By Melissa Lawlor, CNM, IBCLC, Robin’s Nest Midwifery PLLC
Photographed by dKol Photography
According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic pain affects approximately 11 percent of Americans. Wintertime cold and snowy weather can aggravate chronic pain for many people. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen are typical over-the-counter medical interventions for chronic pain. These commonly used medications may provide short-term relief, but there are risks associated with their long-term use. Alternative therapies for chronic pain are a viable option and should be considered an investment in your body. As always, seek out a physical examination from your primary care provider to address any health concerns.
In this article, we will touch on complementary and integrative treatment therapies that use evidence-based medicine for chronic-pain conditions.
Chiropractic adjustments are a first-line approach to treatment of chronic pain. Chiropractors manipulate the spine, muscles and nerves through gentle, hands-on techniques to realign the natural state of the body. Each chiropractic adjustment takes approximately 15 minutes and may need to be repeated weekly. Chiropractic care has been shown to decrease pain, stress and inflammation. It is a safe and recommended treatment.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese-medicine practice. Hair-width-sized needles are inserted into acupressure-specific areas of the body. These needles are left in place for 30–45 minutes, allowing the body to rebalance. Acupuncture combined with moxibustion (a traditional Chinese-medicine therapy involving the burning of mugwort) has been proven to be very effective for chronic-pain sufferers.
Biofeedback is an excellent tool for moderating the body’s reaction to stress. Stress is a known pain stimulator by causing inflammation and muscle tension. Using a machine to read electrical brain activity, a participant can rewire and eventually control their bodily functions, thus decreasing stress. Biofeedback requires patience and time to learn; the benefits are not immediate. However, biofeedback has shown efficacy in health studies, is safe and is highly recommended.
Diet directly relates to chronic pain. Studies show that eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar and empty carbohydrates leads to inflammation, which increases pain perception; following an anti-inflammatory diet decreases inflammation and pain. An anti-inflammatory diet is one rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, avocados, olive oil, dark chocolate, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans and free-range and antibiotic-free meats
Massage therapy decreases inflammation, pain and muscle tension. Massage therapy also promotes deep sleep, an increased range of motion and the release of endorphins. The following types of massage have been shown beneficial for chronic pain: Swedish, trigger-point, deep-tissue, craniosacral and myofascial release (MFR). Massage is also safe and recommended.
Nonprescription topical creams, gels and ointments can be found in pharmacies or online. The benefit here is fast absorption, providing often immediate localized relief. Over-the-counter products contain ingredients that block or reduce pain perception. These include: essential oils, lidocaine, capsaicin, salicylate, homeopathic compounds, counter-irritants and CBD oil. Research suggests that using topical products as an adjunct therapy is beneficial to chronic-pain management.
Yoga, tai-chi, swimming, bicycling, warm-water immersion and losing weight. Not only are these smart additions to our self-care practice, but they are also recommended to ease chronic pain. █