According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chronic pain affects approximately 50 million U.S. adults. High-impact chronic pain (i.e., interfering with work or life most days or every day) affects about 20 million U.S. adults. The management of these symptoms may involve medications. However, there are several alternative and holistic methods available to treat chronic back pain and other ailments. With September being Pain Awareness Month, we will discuss some of the ways you can manage such pain.
In the western world, pain management often involves taking pharmaceuticals, which may be a slippery slope, even when prescribed by a doctor. As a nation, we are facing an opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2.1 million U.S adults are addicted to prescription pain medication. An additional 467,000 are addicted to heroin. While opiate-based pharmaceuticals may offer temporary relief from chronic pain, the repercussions involved with addiction are likely to be far worse than the pain they were intended to treat. Luckily, alternative methods and healing arts can be instrumental in treating pain and enriching your life and health.
Chronic pain can be a severe interruption to your day-to-day life, activities, and even your career. But, what is classified as chronic pain? In the medical field, it is any pain that has been present for more than 12 consecutive weeks. A physical therapist is trained to evaluate your range of motion and capacity for mobility.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy
Once you have been evaluated, your therapist will treat you with a customized care plan tailored to your specific needs. They will help you regain mobility and work with you to relieve the pain you are experiencing. Treatments could involve mobility exercises, hot or cold compresses, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), or even ultrasound technology. Physical Therapy can help people experiencing pain in areas such as the back, neck, knees, shoulders, hips, and wrists.
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Another way to help prevent pain or to treat existing pain is to exercise. Yoga is a fantastic way to heal your body from the inside out. Many types of Yoga, such as Yoga Nidra and Hatha Yoga are very low-impact and are restorative, relaxing, and have a strong focus on breathing and meditation.
Connecting your mind and body can be a powerful way to release pain and work through physical and emotional trauma. When you breathe heavily, you increase blood flow and oxygen levels within your entire body. This can be extremely beneficial to areas where you are experiencing pain. Regular stretching and movement can also increase your flexibility and overall mobility.
If Yoga isn’t appealing to you, any form of exercise is beneficial. Swimming is low-impact for joints and can be incredibly healing. Even adding walking into your daily routine can help get your blood and oxygen levels pumping. Whenever possible, aim to walk or ride your bicycle instead of driving.
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While often available in a spa setting, healing arts are not only for people on vacation or on #selfcaresundays kicks. Healing arts such as massage, acupuncture, Chiropractic adjustments, and Reiki, have tangible and measurable impacts.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized that massage therapy has been demonstrated to alleviate chronic pain symptoms. Harvard Medical School acknowledges massage as a legitimate therapy for some painful conditions. Therapeutic massage may relieve pain by relaxing muscles, tendons, and joints. Their publication explains that, “It can also relieve stress and anxiety, helping to, ‘close the pain gate,’ by stimulating competing nerve fibers and impeding pain messages to and from the brain.’
Speaking of stimulating nerves, acupuncture works specifically with the nervous system. Practitioners utilize very small needles, heat, and pressure on the skin to stimulate responses. Trigger points are accessed with the small needles, causing a release of chemicals into the spinal cord. The chemicals are similar to those found in opiates and pharmaceuticals that are used to treat pain (such as hydrocodone or morphine), but they are naturally occurring in the body and therefore don’t pose the threat of addiction.
Acupuncturists may also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters (AKA hormones) that regulate nerve endings. In other words, an acupuncturist may be able to actually “shut off” the sensation of pain by stimulating certain trigger points within your body.
Chiropractors work primarily with the skeletal system. They are trained to make adjustments to realign the spine and surrounding muscles. If your job is sedentary, your back and neck may fall easily out of alignment from sitting for hours each day. Conversely, if you are extremely physically active, your spine may also be pushed out of proper alignment. Many women experience a spinal misalignment after giving birth. The coccyx can be pushed out of place when delivering a baby, which may lead to chronic sciatic and lower back pain if left untreated. A chiropractor can be extremely helpful in pushing the coccyx (AKA the tailbone) back into place. This can often lead to an immediate sense of relief.
While Reiki healing may sound a bit more on the esoteric side, it is a practice with an ancient lineage that originated in Japan thousands of years ago. The most current form of Reiki was officially developed in the 1920s by a Japanese Buddhist. The healing practice involves a practitioner holding his or her hands above an effected area and transferring healing energy to the patient. Reiki is based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient through touch, activating the natural healing processes of the patient’s body, and restoring physical and emotional well-being. The root of the practice is the ability to tap into a universal current of Chi (or energy) and transfer it to stimulate flow and release. Much like how Yoga asanas help someone release or shift the flow of blocked energy through movement, Reiki accomplishes the same thing by way of touch. The result of either practice is the relief from trauma or pain.