September is Pain Awareness Month ~ Top 10 Alternative Pain Management Strategies
Hey, Sacramento. September is pain awareness month and this is a great opportunity to let us raise the public’s awareness regarding the scope of chronic pain, the opioid epidemic, and alternative pain management strategies. According to information that has been published by the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) as well as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), chronic pain impacts more than 100 million people in the United States. Furthermore, this same report also showed that chronic pain costs the United States medical system more than $600 billion annually. Clearly, this is one of the most common reasons why people visit their doctor. The first-line treatment of chronic pain typically includes opioid medications.
The Opioid Epidemic
Even though opioids might be necessary for short-term pain relief, they have a number of dangerous side effects when used for a prolonged period of time. Opioid medications such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) can lead to respiratory depression, personality changes, and are incredibly addictive. It is this dangerous combination of side effects that have led to the development of an opioid epidemic. Statistics published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has shown that more 11 million people have misused an opioid prescription and that more than 130 people die every day due to overdoses related to opioid and narcotic drugs. This information proves that an alternative pain management strategy is needed.
Fortunately, pharmaceutical companies are being held accountable for this epidemic. In a landmark trial that was settled recently, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) was ordered to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma as punishment for its role in this national public health disaster. This case may be a harbinger of what is to come as thousands of other lawsuits are pending against drug manufacturers. Opioids are clearly not a reliable long-term option for chronic pain management. Fortunately, there are alternative pain management strategies available.
1. Acupuncture Has Reduced Pain for Centuries
Acupuncture is an ancient practice used in Asia to relieve chronic pain. Now, the practice is making its way into Western countries such as the United States. Information published by Harvard has shown that the practice can be used to relieve lower back pain, nerve pain, headaches, and even fibromyalgia.
In the Chinese practice, fine needles are inserted at various acupoints. Scientists believe that this improves pain by releasing endorphins which help the body relieve pain. Researchers also believe that acupuncture helps release serotonin which can improve someone’s mood. This combined effect on the body’s hormones makes acupuncture a reliable pain management option.
2. Meditation is Effective in Relieving Chronic Pain
Research has demonstrated that pain modulation is impacted by many factors including beliefs, attention, expectations, and mood. Because of this, it is important for people dealing with pain to focus on understanding the art of mindfulness. Meditation is a proven way to take control of mindfulness.
Medical studies have shown that meditation can reduce someone’s pain by improving their cognitive and emotional control. Meditation performed under brain imaging has shown that meditation alters the flow of signals through the brain. These signals flow through areas of the brain such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and somatosensory cortices (SI and SII). These areas are responsible for interpreting sensory signals such as pain and discomfort. By altering these signals, people can change how the brain perceives pain, relieving discomfort.
3. Spiritual Beliefs Play a Role in Chronic Pain Relief: The Power of Prayer
Spiritual beliefs play an important role in people’s perception of pain. As a component of mindfulness, prayer has long been postulated to help reduce discomfort. Recently, a clinical trial was conducted demonstrating that religious prayer can help reduce the intensity of chronic pain.
In this study, research subjects performed a religious prayer while being imaged by an MRI scanner. The results of the study showed that the intensity of the pain was reduced by more than 10 percent during the prayer. In addition, pain unpleasantness was also reduced by more than 25 percent. When compared to a group that did not perform a religious prayer, the results were significantly better. Based on these results, religious prayer can be effective in reducing chronic pain.
4. Evidence for CBD Pain Relief is Growing
With the stigma surrounding CBD decreasing, cannabidiols have become popular in the management of a variety of health conditions. This includes chronic pain. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine took a look at CBD and its role in reducing pain and inflammation.
In this study, researchers administered CBD to mice who had sustained an injury of the lumbar spine. This is a common cause of lower back pain. The researchers used an objective scale to rate the pain in their mice. After administering CBD, the researchers found that the pain in their mice significantly decreased, demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabidiols.
The researchers also noted that their research subjects did not build up any tolerance to CBD. Unlike opioids, this means that the same dose of CBD should have the same effectiveness when it comes to pain relief. Those taking CBD would not have to increase their dose to keep their pain under control. CBD should have a promising future in the relief of chronic pain.
5. Eating to Reduce Inflammation and Pain: The Importance of Diet
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injuries and infection; however, inflammation also leads to redness, swelling, and pain. Inflammation can also develop as a side effect of chronic diseases, leading to long-term pain. Some of the conditions that can lead to chronic inflammation include arthritis, lupus, cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Fortunately, there are certain foods that people can eat to reduce inflammation and pain. By replacing refined and sugary foods with antioxidants and nutrient-rich dietary options, inflammation will drop. These healthy foods will scavenge free radicals that would otherwise damage the body’s cells, leading to inflammation. Scavenging these free radicals prevents both inflammation and pain!
