Texas is one of many states with thousands, possibly millions, of its residents suffering from chronic pain. Overall, chronic pain will affect between 15% and 33% of the U.S. population every year, and cost the nation $ 70 billion in medical charges, lost working days, and workers’ compensation — more than cancer and heart disease combined.
Chronic pain can be induced by a variety of situations, including work-related injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, neurological disorders, joint disease, migraines, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Most chronic pain is located in the back, hip, and/or shoulders. Particularly with the proper health insurance coverage, however, these conditions can be effectively treated and, if not cured, at least managed. Texas is filled with clinics and doctors specializing in pain management — from Austin, to Dallas, to Houston.
While acute pain can be beneficial — warning, or forcing, us to stop an activity before we injurey ourselves further — it is quite different from chronic pain. Acute pain occurs on a temporary basis, such as when spraining an ankle, or even when breaking a bone. Pain is considered chronic when it has occurred either continually, or intermittently, over a period longer than six months.
One of the major frustrations with chronic pain is that so many in Texas, and across the United States, do not respond to treatment. Because many of the cases are work-related injuries, valuable workers in cities like Houston, Dallas, and Austin are being lost. Even the strongest medications don’t always work, and physicians are still not sure why. According to Dr. Zena Quezado, chief of the Department of Anesthesia and Surgical Services at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, it could be due to genetic makeup. Different enzymes metabolize these medications, and not everyone has the same enzymes, nor do they work in the same way. Varying levels of pain are also reported after the exact same procedure or injury.
Such conditions of chronic, seemingly untreatable pain can lead to anxiety, fear, depression, lack of activity, and unemployment. Its management, then, is arguably one of the most pressing health issues today throughout Texas and the rest of the United States.
While treating the various aspects of pain, including the psychological aspects, are critical, the following will focus on the major holistic forms of physical (versus psychological) treatment for chronic pain. Many health insurance policies will even cover certain treatments with the right referrals. Much of the information has been adapted from Prescriptions for Natural Healing by James F. Balch, M.D., and Phyllis A Balch, C.N.C. As always, consult a qualified health practitioner before undergoing any treatment.
Most acupuncture treatments performed in the United States are on victims of chronic pain, many of them back pain sufferers. An ancient Chinese practice, acupuncture is based on the belief that energy (or chi) flows through the body along certain pathways called meridians. When the flow of that energy is disturbed, unbalanced, or otherwise obstructed, pain can result. The focus of acupuncture treatments for pain, then, is to return the normal flow of energy, thereby reducing, or eliminating pain. This treatment has no known side effects, is found to be quite relaxing for most patients, and is often accompanied by herbs based on formulas thousands of years old.
Most Westerners are not accustomed to believing in a medicine that bases its principles on the flow of unseen energy, but, whatever one’s personal beliefs, acupuncture seems to work. Even the National Institutes of Health reported acupuncture as “beneficial” for chronic and acute pain. Further studies have indicated its effectiveness for carpal tunnel syndrome, and that it may increase immune response, as well as stimulate the production of endorphins, a natural pain killer produced by the body. In China, certain surgeries are performed with acupuncture as their primary form of anesthesia.
(2) Chiropractic Care
Spinal manipulation is considered a “proven treatment” for lower back pain by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Though chiropractic care is effective for many conditions, treating disorders of the back and spine are, by far, the most common reason for seeking out such a practitioner.
Chiropractors focus on the spinal cord itself, believing that, if the spinal cord is able to relay unadulterated signals to the brain and other organs, then healthy function can be maintained throughout the body. Through careful adjustment of misplaced vertebrae, the spinal cord can regain its usual impulse signaling. This enables the body to restore normal nerve function — thereby reducing or eliminating pain, and heal itself of other ailments.
(3) Massage therapy
Massage is a specific type of body work, and focuses on the manipulation of muscles and soft body tissues. It works through the promotion of muscle relaxation, by increasing circulation in the lymphatic system (thus reducing inflammation), breaking up scar tissue and adhesions, promoting blood flow and, in the case of sinus problems or certain migraines, by promoting drainage of the sinuses. For back pain sufferers, massage therapy may be instrumental in managing pain without, or with fewer, medications. Strong anecdotal evidence, obtained from thousands of practitioners’ experiences, suggests that massage therapy may also help to realign tissues, tendons, and vertebrae.
Deep tissue massage is designed to release chronic muscular tension, and is generally applied with a fair amount of pressure on the affected area. There are numerous forms of massage, however, and, with so many choices, it may be best to do some research first. Look up a reputable natural health site online, or visit your local library.
Herbs are often classified in a separate category from Western medicines, and for good reason. Herbs are plant-based remedies, with no artificial or laboratory ingredients. But herbs and Western medications operate on the same principle: that, through the ingestion or application of certain substances, a desired effect may be achieved. Some herbs are very strong, or should not be taken with certain conditions, such as high blood pressure or allergies. Certain herbs, though with promising research results, are also controversial, such as marijuana. Though believed by many in the medical community to be highly effective in managing pain, it is still illegal in most states. Therefore, treat herbs as medications and never use them without consulting a knowledgeable health practitioner first.
For muscle spasms and cramps, angelica, black haw, cramp bark, kava kava, rosemary and valerian root are excellent choices. Hops, kava kava, passion flower, valerian root, wild lettuce, and wood betony also have muscle relaxing properties.
Relieve tension and nerve pain with blue violet, catnip, chamomile, gotu kola, licorice, rosemary, white willow, or wood betony teas. Use chamomile and licorice on a short-term basis only.
Capsaicin, a primary ingredient in capsicum (or cayenne pepper) can relieve pain through limiting the production of the vaguely named neural pain transmitter “substance P.” Capsaicin can be taken orally, or used topically when mixed with a carrier oil or cream. Studies with capsaicin have been used to treat pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and cluster headaches.
Essential oils of jasmine, juniper, lavender, peppermint, rose, rosemary, and thyme can be used to relieve pain. Never ingest essential oils, and always apply topically with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or almond.
Chronic pain, though at times beyond frustrating, can be a manageable condition. With proper treatment, sound research, and good decision making, even most of the worst cases can at least be improved. If you suffer from chronic pain, be persistent about pursuing different types of treatment until you find one that helps. After all, you are the one experiencing the pain, and must therefore make the best decision regarding it.