Chronic pain is often defined as any pain lasting more than twelve weeks. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain persists. Serious, chronic pain affects over 100 million Americans each year, many of whom are inadequately treated by the health-care system. Because it can be resistant to many medical treatments and can cause serious problems, people who suffer from chronic pain often turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for relief.
- Acute pain typically has a known cause and serves a purpose: it alerts us to a problem, giving us an opportunity to find a remedy. It usually subsides in a short time with or without treatment, rarely lasts longer than a few weeks or months, and disappears when the underlying cause is resolved. Chronic pain, on the other hand, can be entirely different. It generally serves no purpose to the body and may or may not have a known cause. It often gets worse for no apparent reason.
- Common chronic pain complaints include headache including migraines, back pain, arthritis pain, sinus pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, visceral pain, and neurogenic pain (resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself).
- Causes of chronic pain can include stressors like repetitive injury, poor posture, traumatic injury, degenerative changes, or chronic illness like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. In many cases, however, the source of chronic pain can be a very complex and even mysterious issue to untangle.
- Unrelieved pain has many negative health consequences including, but not limited to: increased stress, metabolic rate, blood clotting, and water retention; delayed healing; hormonal imbalances; impaired immune system and gastrointestinal functioning; decreased mobility; problems with appetite and sleep, and needless suffering. Chronic pain can also cause many psychological problems, such as feelings of low self-esteem, powerlessness, hopelessness, and depression.
Chronic Pain and Allopathic Medicine…
- Chronic pain can be very difficult to treat. It often doesn’t respond well to conventional treatment.
- Conventional/allopathic medicine often treats chronic pain with medication, including aspirin, prescription, and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription opioids, and other narcotics, and other medications including muscle relaxers and antidepressants.
- It is not always possible to completely eliminate chronic pain through medication. Some medications may become less effective over time, and pain medications treat pain temporarily, but since they do not treat the underlying cause, they must be taken consistently to maintain some quality of life. With these treatments, the patient’s goal is pain management, often with the goal of simply being able to perform more normal activities of daily living than before.
Alternative and Complementary Treatments…
- Surveys show that 40% or more of chronic pain patients use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Many people suffering from chronic pain have found that CAM treatments can greatly increase their quality of life.
- CAM therapies for pain include manual therapies such as massage or chiropractic, as well as herbal medicine and dietary supplements, acupuncture, and mind/body therapies (a catchall phrase for techniques like biofeedback, guided imagery, and meditation).
- Some CAM therapies have proven scientific validity. Treatments that have scientific evidence of potential benefit for certain types of pain include massage, acupuncture, spinal manipulation (chiropractic), progressive relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, yoga, and supplements like fish oil, capsaicin (from chili peppers), curcumin (from turmeric) and systemic enzymes.
- Other CAM approaches have strong followings, but at this time their evidence of usefulness is mostly anecdotal rather than based on scientific research. These include energy work like Reiki and Healing Touch, most herbal preparations, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and magnetic therapy.
- Lifestyle factors like diet and exercise can affect chronic pain. A healthy diet can reduce inflammation, which alleviates pain, and therapeutic exercise can be beneficial for restoring flexibility, strength, endurance, function, range of motion, and can ease pain and discomfort. Many people with chronic pain have found swimming, yoga, tai chi, and qigong to be particularly helpful with chronic pain.
- Chronic Pain Information Page: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/chronic_pain.htm
- IOM Report: Chronic Pain http://healthland.time.com/2011/06/29/report-chronic-undertreated-pain-affects-116-million-americans/
- Chronic Pain and CAM http://nccam.nih.gov/health/pain/chronic.htm
- Chronic Pain: A Silent Catastrophe http://naturalnutmeg.com/?p=1790
- Chronic Pain Fact Sheet http://www.cssa-inc.org/Articles/Chronic_Pain.htm
- ACPA Resource Guide http://www.theacpa.org/uploads/ACPA_Resource_Guide_2012_Update%20031912.pdf
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