Some of the foods that people should consume to reduce inflammation include berries, red grapes, extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens (such as spinach and kale), and green tea. Processed meats, sugary drinks, trans fats, and alcohol should be avoided. By eating to reduce inflammation, individuals can take control of their chronic pain.
6. Alternative Pain Management Strategy: Chiropractic Spinal Manipulation
Many people are turning to chiropractors to help with chronic pain relief. Chiropractors can perform a procedure called spinal manipulation to relieve pain in various parts of the body. According to information published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this is one of the most popular complementary health approaches in the United States. Based on surveys, people have used spinal manipulation to improve their energy, restore immune function, improve their overall wellness, and prevent disease. The NIH has also reported that spinal manipulation can be used to reduce pain.
Spinal manipulation can be used to help people suffering from low back pain, neck pain, headaches, sciatica and more. Even the American College of Physicians (ACP) has endorsed spinal manipulation as an effective option for chronic pain relief. In 2010 and 2011, research reviews concluded that spinal manipulation can be used to effectively treat both acute and chronic low back pain. The most common side effects following spinal manipulation are temporary stiffness and soreness; however, these typically resolve quickly.
7. Regular Exercise Can Relieve Discomfort
When someone is suffering from chronic pain, they might feel like they can barely move, let alone exercise. On the other hand, research has shown that regular exercise can play an important role in pain relief. According to a research study published in the Best Practices of Clinical Rheumatology, exercise can be used to relieve chronic pain in a variety of conditions.
Regular exercise has long been known to be effective in controlling a variety of medical conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Now, it can be applied to the control of chronic pain. In this research study, individuals with a variety of conditions were enrolled in an exercise program. The participants in this study had health conditions including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and chronic low back pain.
These individuals performed various exercise programs including water workouts, strength training, yoga, and Tai Chi under the guidance of a trained instructor. After several weeks, the researchers noted that there was a statistically significant improvement in chronic pain.
Of note, these exercise regimens were not intense. Nobody is expecting someone with chronic pain to perform the workout of a competitive athlete. Simple, light, repetitive exercise can play an important role in comprehensive alternative pain management.
8. Massage Therapy’s Dual Approach: Alternative Pain Management
Massage therapy has been popular among athletes for its ability to relieve soreness following both practices and competition. Now, it is becoming popular as an alternative pain management strategy that has been backed up by clinical research studies. Massage therapy works in two different ways to relieve pain and discomfort, eliciting both a relaxation response and a physical response.
Massage therapists are trained to deliver therapy using a caring, relaxed touch. This touch invites the individual to relax. In this relaxation state, the heart rate and blood pressure drop. The respiratory rate will slow. This causes the body’s stress hormones to decrease while also increasing hormones that make people happy, such as serotonin. In this relaxed state, individuals will feel their stress and discomfort melt away.
In addition, the body also undergoes a physical response during massage therapy. The body’s lymph circulation will increase, helping to filter out toxins. Furthermore, the muscle fibers and connective tissues will release their lactic acid, allowing them to relax. With relaxed muscles and connective tissues, the nerves that power these fibers will also calm down. This state of alignment and balance helps relieve chronic pain.
9. Music Therapy Has Proven Effective in Pain Relief
Music has been used to relax, energize, inspire, and entertain. Now, it also has a role in pain relief. Many pain centers across the country have incorporated music therapy into their pain management strategy. While many people might not know about it, music therapy has actually been a form of care in the United States for decades. Now, doctors are even recommending it for pain management. According to research, music can help reduce the amount of pain that people feel, alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
Many trained music therapists will pair their music with relaxation techniques. This helps individuals train their bodies to automatically relax when they hear music. When individuals use music therapy to relieve chronic pain, their quality of life improves significantly.
10. Biofeedback Techniques Can Help Alleviate Chronic Discomfort
Biofeedback is emerging as a powerful tool in the world of pain management. Using biofeedback, individuals are able to gain some control over the body’s involuntary functions. During biofeedback, individuals will have electrodes attached to their skin. These sensors are used to detect involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, muscle activity, and more. Then, using a system of lights and flashes, individuals will know what is happening with these involuntary bodily functions.
When people feel pain and stress, their heart rate will rise. Their blood pressure increases. People breathe more quickly. The goal of biofeedback is to teach people relaxation techniques that control these involuntary functions. When people notice their heart rate and blood pressure increasing, they know they are feeling stressed. Then, using biofeedback relaxation techniques, people can calm down. This relaxation leads to stress reduction and pain relief.
Pursuing Alternative Pain Management Strategies
Chronic pain is a tremendous problem in the United States, impacting more than 20 percent of adults. While opioids have been used for years to manage chronic pain, their addictive nature makes them dangerous. With the help of alternative pain management strategies such as those discussed above, individuals and families can take back control of their overall health. With a comprehensive pain management strategy, daily pain can be controlled and people can improve their overall quality of life.
Attribution of Image: The picture placed at the beginning of this article was located first on Pixabay. It has been used here with the permission of the Creative Commons License.
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