According to data from the American Academy of Pain Medicine, over 100 million Americans and 1.5 billion people worldwide struggle with chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists over weeks, months, or even years, while acute pain is a trigger of the body to alert you to injury, and the need to take care of yourself (www.pain.org). There may be an initial injury that causes acute pain and turns into chronic, or there may not. The most common sites for chronic pain include back, headaches/migraines, and the neck, but can occur anywhere in the body.
Over the last several years, pain management has been a huge focus in the healthcare world. It is so much so that we have begun to deem pain as the “fifth vital sign” in addition to blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate/oxygen saturation, and temperature. If you have been treated in a hospital or doctor’s office recently, you have likely heard them ask about your pain level on a 0-10 scale with 0 being no pain, and 10 being the worst pain imaginable.
There are many ways available to treat both acute and chronic pain, including over the counter medications, prescription drugs, and alternative pain management solutions. Always discuss your pain management goals with your healthcare provider, and come up with a plan that you can both agree on together for you. Below you will find some alternative therapies to research to see if they might fit your unique situation.
1. Be Active. Exercise is the last thing many sufferers want to think about. However, light exercise can improve quality of life in chronic pain sufferers. Stretching, walking, yoga, and aquatics are all good options when beginning an exercise plan. Talk to a personal trainer and/or your healthcare provider to come up with a plan that is tailored to you and your ability level.
2. Eat healthy foods. Many people struggling with chronic pain have difficulty doing simple tasks like grocery shopping, preparing meals, and even walking around their home. Understanding the relationship between food and disease is an important aspect to dealing with many health challenges. Eating a balanced diet high in plants (fruits, vegetables, berries, etc.) can aid in weight loss, improve mood, decrease in other chronic health conditions, and will provide the necessary nutrition and energy required to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Consider cutting out highly processed foods and replacing them with fresh produce and lean meats.
3. Get a good night’s sleep. A majority of chronic pain sufferers also report difficulty with sleeping. It is vital to create a healthy environment as the first step to better sleep. Maintaining little to no light, turning off devices such as televisions, computers, and cellular phones at least an hour prior to going to bed, and breathing exercises are all ways to improve your environment. You may also consider purchasing a device that can track how well you are sleeping (unless you have a pacemaker, defibrillator, or implanted neurostimulator).
4. Technology. New technology is emerging every day in every arena, and healthcare is no exception. There are biofeedback machines, transcutaneous nerve stimulators (TENS units) and electromyography units. Before use, talk to your healthcare provider and do not use if you have the implanted devices mentioned above.
5. Acupuncture and Acupressure. This is an ancient Chinese healing art that has been around for thousands of years. It involves inserting needles or putting pressure on various points of the skin in order to regulate and balance the body’s meridian systems. There are a number of studies that show the effectiveness of this treatment for pain.
6. Aromatherapy, Essential Oils, and Herbal Remedies. These therapies uses the oils found in various plants that are either inhaled or applied to the skin, or in the case of herbs, taken orally. This practice also dates back to ancient practices of the Chines, Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, and Indians. Studies show improvement of pain in cancer patients and many other conditions. Many hospitals have begun using aromatherapy as an intervention in dealing with pain and insomnia. Speak to your practitioner and an experienced herbalist for assistance on choosing the right therapies. Make sure that they will not interact with any of the current medications that you take.
7. Chiropractic care. Though it is now more mainstream, it is still considered a form of complementary medicine. Chiropractors look at the relationship between the structure of the body and its function. Many focus mainly on realignment of the spine, but also other bones and joints to promote self-healing. It has been shown effective in dealing with headaches, back pain, and sports injuries. Make sure you talk with your healthcare provider before beginning a chiropractic regimen, and seek out a chiropractor whose ideas of healing are in line with your own.
8. Massage. Like chiropractic care, this is now considered to be more mainstream than it has been in the past, but still is considered complementary medicine. Rather than manipulating bones/joints, massage manipulates muscles and soft tissues. It has also been shown to be effective in several clinical studies at treating various painful conditions.
9. Relaxation and Meditation. Stress can worsen or even create disease, including pain. When we are stressed, we release a chemical called adrenaline, the same chemical that floods our bodies when we are in a dangerous situation. Over time, this can cause muscle tension, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and wreak all kinds of havoc. Some ways to combat this include prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, tai chi, guided imagery, and meditation.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN