Living with chronic pain
When medications, injections and pep talks from family and friends haven’t chased away the beast of chronic pain, a plethora of other treatments are available. Chronic pain, defined by the American Chronic Pain Association as that which “continues longer than six months, and is not completely relieved by medication or medical treatment”. (Some doctors bring the timeframe down to three months.) For newcomers, these definitions are essential as early medical intervention, diagnosis and treatments can often keep even serious injuries from developing into a lifetime of pain.
People who already have chronic pain may have tried, for example, physical therapy previously. They may wish to go back and try it again, even if they did not find it helpful the first time. Therapists often differ in their approaches and newer techniques are now available. Sometimes a “tune up” is just enough to ease constricted muscles and provide unexpected relief.
With so many treatments available, the following reflect only a portion of the smorgasbord found, for instance, in the Insight Healthy Living Directory, published locally.
– Speaking of smorgasbords, some foods actually fight pain. According to Shelly Asplin, registered dietitian, foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids such as seafood and walnuts can lower the inflammation of arthritis and fibromyalgia.
– The beast of chronic pain hates exercise. Most doctors will insist, however, it is the most importance tool. Research proves it reduces stress Ða huge contributor to pain index- by increasing natural serotonin production in the brain. The increase can also help depression, a natural reaction to chronic pain, and help a person sleep. Sleep is essential to healing and coping.
– The definition of Physical Therapy is “The treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat, and exercise…” (Medicine.net), Physical therapists are continually updated on new techniques.
– Chiropractors “…seek to improve general health by using forceful and/or gentle touch and movement to adjust the spinal vertebrae to their normal position,” according to Insight Healthy Living. Many local chiropractors no longer limit themselves to spinal adjustments. Nutritional therapies, allergies and digestive dysfunctions are only a few issues modern chiropractors now address.
– Many chronic pain sufferers find relief in acupuncture, an ancient method coming from China, based on energy function, or “chi”. Needles are inserted at very specific points to elicit the body’s ability to rebalance and heal itself. Chinese herbs are sometimes used by these practitioners. Acupuncture can relieve stress-caused pain and many neurologists recommend it as it has the shown to restore nerve conduction, although “Western” medicine doesn’t quite know how it works.
– Bodywork, such as the Alexander Technique and Feldenrais® can produce dramatic results by simply improving posture and how we move. We can either fight gravity or work with it. Occupational therapists can assess work and home space for assuring, for instance, computer users are not aggravating their conditions.
– Ayurvedic Medicine is India’s natural system of medicine using a 5,000 year old body classifying technique which looks at the system as a whole unit Ðmind, body and spirit.
– Other approaches to consider are biofeedback and hypnotherapy. Both are used to manage stress, among other things, by breaking up the “fight-or-flight” response. This is a powerful tool. The fight-or-flight response occurs when the beast is about to attack, or the person, now in pain, perceives it is time to fight or get-the-heck away. When our own pain is the enemy, the response can backfire, creating a cycle of fear and pain that may go on indefinitely, weakening the body’s natural healing mechanisms, eroding whatever defenses we thought available Ðwe’ve even lost our toolbox! Many new approaches can help lower hear-rate and breathing and halt or lessen this response. Dr. Milton Erickson, founder of medical hypnotherapy, provides a remarkable story of courage and mental stamina. Born in 1901, he contracted polio early in life. Reportedly, while in bed, isolated and in extreme pain, he discovered he could project the pain to the other side of the room.
Dr. Erickson’s experience mirrors new approaches to pain therapy by moving the responsibility from the doctor to the patient. At the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a stress reduction program produced similar results. In the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, patients were taught the use of meditation or “mindfulness” training (not be confused with a spiritual or religious practice) by slowing the body’s natural fight-or-flight response and learning to live “in the moment”. Chronic pain sufferers learned more acceptance of their situations, which reduced their fear, panic and depression.
One thing is certain, the beast of chronic pain may be on the couch, teeth barred or under the bed teeth barred, – or stay crouched in a corner, fearful of YOU. You and the mighty toolbox.
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