Holistic Healing Approaches To Pain Management
How one word can cause such a heavy burden to people is a wonder. But it’s the ugly truth. Chronic pain is a global health pandemic and it affects more than 20% of adults and another 10% are newly diagnosed with chronic pain yearly. (1) It’s a primary health problem but unfortunately has been addressed poorly by different sectors of medicine.
It is often underdiagnosed and considered as something unimportant when coming into clinics or even the emergency room. But what is pain? Why is there pain that can be cured easily by pills and why does some pain persist for a long time?
Pain can be classified as acute or chronic
Acute pain is often from trauma or physical damage in the body medically termed as nociceptive pain. (2) This pain primarily originates from our peripheral nervous system where the pain receptors meet together to travel to the brain. When the signal for pain reaches our brain, this is when we experience the feeling of pain.
Acute pain is usually pain that is less than three to six months in duration and when it persists more than that, it becomes chronic. Chronic pain has multiple sources and can experience more than one type of pain.
Categories of pain are classified under nociceptive, neuropathic, musculoskeletal, inflammatory, mechanical, or psychogenic. (3)
- Nociceptive pain as mentioned earlier is pain due to trauma such as sprains, bruises, and burns.
- Neuropathic pain is pain secondary from a disease like diabetes or postherpetic neuralgia (as seen in patients who had herpes zoster). Both are examples of peripheral neuropathic pain. Central neuropathic pain can be the pain felt by patients post-stroke where complaints of pricking sensation are felt on the limb affected.
- Musculoskeletal pain is very common and cases like chronic back or myofascial pain suffer from this type of pain.
- Inflammatory pain is from diseases that cause swelling or inflammation in a specific area of the body. This is common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and infection (like those seen in cellulitis).
- Mechanical pain is pain caused by a tumor, like those seen in malignancy.
- Psychogenic pain is those that cause headaches or abdominal pain in cases of severe stress or sudden emotional situations.
The advancement of medicine has been spectacular in the past 50 years but evidence has suggested that despite the numerous medications and devices specifically aimed at solving pain, the prevalence and societal burden of chronic pain is underestimated and treatment is not always adequate. (4)
Which makes us ask: Why?
Why is it that despite the technology that we now have, pain is still prevalent worldwide? Would a different approach to pain help improve the lives of patients who suffer from it? A holistic approach to pain is one that does not only prescribe medication or physical therapy to patients but looks at a patient as a whole and personalizes the management plan.
The overall health of a person is taken into account including emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Holistic pain management includes a variety of methods like talk therapy, meditation, regenerative and natural pain treatment, massage therapy in addition to medication. Holistic pain management will always differ from one person to another which is why it is effective.
The goal is to treat your pain from all angles.
Physical pain may be improved by medication and physical therapy but the psychological aspect of pain is often forgotten thus resulting in inadequate pain management. When a holistic approach is taken, all features of pain are taken into account. The importance of solving the root cause of pain is still the number one priority. Complex diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and stroke all require medication to improve quality of life, and paired with psychological improvement and mindfulness therapy, the individual is not only relieved of the pain but brings him or her to a healthier state of mind.
This does not only improve pain but also the outlook of patients on their disease, especially one that has been going on for years. Holistic pain management does not happen overnight. It is a long road that requires continuous support from your healthcare team. There are many methods in holistic pain management and often combine both conventional and alternative medicine.
Here are some of the most common alternative medicine used for pain:
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture means needle penetration and is done by placing small needles in specific acupuncture points in the body. Traditionally, using acupuncture is a means to open the qi or the energy that aids the life force of a person. Acupuncture has been used to treat acute and chronic pain (5) and has been practiced by different pain specialists.
- Chiropractic Treatment – Chiropractic treatment uses spinal manipulation to align the body properly. They are helpful for headaches, neck pain, chronic upper and lower back pain, sciatica, and even arm and leg conditions.
- Regenerative Pain Treatments – Regenerative pain treatment consists of different types of procedures that aim to relieve pain. Trigger point therapy, perineural therapy, prolotherapy, platelet-rich plasma therapy, and exosome therapy are some of the minimally invasive procedures that have helped improve pain.
- Massage – Massage helps treat pain, both physical and psychological. It is a safe modality that helps decrease stress and tension in the body. Small studies have supported that massage is effective as an additional treatment to low back pain. (6)
Managing pain is stressful not only because of the physical strain it gives but also the emotional and social impact of the disease. If you have been suffering from pain for a long time, you would know how much of your life you are missing out on just because of it and it is unacceptable that with the technology and advancement that we have, people continue to suffer from it. Pain should not be the reason why you are missing out on life. Visit your health care provider or find a professional that can help you with a holistic approach to pain management.
Dydyk AM, Conermann T. Chronic Pain. [Updated 2020 Jul 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553030/
Kress, H. G., Aldington, D., Alon, E., Coaccioli, S., Collett, B., Coluzzi, F., Huygen, F., Jaksch, W., Kalso, E., Kocot-Kępska, M., Mangas, A. C., Ferri, C. M., Mavrocordatos, P., Morlion, B., Müller-Schwefe, G., Nicolaou, A., Hernández, C. P., & Sichère, P. (2015). A holistic approach to chronic pain management that involves all stakeholders: change is needed. Current medical research and opinion, 31(9), 1743–1754. https://doi.org/10.1185/03007995.2015.1072088
Van Hal M, Dydyk AM, Green MS. Acupuncture. [Updated 2020 Jul 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532287/
Kumar, S., Beaton, K., & Hughes, T. (2013). The effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of nonspecific low back pain: a systematic review of systematic reviews. International journal of general medicine, 6, 733–741. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJGM.S50243
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