Updated: Oct 23, 2019
If you’re like me, and millions of others, you’ve probably suffered with chronic pain for a year or longer. Chronic pain affects 50 million Americans, 20 million of whom have high-impact chronic pain. It has been linked to increased risk of major mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Science understands a body in chronic pain continually sends stress signals to the brain, leading to a heightened perception of not only the pain itself but also the perceived level of threat. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break or control.
When a person is diagnosed with pain, the first line of treatment is typically pain medication. But while these medications may work for some people, in others, the side effects—ranging from nausea to heart complications—may outweigh the relief.
For patients looking to explore a holistic pain management program, whether alone or in tandem with traditional medicine, there are a number of options to consider.
Let’s review a few of the more common holistic strategies available today.
AcupunctureChiropracticExerciseMassageStress-reduction techniques like mindfulness and meditation trainingVitamin or herbal supplementsAloe vera
Acupuncture, common in Chinese medicine, involves inserting thin, tiny needles into certain points of the body. Traditional Chinese practitioners believe acupuncture balances the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi. Western practitioners see it as a way to stimulate nerves and muscles in a way that promotes pain relief and healing. Many practitioners are now beginning to recognize the potential benefits of acupuncture.
A chiropractor’s main objective is to realign and manipulate the spine and neck in a way that relieves pain, promotes healing, and improves overall function. There are many different styles of chiropractic care, and chiropractors use a wide range of strategies, techniques, and products as part of treatment. It’s important to find a reputable, experienced practitioner and to be sure to understand the risks and benefits in advance of treatment.
Exercise is one of the most important ways you can improve your overall health and, often, even manage pain. No matter how much pain you are in, there is almost always some type of exercise you can do–even if it’s just gentle ankle movements or hand squeezes. If you have limited mobility, consider finding small exercises you can do while seat or lying down. Remember to start small and go so slowly. Some good examples of exercise for those with chronic pain include: walking, swimming, Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga, and strength training. Talk to your doctor, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and/or a personal trainer about what is best for you.
Therapeutic massage has proven to be beneficial for a number of chronic pain conditions. In addition to relieving pain by relaxing painful muscles, tendons, and joints, massage can also help decrease stress and anxiety, which can increase pain. There are a wide range of massage styles, including Swedish, deep tissue, sports, Shiatsu, trigger point, and reflexology.
STRESS-REDUCTION TECHNIQUES, LIKE MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION TRAINING
Mindfulness and meditation help quiet the nervous system and lower stress, which decreases muscle tension and can lead to lower pain levels. There are many styles of meditation and mindfulness training, such as techniques that focus on breathing, progressive relaxation, or engaging in guided imagery.
VITAMIN OR HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS
There is an incredible array of vitamin, herbal or plant-based supplements to explore for pain relief. In some cases, these supplements may support overall well-being, which can, in turn, help reduce pain. In some instances, supplements may provide more direct relief by reducing inflammation or improving joint health. Examples of vitamin supplements include B vitamins, which are thought to support nerve health and vitamin C and D for bone health. An herbal or plant-based example would include turmeric or aloe vera.
Natural aloe vera gel contains more than 200 biologically active constituents, including calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc—that provide essential nutrients and help boost metabolic function. It contains 20 of the 22 essential amino acids and the vitamins A, C, E, choline, folic acid, B1, B2, B3, and B6. It even contains B12, a vitamin that typically is only found in animal foods.
Aloe vera’s nutrients, as well as its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities, may be helpful in relieving muscle and tendon pain. The gel is sometimes used topically in sports medicine to soothe achy muscles, but taken orally, the anti-inflammatory ingredients may also help with pain.
It’s important to note that if you’re using aloe vera to reduce inflammation, you should also rebalance your diet. By eliminating unhealthy foods, aloe vera has a better chance of working. To learn more about aloe vera products, including topical and drinkable versions, visit https://painsmarts.org/?u=4everaloe.
THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL
Whatever therapy you choose, it’s vital to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain management. Because they are less invasive and come with fewer risks, complementary therapy options can be a good place to start. Keep an open mind and talk with your provider about the different options available to you.
This post was created through a collaboration with AloeVeritas. Please remember to talk with your healthcare provider before starting or stopping any treatment.
Deborah Ellis is an independent lifestyle coach with AloeVeritas and a certified traditional naturopath by the American Naturopathic Certification Board. She lives with late-stage Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia.
AloeVeritas is a global health and wellness company that first launched in Europe, then the United States in March 2018. They have partnered with PainSmarts to conduct the largest and most comprehensive natural pain relief study in the world. If you would like to participate or would like more information about the study or AloeMD, please go to: https://painsmarts.org/?u=4everaloe or contact Deborah Ellis, ND, CTN, at Delyn.Ellis@gmail.com.
Published by the U.S. Pain Foundation