Pain is a way of life for many people. Living with chronic pain as a result of injury or disease can be very difficult. Think back to the last time you had a headache, a sore back from doing too much yard work, or a toe stubbed on the coffee table. Remember how distracting the pain was? If it lasted a couple days, it probably affected your mood. Imagine if you woke up every day of your life with pain. Just like the pain you’ve experienced from acute injuries, chronic pain comes and goes. A bad day could require you to change your entire routine. On the good days, you adjust your lifestyle in case it should flare up again suddenly. Mostly, you are drained from the energy of fighting the pain and the hopelessness that it will ever go away for good. It’s easy to see how chronic pain can lead to drug addiction. Whether you resort to painkillers that just give you some temporary relief or alcohol that just numbs your mind so you don’t care about it for a while, chronic pain can lead to addiction. There are ways, however, to manage pain without falling into an addiction cycle.
What Is Pain?
Controlling pain begins with understanding what it is. In many cases of chronic pain, the physiologic reason for the pain can’t be helped. When you experience an injury, the source of the pain is usually swelling caused by your body’s natural healing processes. The swelling can often be controlled with ice, thereby reducing the pain. Migraine pain or the pain from fibromyalgia, though, can’t be controlled as easily. Many times, there is no way of adjusting the physical cause of the pain to make it stop. The brain is ultimately where all pain comes from. Your foot might hurt because you stepped on a nail, but it is your brain that tells you about the pain. Neurotransmitters carry the messages from your foot and attach to certain receptor cells in the brain. The chemical composition of the neurotransmitters and the number and type of receptors affected characterize the pain and its intensity for you. That is why you experience some pains as excruciating and other pains as dull aches. Pain medication acts on the brain to alter the transmission process by blocking receptor cells or altering the chemical composition of the neurotransmitters. Of course, artificially altering brain chemistry has a number of dangerous side effects, not the least of which is addiction. But you can train your brain to receive pain messages differently, raising your threshold for pain and thereby managing your pain naturally.
A doctor does not have a test he can give you to measure pain. Doctors rely on a patient’s description of pain to know how to treat it. Because everyone has a different tolerance for pain, one person’s description of the pain from a broken arm might be that it is excruciating while another person might describe it as only moderately severe. In order to better understand the level of pain being experienced, doctors use a number of different rating systems, including:
- Numerical rating scale
- Verbal descriptor scale
- Faces scale
- Brief pain inventory
- McGill pain questionnaire
You may be familiar with some of these pain-measuring techniques. If you suffer from a chronic pain condition, a doctor might ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. Or you might have encountered the chart of faces on an examining room wall and been asked to point to the one that best shows how you are feeling. Measuring the pain is the first step in figuring out the best way to intercept it in the brain.
Another consideration in pain management is where you are in the pain cycle because pain can create more pain in an escalating cycle. Imagine you are experiencing pain from a sprained ankle:
- The ankle is immobilized and you are walking with crutches, but there is still constant pain from the site of the injury.
- To lessen the pain, you sit with your foot elevated and put ice on it.
- It hurts to move around, even with the crutches, so you try to stay put.
- Eventually your ankle heals, but you are afraid to walk on it too much because you remember the moment when it was injured and all the pain you experienced.
- You end up losing muscle tone in your lower leg because you avoid using it as much as possible.
- The anxiety of never getting rid of the pain keeps you up at night.
- The stress and lack of sleep makes the ankle hurt worse, but the doctor says it is healed.
The brain can get so used to feeling pain that pain is what it expects. In some cases, the body’s ability to heal is distracted by all of the pain sensations, so healing is not taking place. You lapse into a cycle where you are just treating the pain but not the injury. It is necessary to break the pain cycle in order to move toward healing. Treating the pain relieves stress on the body so it can focus on healing. Otherwise, you remain trapped in this cycle with the pain just escalating.
Managing Pain Without Medication
The key to managing pain is the “managing” part. If you have a slight headache, you can usually live with that. It is when the headache becomes a full-blown migraine that you go out of your mind, unable to concentrate on anything other than the pain and the drastic things you are willing to do to get rid of it. Managing your pain means controlling it so it never gets so bad that you can’t tolerate it. Managing chronic pain, like the pain itself, is an ongoing activity. It’s kind of like losing weight: If you go on an extreme diet and lose a lot of weight, chances are good that you will rebound and gain the weight back and then some. In the process, the extreme diet will have other negative effects on your overall health that you may have to deal with as well. The healthy way to lose weight is to do it slowly by altering your lifestyle, not “going on a diet.” The changes you make to your lifestyle will become part of your new routine forever. They will help you lose weight naturally and maintain that weight loss. Pain management is very much like dieting. If you attack the pain with severe measures, it may go away, but you will cause other health problems. The pain from a chronic condition will come back as soon as you stop using drugs. Instead, a healthy way to go about it would be to make lifestyle changes that decrease your pain naturally and help you remain pain-free every day of your life.
