Before we get to Niko’s second guest blog post on pain, I wanted to invite you to my next class. Did you know it’s possible to be pain free without medication or surgery? Let’s put a stop to out of control inflammation and the auto-immune problems it can cause. Discover your body’s relationship to the food you eat and reduce inflammation. Learn the causes of pain and how to quiet it. For more information check out the facebook event.
Though I used smaller words, last time I showed that whether pain is psychosomatic or a true physiological response for an individual, the key is a complete, integrative approach that addresses more than pharmacological imbalances (chronic narcotic use decreasing endogenous endorphin production). Don’t worry, I intend to keep this conversation simple and occasionally silly.
Roots of Pain
From a natural medicine perspective, inflammation from toxins can manifest in vague ways including pain. By that approach, the root cause of pain syndromes can be sub-clinical (hard to detect) chemical or food intolerances. Here’s a novel idea, so brace yourselves (because if this astounding post knocks you to the floor and creates more pain, that would be ironic). It doesn’t matter too much what someone names your pain. You might as well call him Rupert. Rupert is a classy name and will do you just as well as fibromyalgia or chronic pain syndrome. These are diagnoses of exclusion, meaning that disorders with symptoms of chronic pain, stiffness, and fatigue; multiple sclerosis; and other auto-immune syndromes need to be ruled out first. The aches, sensitivities, and emotional components of fibromyalgia Rupert are often difficult to describe and diagnose. A variety of multi-modal therapies are needed, often including immune-suppressing drugs. As such, the diagnosis is less important than relief of symptoms, even though that relief can be difficult to achieve. For example, two months ago Medicare decided that TENS units (devices that buzz painful areas with low voltage vibrations to confuse pain nerves) won’t be reimbursed anymore. It certainly helps to discern if the problem stems from your own immune system, a brain or nervous system problem, or a cause outside of your body–such as the prion that causes Mad Cow Disease or the toxins in Agent Orange. Alternative medicine especially tries to dig out the root of a problem rather than the ugly branches of symptoms management, boughs laden with ugly Rupert fruit (some of you are so confused right now). The favorite diagnoses of exclusion (again, the leftover possibilities after tests for specific diseases with specific treatments) in natural medicine won’t immediately change your pain level either. After all, there’s not a cure-all supplement for Leaky Gut Syndrome or Lyme Disease.
I guess I should discuss a few pain relieving herbs and such, but don’t you and Rupert get all excited on me. Early in her wellness journey, someone suggested an herbal supplement to Melanie that boasted, “Contains 3000x the helpful plant nutrients found in nature!”. I assure you that most synthetic, over the counter medicines will be of more use than an embarrassingly concentrated natural compound. That supplement was part of the reason Melanie won’t recommend those type of products to her clients today.
I previously recommended magnesium as a supplement or in bath water, therapies such as chiropractic work and massage, and steps to reduce inflammation, including fish oil intake and decreasing inflammatory foods in your diet. Just like my lavender and peppermint blend decreases anxiety and nausea, frankincense essential oil decreases pain: you can even rub it on afflicted joints. The herbs that help the most with pain are the “ultimate” ones in the traditional medicine cultures of India and China: Ashwagandha and Ganoderma (reishi mushroom). If you live locally, check out our links page for the closest herbal store to get you some ‘o dat. At Old Thyme Remedies, Melanie’s will begin using infrared light and cold laser therapies to treat clients with pain, and she’ll be teaching another class on pain and inflammation a few Thursdays from now (feel free to print the flyer here).
Historically, the above herbs were used in a context completely alien from how we tend to see the world today. Of particular interest for those who notice more pain in winter or with changing weather patterns, traditional Chinese medicine incorporates the seasons into considering if the body is too “damp”, “fiery”, “windy” etc. Treatments often require the patient to refrain from drinking either hot or cold liquids. The most similar parallel in Western Medicine would be Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is basically winter depression. And that’s why I recommend dipping Rupert in icy water twice daily. Maybe not, but steam rooms, saunas, and more sunlight exposure can alleviate acute and chronic pain.
The Magic Bullet
Magic or not, I don’t think being shot with any sort of bullet would instantly cure pain. Despite the success Melanie has in her practice with subduing chronic pain by dietary and life-style changes even before adding any herbs or supplements, it is difficult finding research-backed therapies that work for a majority of patients in pain management. As I said in the comments section of my last post, find what works for you, even if didn’t for other people. The trend is toward more invasive solutions for pain–epidural injections (hopefully fungal free!), surgery, and intravenous drugs. As a culture, we’ve seen that heavy narcotic use is not effective as a stand alone therapy–recent statistics state that there are enough pain pills in America for every person to have one every four hours for a month! That’s why alternative therapies like accupuncture , reflexology, cranial sacral therapy, etc. need more research. Even the pain-reducing medicines I use in the OR have different effects. One drug will take away your preoccupation with pain, while another severs the emotional reaction associated with pain, meaning that you could merrily saw someone’s arm off while they stared at you quizzically. Still another drug reduces the amount of neurons firing pain-stimulating chemicals rather than decreasing the actual sensation of pain. Now do you see why pain needs a holistic approach? Keep those questions coming!