a guide to
Alternative Pain Management
Individuals who live with chronic pain typically try several treatment options. Some treatments work better than others. Some do not work at all. And sometimes, a combination of treatments are needed.
Many patients find complementing their treatment plan with alternative therapies beneficial. “Alternative Therapy” is a term used to describe medical treatments that are different from traditional medical treatments. For patients experiencing chronic pain, alternative pain therapy can come in many forms. Some alternative pain therapy approaches to explore are:
- Medical Alternative & Alternative Medicine
Alternative pain care allows pain patients to be treated more holistically. Alternative pain therapy can be seamlessly incorporated into patient routines, allowing for more immediate pain relief.
In the Western world, acupuncture has been used as an alternative pain therapy for quite some time. For centuries however, it has been an established medical tool in the Eastern world.
Acupuncture springs from traditional Chinese medicine, which relies heavily on the concept of “harmonious balance” between the mind and body. The “yin” and “yang” of the body’s life force (Qi) must remain in complementary balance. This is important to maintain a healthy corporeal body and peaceful mind.
“Qi” was thought to flow through “meridian” points on the body, with each meridian related to different aspects of health. While the patient may not believe in “Qi” the body is in fact connected via similar pathways of nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. And each of these pathways can be physically stimulated to produce responses.
Acupuncture needles are placed in targeted pressure points, specific nerve pathways, and the surrounding connective tissue of the body. The medical professional will examine the patient and asses their condition to determine which areas of the body to target with needling.
Once placed into the skin, these areas become stimulated to produce physical responses. Initially, the patient may experience a dull ache at the base of the needle. But it is minimal.
Acupuncture creates “micro-traumas” that stimulate the body’s natural healing responses. As alternative pain care, acupuncture enhances the body’s inherent healing systems and can allow for a swifter recovery. These self repair functions of the body encourage damaged tissue to heal through activation of the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.
Frequently used to manage chronic pain, acupuncture can reduce both the intensity and perception of the pain symptoms. Patients can experience relief from their pain because the needles help interrupt pain signals to the brain. Acupuncture triggers the body to produce naturally occurring chemicals that operate like painkillers. The patient’s brain releases endorphins through the body, relieving chronic pain symptoms.
Endorphins are a naturally occurring pain-relief hormone that are connected with the part of the brain that determines mood. Chronic pain can manifest itself in physical and emotional symptoms. The concept of acupuncture is to allow for “good qi” to flow through the body’s meridian points once given access via needling. Acupuncture can provide emotional and physical support to the chronic pain patient.
Yoga is an easily accessible tool used by many to manage their chronic pain. Individuals can practice yoga in the privacy of their homes, in classes, and even in their offices. This now mainstream practice has provided many with pain relief through its concentration on how the mind and body connect. Yoga has asserted itself in society’s health conscious mainstream as a physical practice that allows for physical and emotional healing.
Many individuals have incorporated yoga regimens as an alternative pain program for their symptoms. Yoga can provide relief from chronic pain by improving flexibility, reducing inflammation, and encouraging meditative practice to better manage your emotions (especially the ones directly related to your chronic pain condition).
Chronic pain can interrupt any individual’s day-to-day routine. Many become disheartened by their inability to stay active and feel limited in ways to improve their health.
Yoga provides patients with healing benefits because it focuses on physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Incorporating yoga as alternative pain care allows patients to thrive. Yoga can manage and mitigate pain symptoms by increasing a patient’s flexibility and decreasing stress.
Individuals position themselves in different poses that have specific transition processes. You may start in one position but deliberately move your body in a specific way before you transition to the next posture.
The transition in the sequence is as important as the positions themselves. These specific movements and stretches provide improvement to functionality and mobility. Yoga combines strength and flexibility, encouraging pain reduction because range of motion has now increased. When you no longer feel stiff and sore, your mood can elevate too.
Yoga has been shown to have a positive effect on mood through meditation and breath work. The breath work and mindfulness that you practice while doing yoga can allow you to change your emotional perceptions of pain.
While your mood improves, your painful inflammation can also decrease. As your body becomes more flexible and functional, your brain releases a decreased amount of stress hormones. The same thing happens when an individual practices meditation. You become more mindful with coping with emotional triggers, and less prone to react to them.
When the body decreases the amount of released stress hormones, you are less likely to experience the pain triggers, thus being able to prevent a cycle of pain, inflammation flair up, more pain, etc. Regardless of whether you are a novice or an expert, yoga has demonstrated to have beneficial and therapeutic effects on the body.
Medical Alternative & Alternative Medicine
In recent years, medical cannabis (or medical marijuana) has really established itself as a therapeutic tool for alternative pain management. The plant, or chemicals derived from the plant, are used to treat the pain symptoms that occur from some medical conditions or diseases.
The main chemical found in the marijuana plant is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and has demonstrated to have significant medicinal benefits. THC alters the brain’s signals to the body, and therefore can be used to mitigate the pain signals being expressed. Many people incorporate cannabis medicinally to offset their symptoms from chronic pain. Patients can incorporate medical marijuana into their health regimen through consuming products with THC, administering tinctures and extractions, and even incorporating salves.
The human body naturally creates a similar cannabinoid chemical, and the use of THC enhances the receptors. The cannabinoids (molecules from the marijuana plant) interact with the brain’s neurotransmitters, changing any “pain signals” to provide the patient with physical relief. THC attaches to specific brain receptors that are associated with the body’s sensory experiences, allowing patients to mitigate and minimize their pain.
A similar option patients can incorporate in their alternative pain care treatment is the use of Alternative Medicine (cannabidiol). Alternative Medicine is derived from the hemp plant. The hemp plant and the marijuana plant are “cousins” of the cannabis plant.
They have similar properties but operate differently within the body. Recent cultural shifts and scientific research have encouraged chronic pain sufferers to incorporate medical marijuana and Alternative Medicine into their alternative therapy care instead of relying on opioid medication.
There is a naturally occurring endocannabinoid system (ECS) functioning in the body at all times. The naturally occurring cannabinoid molecules are produced as needed, and bind to pain receptors. The body is programed to sense and respond to physical stimuli such as pain. When the body is injured, it sends out signals to respond to the injury and the pain.
Our body’s receptors attach to these cannabinoid cells, preventing them from rapidly breaking down, and producing anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects. This allows the positive benefits of our body’s cannabinoid molecules to last longer. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, medical marijuana and Alternative Medicine products can be an incredibly effective holistic tool to aid longer term management.
Alternative pain management therapies can be used independently, as well as in conjunction with conventional therapies. Chronic pain patients can explore different alternative pain treatments to improve the quality of their lives.
Individuals suffering from chronic pain no longer have to solely rely on opioid or pharmacological medications to find relief. Under the supervision of a medical professional, patients can establish a comprehensive pain management plan that best supports their needs.
If you would like more information about what to expect or the different types of alternative pain management therapies we offer please call Pain and Spine Specialists. You can call (301) 703-8767 (Maryland), (724) 603-3560 (Pennsylvania), or (540) 433-1905 (Virginia) and schedule an in-person appointment or tele-health appointment.
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Not Just Your Symptoms
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