Millions of people live in chronic pain, resulting in lost productivity and billions in medical treatment each year. Many experts believe that chronic pain is not optimally managed in the U.S., which contributes to a growing prescription drug abuse problem. People living in pain look for quick fixes, and doctors prescribe pain medications to please their patients. Unfortunately, this approach has led to an epidemic where more than 15 million people are abusing prescription drugs, more than the combined number who abuse cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin.
Sometimes, prescription medication is necessary. When used appropriately and under the supervision of a doctor, the risk of dependency is low. Still, it’s important for people living with chronic pain to have other treatments available to them. Alternative therapies can improve quality of life and avoid or decrease the need for prescription medication. These therapies are especially beneficial for those who have struggled with dependency in the past.
Let’s discuss some of the best alternative therapies for treating pain and leading a more natural lifestyle.
Acupuncture is becoming a mainstream treatment for pain, even though it was once considered bizarre. Needles are placed at various points in the body called meridians. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works, but they suspect it either blocks pain signals coming from the nerves or releases the body’s natural pain-numbing chemicals. Studies have shown that acupuncture works for pain caused by fibromyalgia, back injuries, sports injuries and osteoarthritis.
Chiropractic care is the most common non-surgical treatment for back pain. It has also been shown to be effective for neck pain and chronic headaches. The theory is that proper alignment of the body, more specifically the spine, enables natural healing. Adjustments are used to realign the spine and restore mobility to the joints.
Massage therapy shows a lot of promise and is increasingly being used to help people who suffer from neck and back pain. Massage therapy reduces stress, increases blood flow and relieves tension. A huge benefit is that it works on all parts of the body, including the muscles, tissues and circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems. This treatment approach may also reduce the presence of substances that create and sustain pain.
Biofeedback is a pain management technique that teaches people how to become aware of their bodily functions and how they correlate to pain. Things like heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension are normally involuntary bodily functions, but with biofeedback, the individual learns to adjust them in accordance with pain. The greatest benefit to biofeedback is that it helps people relax, which then reduces the physical symptoms worsened with stress.
Hypnotherapy is used to promote relaxation and bring on an altered state of consciousness. This shift is meant to help people take control of their physical symptoms, including pain, by becoming more aware of their subconscious. Research suggests that hypnosis may be an effective treatment for anxiety and can reduce the need for pain or anxiety medication.
Aromatherapy uses scents from essential plant oils that are inhaled or applied to the skin. Studies have shown that aromatherapy can be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and headaches. Each oil has its own benefits, such as lavender that relieves headaches and tension, and sweet marjoram that helps with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. When combined with massage therapy, the benefits are even more pronounced.
It is well known that stress can worsen or even cause certain diseases, and pain is no exception. When we become stressed, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode and this causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Relaxation therapy is designed to counter these effects so that the body stays calm and relaxed. This therapy uses guided imagery, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. Slow breathing is also effective.
Diet, Exercise and Supplements
Some experts believe that by altering the diet, pain can be successfully managed. The goal is to eat plant-based foods that contain anti-inflammatory agents to reduce pain and inflammation. Exercise has also proven to be beneficial in managing pain since it boosts the mood, strengthens the muscles and gets the blood flowing. There are also supplements available that can help with certain types of pain, such as fish oil or Vitamin B6.
Always talk to your doctor about which treatment regimens are best for your needs. The important thing is to consider alternative treatments when possible, as this will reduce the need for pain medications.
Photo credit: Luis Solis