Holistic Pain Management Without Medication
A holistic approach to pain management requires patience and consistency. It is not a quick fix like many drugs offer. But it is lasting and drug-free, which means there are no side effects or potential for addiction to deal with. It’s not the easy way out, but it is a good long-term solution and may be the only help for people with chronic pain. Regardless of where you experience pain, it is important to look at the body and mind as one system. Each part of the body impacts another — remember the old children’s song, “the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone” — and the brain has tremendous power over the whole body. The good news is that you can control your brain.
Holistic Pain Management: The Importance of Rest
Research show that stress is the number one culprit in human “dis-ease.” Reducing stress is the key to unlocking many health issues. Holistic pain management starts with reducing stress through meditation and adequate rest. Lack of sleep is one of the major factors that fuels the pain cycle. The body uses periods of sleep to perform certain maintenance functions. Think of it like your computer or smartphone: When you shut it down, it automatically closes remote connections, integrates new programs, and empties the trash. Without this down time, trash piles up. Getting good sleep with chronic pain requires learning a new system for shutting down your brain. Meditation helps by emptying the mind, allowing the brain to go to sleep. With regular meditation practice, you can get some of the benefits of sleep while you are still awake. Meditation can be very useful in shutting down the mind for a short break in the middle of the day. Remember, it is the brain that feels the pain: If you can get it to turn off, the pain will go away.
Holistic Pain Management: The Importance of Nutrition
Medication might solve your pain problem temporarily, but it can’t be a long-term fix. Plus, it basically clouds your mind for thoughts other than pain as well. When it comes to pain management, medication should be a last resort for short-term use and only under the strict supervision of a qualified medical professional. Manipulating the brain is a good means of pain management, but not through drugs. You can learn natural techniques to change the way your brain feels pain. Everyone has a pain threshold, which is the amount of pain they can tolerate at one time. Through conditioning, the brain can be taught to accept a higher level of pain as normal. If you live with chronic pain, increasing your pain threshold would be a relief. Another relief for chronic pain sufferers can be nutrition. Some foods are more powerful than drugs in their effect on the body — but in a good way. Giving your body all the tools it needs to fight disease is another positive approach to pain management. Foods that help reduce inflammation, for instance, can also reduce pain and increase mobility. These foods include:
- Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna
- Dark, leafy greens such as kale
- Red and yellow peppers
Pain often results in decreased mobility, which causes secondary pain issues. A regular intake of nourishing foods can help maintain muscle strength, making simple exercise easier. Keeping your body moving will keep it in better shape and help with pain management. Eating a diet of healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and avoiding food additives is a solid pain-management plan.
Additional Pain Management Techniques
Some people will tell you the key to avoiding addiction is to stay off drugs. Living your life substance-free is certainly a good way to ensure you will never have to fight an addiction. But for some people, it doesn’t even seem possible. Pain is one thing that can drive you to behave like you never thought possible, just to get some relief. But just like alcohol and other drugs, if you never start taking pain medications, you’ll never get hooked on them. For some people, that is all it takes. Some people have an injury or a minor surgery and a doctor prescribes some type of narcotic pain reliever. The pain is real and too much to bear. The medicine takes the pain away and leaves them with a slightly euphoric feeling, like everything is going to be just fine. You don’t have to resort to using powerful and addictive drugs to manage your pain. There are alternative techniques for pain management that do not involve health-damaging drugs. Depending on the cause of your pain, one of these options might work for you:
Acupuncture— a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves placing tiny needles in the skin at points that correspond with the energy meridians; believed to relieve pain by encouraging the free-flow of energy through the meridians.
Chiropractic methods — used to treat pain by manipulating and realigning the musculoskeletal system, which affects nerves throughout the body.
Massage — a means of increasing circulation to help muscles flush out toxins and receive oxygenated blood.
Biofeedback — trains the brain to make subtle changes in body functions such as heart rate through the use of electrical sensors to help monitor these body functions.
Tai chi — an ancient Chinese traditional exercise of slow graceful movements and deep breathing believed to reduce stress.
Hypnotherapy — used to plant suggestions of comfort and relaxation as a means of reducing pain; self-hypnosis can be taught and used as a long-term pain relieving alternative.
Aromatherapy — uses the sense of smell to evoke calm and relaxation.
Holistic Pain Management Without Drugs
Although it is not a traditional technique, pain management without drugs is possible and can be part of a healthy approach to life. If you are ready to be pain- and drug-free, contact The Ranch PA today. We can help you eliminate drugs from your life and reduce your pain to a tolerable level no matter what your situation. Mostly, we can help you restore your sense of well-being and control over your life. Pain and drugs leave you feeling hopeless and out of control. Let us help you take that control back while doing something truly good for yourself. The holistic approaches we use for pain management can become the backbone of a healthy lifestyle. No matter what techniques you have tried in the past, at The Ranch PA you can rebuild your health and experience true happiness in your life. At The Ranch PA, we know how to manage pain without drugs. Let us show you the way.