5 Holistic Pain Relief Approaches

5 Holistic Pain Relief Approaches

Most of us have or will experience physical pain in our lives. For many, pain is an everyday or chronic experience, but does it need to be? For those looking for help that are natural and beyond or in conjunction with drugs or surgery, here are options.

According to the National Institutes for Health:

  • Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
  • Pain is cited as the most common reason Americans access the health care system. It is a leading cause of disability and it is a major contributor to health care costs.
  • According to the National Center for Health Statistics (2006), approximately 76.2 million, one in every four Americans, have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours and millions more suffer from acute pain.
  • Chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability.
  • The diversity of pain conditions requires a diversity of research and treatment approaches.
  • Pain can be a chronic disease, a barrier to cancer treatment, and can occur alongside other diseases and conditions (e.g. depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury).

TIME Magazine “Hooked: How Powerful Painkillers Created a National Epidemic”:

  • Of the 9.4 million Americans who take opioids for long-term pain, 2.1 million are estimated by the National Institutes of Health to be hooked and are in danger of turning to the black market.
  • 4 out of 5 heroin addicts say they came to the drug from a prescription painkillers.
  • For middle-aged Americans, who are most at risk, a prescription-opioid overdose is a more likely cause of death than an auto accident or violent crime.

The Joint Commission Moves Integrative Approach Ahead of Pharmaceuticals for Pain Management:

“Medicine’s leading accreditor, The Joint Commission, issued a “clarified standard” for pain treatment that significantly elevates numerous nonpharmacological approaches. Specifically called to attention as valuable are “acupuncture therapy, chiropractic therapy, massage therapy, osteopathy, and relaxation therapy.” The document also drops pharmaceuticals down a notch. It cautions clinicians to not only consider the potential positive value but also the negative consequences of opioids when making treatment decisions. The revised standards apply to the entire range of organizations the Joint Commission accredits, from ambulatory to tertiary care to assisted living facilities. Despite the prevalence and high visibility of pain in patient care, this standard does not carry with it the weight of specific scoring of an organization on whether it meets this directive.”

Here are 5 Holistic Pain Relief Approaches:

  1. Relaxation, Meditation, Mental, Visual or Guided Imagery

The more stress a person experiences the more pain they may have. A 2010 Stress in America survey found that nearly 75% of Americans who responded to an online survey said that their stress levels are so high that they feel unhealthy. A summary by the American Psychological Association stated that the survey “showed that Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways, and lack of willpower and time constraints impede their ability to make lifestyle or behavioral changes. This is particularly true for those who believe themselves to be in fair or poor health. There also seems to be a troublesome trend emerging among families in which parents are underestimating how much stress their children experience and the impact their own stress has on their children. At the same time, children as young as eight years old are reporting that they experience physical and emotional health consequences often associated with stress.”

The Relaxation Response, a term coined by Herbert Benson, MD is the antidote of the Stress Response. It can calm the mind and body and lower pain. It has been shown to slow the breathing rate, relax muscles, and reduce blood pressure. It can lower metabolism, calm brain activity, increase attention and decision-making functions of the brain, increase inhaled nitrous oxide which counters negative effects of the stress hormone norepenephrine (noradrenaline), and can positively affect gene activity that are the opposite of those associated with stress, and can prevent disease or illness.

Engaging in activities that elicit the Relaxation Response or listening to or learning effective guided imagery, guided meditations and relaxation techniques have been shown to lower pain.

2. Diet/Nutrition

Certain foods may not agree with you, can cause upset stomach, pain, headaches and inflammation. It is good to have completed an elimination diet to determine if you have any food allergies or sensitivities, have adequate water consumption, avoid or limit, alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Listen to your body and notice if after you have consumed certain food or drink you feel good, pain, discomfort, fatigue, sluggish, or energized, etc. Certain foods can create disharmony in your body and create or exacerbate pain. Certain foods may be able to improve your health and how you feel.

Joel Furhman, MD is a family physician, author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He says, “I have seen scores of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia and connective tissue disease obtain complete recoveries through these natural interventions. Also, I have many patients who have made complete recoveries from allergies and asthma. Not every patient obtains a complete remission, but the majority is able to avoid the use of medication.

