Natural Healing Strategies for Chronic Pain

Non-pharmaceutical therapies for pain relief

black mortar with healing herbs and sage, glass bottle of oil

Common pain treatments include medication or surgery. For some, neither is an acceptable option. So where do you turn for relief?

The mind is a powerful tool you can use to fight pain. “The more you train yourself to associate positive stimuli with painful movement, you’ll slowly start to feel differently,” says Brian Saling, manager of outpatient rehabilitation services at Providence Medford Medical Center. “The best thing for helping chronic pain is self-awareness.”

Relying solely on medications can lead to complications. “Covering up pain symptoms with medication can be dangerous,” says Laura Winslow, a certified yoga therapist and founder of Integrative Healing and Recovery Programs. “Medication masks the true level of pain. People aren’t aware of how they stress their body, which can lead to more pain or injury.”

For those who make the choice not to pop pills, several non-pharmaceutical therapies exist which effectively treat pain.

Let’s get physical

Physical therapy is primarily exercise-based and used to normalize tissue functions. It’s a good option for people suffering from muscular-skeletal issues, such as back pain. “Each therapy session is unique,” explains Saling. “Treatment is different for a patient recovering from surgery versus someone with an injury.”

In addition to sessions with a physical therapist, there is always an at-home component. According to Saling, this reinforces what is done in the one-on-one meetings. As with any therapy, cost and coverage are important considerations. “Most insurance companies cover physical therapy to some extent,” explains Saling.

Adjusting to the situation

Chiropractic therapy typically involves hands-on spinal manipulation. It’s used as a pain relief alternative for muscles, joints and bones, but works best for back pain. The principle is that proper alignment should enable the body to heal itself without surgery or medication. Chiro-practic care also aims to prevent further injury.

A trained chiropractor takes a complete medical history and performs an exam before administering any therapy. Most insurance plans cover chiropractic care for acute conditions.

Acupuncture doesn’t needle you

Acupuncturists insert thin needles into the skin at specific points around the body. Virtually painless when administered by a professional, inserting the needles is believed to correct imbalances in the flow of energy in the body. Disturbances in this energy can lead to illness or other dysfunctions. Acupuncture affects several biological systems, including activating anti-inflammatory chemicals which treat pain. Until you start to see benefits, plan on weekly sessions. Acupuncture treatments run anywhere from $65 to $125 per session. Most private insurers do not cover acupuncture, and neither does Medicare or Medicaid.

Relaxing with massage

Therapeutic massage uses an array of different modalities to enhance the body’s natural restorative functioning. Similar to other therapies, massage relaxes tight muscles. “Relaxation techniques are liked best by many patients,” says Winslow.  “It’s about finding ways to release tension in the body and loosen chronically tight muscles.”

Practitioners use a light or firm touch to release tension, increase circulation and impart a sense of peace and calm. There are several types of therapeutic massage available, including deep tissue and reflexology. Overall, fibromyalgia and arthritis are the two main pain problems positively impacted by massage.

Managing all aspects of stress

Stress worsens pain. Stress management teaches healthier ways to cope with stress, helps reduce its harmful effects and prevent it from getting out of control. Learning better coping mechanisms, and understanding the relationship between pain and stress, can lead to reductions in both and a better quality life. “Chronic pain affects us physically, mentally and emotionally,” explains Winslow. “It’s important to address all those levels where chronic pain affects your quality of life.”

A good night’s rest

How many nights of sleep have you skipped, thinking it was no big deal? Lack of restorative sleep deprives your body of its repair time and heightens pain conditions. Many patients with chronic pain also suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. Chronic pain disrupts sleep, which in turn aggravates pain. People with pain issues have trouble falling and staying asleep. This non-restorative sleep pattern can cause lethargy, fatigue and worsen pain. Pain and sleep problems should be treated together. To increase nightly restorative sleep, don’t nap during the day, limit caffeine and alcohol and reduce stress through other alternative therapies. Before changing your sleep patterns or habits, always consult with a physician and create a comprehensive plan together.

Finding the right balance

            A wide array of alternative pain therapies exist. Pills aren’t the only option. “Take the least invasive steps first,” advises Saling. “Educate yourself about pain. Don’t put your body through undue risks.”

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