Chronic Pain Relief: DIY or Healthcare Professional?
Chronic Pain Relief: DIY or Healthcare Professional?April 2nd, 2019 by Cindy Perlin, LCSW
Pain is often a complex and not easily resolvable problem. The fact that there are over 100 million Americans with chronic pain—pain they have not been able to get rid of—attests to the difficulty of the problem. So why is chronic pain relief so elusive?
Common Mistakes Pain Patients Make that Prevent Optimum Pain Relief
I find that when it comes to relief of chronic pain, people in pain make two major and opposing errors. The first mistake is over-relying on healthcare providers to solve their problem while not attending to the self-care that can make a real difference. The second is patients who think they can figure it all out themselves and they don’t need professional guidance Then, when their efforts fail, they conclude that the treatment just doesn’t work for them.
The first error is an extremely common one. Patients seeking relief from pain go to a doctor expecting a prescription for a pill that will fix them. Isn’t that what all the commercials say? “Ask your doctor” is the answer to every ill. There’s a magic pill he or she can prescribe that will take care of it all, including for relief of intractable pain. These patients don’t believe there is anything they can do themselves to relieve pain.
The reality is that pain is a symptom, an alarm going off, and shutting off the alarm does no more to fix the problem than if you shut off the fire alarm when your house is on fire. And some of the underlying causes are within the control of the patient, such as diet, exposure to toxins, lack of appropriate exercise and stress. Ignoring this reality and not taking more control will cause pain to continue to worsen.
On the other hand, many of those pain patients who are taking an active part in managing their pain don’t have enough information to achieve optimum results.
A Dietary Approach to Pain is Complicated
Consider the role of diet in managing chronic pain. It is now widely known that diet plays a significant role in pain. There is so much conflicting information out there, however. Eating a “healthy diet”, even when the experts can agree on what it contains, is generally insufficient for reversing a chronic illness. “Super” nutrition is most likely required. In addition, there are new discoveries being published almost daily about the role of nutrients in managing or even curing a host of illnesses, including chronic pain. It is hard for a layperson to keep up. Consulting with expert providers trained in nutritional medicine can make a real difference in whether the diet and nutritional supplements chosen will result in chronic pain relief.
Stress Management Is More than Just Vegging Out
Stress management is another area where pain patients often don’t reach out for expert guidance. Stress and pain are intimately linked. The physiological changes that go along with emotional stress, such as increased muscle tension, changes in blood flow and respiration, increased inflammation, etc., increase pain. Managing stress to heal pain is not simply spending more time vegging out in front of the TV or pursuing hobbies. It is learning to spend more time in a deep state of physiological rest. It may also involve working through past trauma, as unresolved trauma results in chronic physiological over-arousal, i.e. chronic stress, which can lead to chronic pain. Healthcare providers trained in mind/body medicine can help you achieve pain relief through many different kinds of psychological interventions, including biofeedback, neurofeedback, meditation training, energy psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Exercise Strategies Vary Based on the Type of Pain and Condition of the Patient
The benefits of expert guidance also apply to exercise for relief of pain. All exercise is not equal. Some pain patients may need increased flexibility. Others may need exercises for strengthening. Others may just need to get moving to lubricate joints. Many need it all. Going from completely out of condition to optimum physical activity for your age and health conditions may require expert guidance for optimum results and to avoid injury. Health experts trained in therapeutic exercise can help chronic pain patients get optimum relief while avoiding the pitfalls of inappropriate choices or overdoing it.
There’s a Lot More to Marijuana Than Most Patients Realize
Sometimes pain patients prematurely conclude that medicinal use of marijuana doesn’t work for them. Many patients have bought illicit marijuana on the street or remember their youthful illegal drug use. They report that it doesn’t help their pain or it makes them anxious or uncomfortably high. Marijuana purchased on the street has been bred to get someone high, not for pain relief, and it can be tainted with other, more harmful drugs. It is an entirely different product than medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is a regulated product that is checked for contaminants. It comes in different strains with varying ratios of CBD, which is calming, and THC, which can be stimulating. It comes in different forms for different routes of administration, including for inhaling, edibles, tinctures and salves. Picking the right strain, dosage and route of administration for optimum symptom relief requires the services of a professional trained in the use of medical marijuana.
Putting it all Together
Integrative physicians combine the best of conventional and alternative treatments and can make referrals to allied professionals. They are another excellent source of information for the pain patient who wishes to achieve optimum possible results for relief of chronic pain.
The bottom line: The best pain management relies on self-help strategies formulated with expert guidance.