The key to treating autoimmune illnesses is to obey the H = N/C formula. Only then can the immune system begin to normalize its haywire circuitry. H = N/C means Health is proportional to the Nutrient per Calorie density of your diet. This formula is always considered in my nutritional recommendations and forms the foundation of my nutritional medicine practice. Research confirms the effectiveness of this approach for rheumatoid arthritis. When patients with rheumatoid arthritis adopt a diet that is lower in animal protein and higher in vegetable protein, they typically feel better.” See full article “Arthritis: Reversing and Preventing Arthritis” here. 

Eating well can also prevent further pain, illness, or other complications down the road. Consult a qualified health care professional to assist you with your diet and nutrition.

3. Bodywork/Manual Therapy/Energy Healing

Receiving bodywork or manual therapy such as massage therapy, acupressure, shiatsu, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, acupuncture, or energy healing, can assist you to connect with the Relaxation Response state and lower physical tension in the fascia, muscles, reduce tension on the joints and bones, nerves, blood vessels, organ systems, and open up the energetic system of the meridians (energy pathways), aura (energy field), and chakras (main energy centers – spinning wheels of light). This allows the body to return to its homeostatic balance where health and healing occur.

There is a large amount of research showing how these approaches can lower pain on the internet today. 

4. Herbs/Supplements/Essential Oils

Herbs are the basis of our current pharmacology system. Before there were synthetic drugs, natural herbology was studied and practiced by physicians, nurses, and herbalists. Current science has made great strides with antibiotics and other treatments. However, many of them create “side-effects” which are still the effect of the drug, and many practitioners are left treating the effects with yet more drugs, and several have addictive qualities, often without ever getting to the source of the pain in the first place. Thankfully, herbs are still sought after for their natural curative and preventative effects. For example, A research study “Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents for Pain Relief” published in Surgical Neurology International found several herbs and supplements to help relieve inflammation such as:

  • Omega-3 EFAs (fish oil)
  • White willow bark
  • Curcumin (turmeric)
  • Green tea
  • Pycnogenol (maritime pine bark)
  • Boswellia serrata resin (Frankincense)
  • Resveratrol
  • Uncaria tomentosa (cat’s claw)
  • Capsaicin (chili pepper)

5. Movement such as Yoga, T’ai Chi or Meditative Walking

While there are great therapies that standard physical and occupational therapists may be able to provide, you may want to consider other forms or exercise of movement that may lower or prevent pain.

A large study published the JAMA Internal Medicine “A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain found Yoga to be as effective as stretching classes, and more effective than self help book. The researchers noted that the stretching classes more closely resembled yoga and that participants held the stretches longer and likely relaxed more than they would have in a regular exercise class. Yoga also has the added benefit of building strength while holding your body against gravity and in weight bearing poses. It also can increase flexibility, range of motion, and balance.

T’ai Chi seems to be an effective intervention in osteoarthritis, low back pain, and fibromyalgia, according to a study “Tai chi and chronic pain” published in Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine. Tai Chi consists of slow and graceful fomrs and movements with smooth and even transitions within and between each set. Many of these movements were originally derived from the martial arts, which are more primal and got many of their movements from animals and birds.

Our bodies were built to walk. Walking is considered by many to be one of the best forms of exercises. It is well known that a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise is what is recommended for most people. Meditation can lower stress and pain. So, why not combine these two together? Mindfulness meditation can be a remedy for pain. Focusing on your breath and staying in the present moment will help you divert your mind from the pain making it more manageable. This can help you detach from bad thoughts, and may quiet and refresh the mind. There is often an emotional component to pain. Detaching from the bad thoughts and emotions can assist to bring a more loving, compassionate, and non-judging approach to yourself and lower pain.

Consult with your primary care provider. This is meant to add to and not replace other beneficial approaches, and is not meant to be a complete list of what may be helpful for you, a loved one, or someone in your care. 

Emmy Vadnais, OTR/L is a Holistic Occupational Therapist who has been studying, practicing, and teaching holistic health care for over 15 years. She can be contacted at emmy@emmyvadnais. Please visit her website www.emmyvadnais.com.

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