Holistic Treatments and Practices for Chronic Pain

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Acupuncture is becoming a standard treatment for chronic pain, particularly for pain caused by sports injuries, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and back injuries. The mechanism through which it works is not yet fully understood, although some medical researchers hypothesize that it could be due to the release of endorphins (the body's natural painkiller) that block the transmission of pain from the nerves to the brain, or vice-versa.

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Biofeedback can teach you to manage chronic pain by teaching you to correct abnormal physiological responses that can be the causes of the pain.  Biofeedback has been shown to be effective in reducing regular daily pain for those with chronic pain, as well as to for certain types of chronic pain such as pain resulting from migraines, headaches, chronic low back pain and TMJ in particular. 

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The Alexander Technqique is proven to be effective in relieving chronic and recurrent pain of the back. According to one study, it can provide long-term benefits.  The Alexander Technique is a non-invasive safe treatment that is recommended for a variety of types of chronic pain related to tension and tightness in different areas of the body.

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Guided Imagery is a mind-body technique that has been found  studies to be quite effective for pain management.  Guided imagery basically involves directing yourself to think of positive thoughts and images which induces the release of pleasurable chemicals such as serotonin, which decreases anxiety and enhances the immune system.

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Naturopathy is a holistic alternative treatment that works very well on chronic pain with or without apparent cause. Through identifying the presence of imbalances that causes pain, it is able to determine the nature of pain and treat it. 

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Music therapy is an inexpensive, natural way to reduce chronic pain. According to some studies,  music may have an immediate ability to reduce pain. It is believed that music, like relaxation and guided imagery, can strengthen the right side of the brain, which controls the body's healing processes. 

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Aromatherapy has been incorporated in pain management approaches for many years now. The essential oils used in aromatherapy are thought to help relieve pain by improving the body's parasympathetic response, which results to deep relaxation, which in turn alters the perception of pain.

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Detoxification, used in the context of treating chronic pain, primarily refers to the elimination of high-dose painkiller drugs (specifically opioids) from the body, although it can also relate to cleansing other toxic agents from the body. When combined with other methods such as relaxation techniques and supportive therapy, detoxification can lead to significant reduction of pain.

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Originally used for patients suffering from trauma, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is now used in other conditions such as stress, depression, and even chronic pain. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggested that EMDR 'can be effective in the psychological treatment of chronic pain' and speficially in 'improving coping and facilitating relatively permanent reduction of pain and pain-related attitudes and beliefs'.

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Bowen Therapy is performed on specific areas of the muscles, particularly on those where special receptors are believed to be located. These receptors, when stimulated, send impulses to the brain, leading to the relaxation of the muscles and the reduction of pain.  The idea is that Bowen Therapy 'asks' the body to recognize its own problems and make the necessary changes. 

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Chiropractic therapy, a treatment which makes use of spinal manipulation, is sometimes used as a treatment for chronic pain, depending on the cause of that chronic pain.  The theory is that the proper alignment of the spine enables the body to heal itself from other causes of illness.

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Chronic Pain

Summary

Chronic pain, which is pain lasting months or years, is very different from the pain most of us may be familiar with. Chronic pain can be quite disabling, often preventing people from working and enjoying life. It can lead to people feeling isolated, angry, frustrated, and guilty.

Diagnosing chronic pain takes time. Usually, there is no obvious cause of persistent pain, and generalized pain symptoms are common to a number of other diseases such as MS and lupus.

Chronic pain can be an abnormal processing of pain where the original injury or cause of acute pain has resolved, but the “warning system” has failed to shut off. When this occurs the “warning bells” are still going off, however it is no longer signaling “danger” or “harm” but rather indicating a problem in the system that processes the pain signals.

There are different types of chronic pain. Two of the major, non-cancer chronic pains are:

  • Musculoskeletal Pain - Pain that affects the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Musculoskeletal pain can result from various causes including sports or occupational injuries, motor vehicle collisions, repetitive strain injuries and disease processes, such as, arthritis.
  • Neuropathic Pain - A complex, multi-faceted state of chronic pain that may have no obvious cause. It can involve damaged tissue, injury or malfunctioning nerve fibers or changes in brain processing. An example of neuropathic pain is phantom limb syndrome. The brain still receives signals from nerves that originally carried impulses from the now missing limb. Other types of neuropathic pain include numbness, burning, ‘pins and needles’ sensations and shooting pain.

Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headaches, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system).  A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions.  Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia.  It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.

Chronic pain is particularly difficult because the cause is often unknown, it is debilitating on a moment by moment basis, and it can be very hard for doctors to diagnose, treat or even evaluate.  With chronic pain, it is important to do the medical investigation to be sure that it is not a symptom of something gone wrong in the body that needs attention, but with some forms of chronic pain, the most important thing is to determine what can set it off, and what coping techniques reduce the pain or make it more possible to continue with daily activities, and what treatments can help you maximize your enjoyment of life and minimize the limitations of the pain.  Important elements in dealing with chronic pain are often things like diet, nutrition, exercise (as much as you can manage in a healthy way), professonal support and a social support network.  There are also a number of complmentary and alternative treatments that can offer you hope and at least temporary relief from the symptoms.

Because chronic pain is such a large field and can be related to so many other conditions, it is difficult to draw conclusions about which treatments will be best to help manage it.  In addition, chronic pain and what works for it can be very individual.  But we do hope that the list of treatments made available here will help you to get a broader sense of what is available, and hopefully find a couple of treatments that you find to be worth your while.

Also known as

Constant Pain, Pain