by stress. It can be effective for problems like TMJ, migraines, back pain, constipation, and painful muscle spasms, as well as mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Chiropractic helps to treat ailments of the muscular and skeletal systems. Practitioners of this type of therapy are trained to heal the body's complaints with their hands, as opposed to drugs or surgery, working under the premise that the body is a self-healing organism. Although the efficacy of chiropractic is disputed in some circles, it is generally agreed to be quite safe, and definitely worth a try for ailments such as back and neck pain.

Orthopedic devices are often very effective in helping to alleviate painful conditions where posture or positioning of the body is problematic. Back braces can prevent a patient from aggravating a bad injury or condition. Podiatric orthotics, which provide arch support for the feet, can provide an amazing amount of pain relief for plantar fasciitis, leg and foot pain, or even back and hip problems as orthotics change the alignment of the entire body. Ankle, knee, elbow and hand braces are helpful for arthritis and to lend support to areas in need of extra help. I, personally, have gotten so much relief for my plantar fasciitis by wearing the orthotics that my podiatrist prescribed for me.

A Japanese treatment for stress, Reiki has enjoyed popularity in the Western world in recent times as well. Reiki is a type of alternative medicine involving spirituality and the healing power of touch. Many people enjoy respite from pain through these methods, as Reiki's primary focus is to heal through physical contact and to alleviate the stress from which many illnesses originate. Like many holistic pain management therapies, it is considered to be safe, and can be quite effective. I have been practicing Reiki on other people for many years, and have personally witnessed some awesome results with many who have suffered, including a few of my pets as well as some people.

Another fantastic stress reliever is meditation. Meditating can alleviate the emotional stress which often causes physical tension. Learning the ability to stay "in the moment" can help to relax the body by training the mind to focus on things other than physical pain or discomfort. Meditation also employs techniques such as "quieting" the mind, tuning out stimuli such as distracting environmental conditions which may make mental stress worse, and in turn, manifests physical stresses. One study cites several patients with rheumatoid arthritis; their symptoms did not disappear, though they reported feeling better in mood by an average of about 30%. People of all types can gain benefits from meditation as enhancing one's mood can often affect one's physical well-being.

Acupuncture is one of the world's oldest forms of health treatment, though only in recent times has it received attention and validation in the Western world. It is a procedure that involves inserting needles into various points in the body. This technique has been reputed to successfully treat and prevent various diseases, though there are existing studies that show hard proof of acupuncture's efficacy in controlling certain types of pain. In fact, a 1998 study showed that acupuncture is the alternative health procedure that is most recommended by doctors of traditional medicine; more than half of the doctors involved in this study agreed that acupuncture could be beneficial in helping patients. Another study confirmed that a whopping 68% of the patients who had received acupuncture felt that it was a positive and helpful experience. My spine specialist has recently suggested that I look into acupuncture for my back problems, and I've decided to try it. (Stay tuned for another article where I report my findings!)

This is only a partial list of treatments that are available for chronic pain. When you're having a day that is particularly agonizing, one of the best things you can do is to stay optimistic about your options and keep an open mind. The good news is that there are more treatments available to pain sufferers than ever before, and you never know whether or not something will be effective for you until you give it a try. Don't be afraid to ask your healthcare professionals about other treatments that might be available; the next thing you investigate might just be the key to improving your quality of life.


"Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods" http://theconsciouslife.com/top-10-anti-inflammatory-foods.htm

"University of Maryland Medical Center: Biofeedback" http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/biofeedback-000349.htm

"Wikipedia: Chiropractic" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiropractic

"Meditation a Hit for Pain Management" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7654964

"New Studies Confirm Acupuncture Relieves Pain" http://acupuncturetoday.org/mpacms/at/article.php?id=27585

 Photo Credits:
Thanks to Grand Velas Resort for the lovely massage pic!
I love the foot physical therapy (electrode) image by emily_hammie. :) (I've done this!)
Also the broccoli by sk8geek and olive oil by Kevan are veggie-licious.  Thanks!!!
Gorgeous "perfect spot" by dmap Travel Guide. Beautiful!
Acupuncture image by peruisay.  Thank you so much! :)

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