What Is Pain?
There are several definitions of pain. We all have to deal with pain at one time or another. Pain is relative to a person’s perceptions and experiences of what pain means to them. Everyone has a different tolerance threshold to pain. What may be extreme pain to one person may not be to another. The International Association For The Study Of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage”. Pain is ultimately subjective to a person’s perception of what they perceive it as. Their feeling as to what pain is; is based on their experiences of what they believe pain is or was as they experienced it at a particular time.
For the most part, pain is divided into two categories: Acute and Chronic. Acute pain is also known as warning pain. It comes on suddenly to let us know something is wrong with our bodies. It is usually short in duration. Acute pain also can range from mild to severe depending on how it is accepted by the person experiencing it.
Causes of acute pain are usually accidents and sudden illnesses. Some common situations associated with acute pain are broken bones, dental work, surgery, childbirth, gallstones, burns, appendicitis, and cuts. These are the situations most people know to be painful whether they actually experience one of these or not. Most of us will experience one of these types of acute pain episodes in our lifetime. Generally when the problem is solved then the acute pain goes away. However, left untreated or treated incorrectly acute pain can become chronic pain. In many cases, a person may respond to acute pain with fear, anxiety, and restlessness. Some conditions from acute pain that are not treatable develop into chronic pain as well.
Chronic Pain is ongoing pain. It is the type of pain that persists even with treatment over extended periods. It usually is a pain that stays a day in and day out without relief. Many times it is the result of a long term illness or a condition like cancer or arthritis. It can also be the lingering results of an injury. Among the common complaints and causes of chronic pain include things like: headaches and migraines, Arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, and cancer.
Although chronic pain may be caused by illnesses and injuries there are times when the cause for chronic pain is unknown. Treatment for managing chronic pain can include medication, physical therapy, electrical stimulation as well as alternative treatments. Alternative treatments may include natural medicines, acupuncture, acupressure, massage, yoga, and Ayurvedic medicine just to name a few.
Once it is determined whether our pain is “Chronic” or “Acute” it is further broken down into two more categories: “Nociceptive Pain” or Neuropathic. These categories are described as the physiological reason for having pain in the first place. This is the physical reason pain occurs as such in our bodies.
Nociceptive pain can be either somatic or visceral. Somatic pain is caused by an injury to a body part like a bone, joint or soft tissue. This type of pain is usually localized to the area afflicted with the injury. Nociceptive pain has been described as either dull all the way to sharp, aching to throb and even gnawing. Examples causing this type of pain would range from bone fractures, metastatic cancer to the bone, tumors, and arthritis.
What happens with Nociceptive pain is the body has nerves called nociceptors that respond to our body as a result of an injury. They send out signals to the brain via the central nervous system or the peripheral nerves that a body part is injured. This is when we feel pain. When the tissue of the injured body part heals the pain stops.
Visceral pain is caused by inflammation, distention or stretching of internal organs. This is a radiating pain; it does not stay localized. Visceral pain is said to feel like aching, cramping, deep pain or pressure. Examples of things causing this type of pain would include pain in the abdomen due to bowel obstruction or left jaw or arm pain from a myocardial infarction commonly known as a heart attack.
That brings us to neuropathic pain. This type of pain is caused by injury or damage to the nerves in either the central nervous system or the peripheral body. This kind of pain can be more difficult to treat than nociceptive. Types of things causing neuropathic pain include brain injuries, brain tumors, diabetic neuropathy, and even herpes zoster.
Drug, Alcohol and Chemical Toxins can all induce this type of pain as well. The pain associated with neuropathic problems is described as burning, shooting, tingling, stabbing numbness and like electrical current shocking the body. Also, this kind of pain can be caused by indirect nerve disturbance.
A tumor pressing on a nerve or scar tissue stabbing a nerve can also cause this kind of pain. The difference between this type of pain and the Nociceptive pain is that even after the tissue or nerves may heal there is still pain present. What happens is the pain sets in due to a malfunction of the bodies alarm system which response to pain because of the previous nerve damage.
Just as there are different categories and types of pain; pain also is dependent on one’s age sex and genetic factors. It’s quite clear that what may work well for one person to manage their pain may not work so well for another.
Today many people are looking for healthy and natural alternatives to manage and treat pain. There are many available and we will look at some of them here.
Western Conventional Medicine as Practiced in the United States
The type of Conventional Medicine practiced in the United States by its Doctors is considered Westernized or Western Medicine. It is the standard of what is considered legitimate medicine here in the good old USA.
If the terms “Alternative” or “Natural” are used in reference to anything related to medicine; it has implications contrary to those who practice and use conventional western means of healing. When the words “Alternative” and “Natural” are used by mainstream Western Medical Practitioners; it is because the alternative and natural means of healing have not been approved or sanctioned by the more conservative western medical community.
This includes the pharmaceutical companies that western medicine patronize. The established conventional medical sources in America do not consider “Natural” and “Alternative” ways of healing to be legitimate. Also, the practice of medicine here brings in a large revenue. So conventional medicine is a money machine in this country.
Aside from Doctors salaries; insurance companies, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals all make money on sick people. As we know many people don’t get the best care if they don’t have money. The best care and medicines go to those who can afford it. Sometimes a person may look for an alternative method of medicine thinking it may be cheaper than a doctors visit.
So with all these considerations, does this mean that because treatment is “natural or alternative” that it is not effective for a suffering person? No, it just means for the most part that institutions like western medicine industries make money off of medicine in our country.
This means if these medical corporations don’t have their hand in it; as in natural and alternative medicine, they will not endorse it. Many times you will find that alternative means of health management actually cut the costs of doctor visits and medications for the patient. When the patient feels better they use less medicine and have fewer doctor visits.
This makes one think that the reasons that the more conservative medical part of the medical industry doesn’t support natural medicine are because they don’t make them money from it. You do find today that private practice Doctors that do not necessarily take insurance; may incorporate elements of natural and alternative therapies in their practices at very high prices.
In this case, it makes the financially privileged think they are getting enlightened advanced medical breakthroughs enhancing the traditional practice of their Doctor.
The Medical Industry in this country is associated with many aspects of Corporate America. Corporate America doesn’t see the Natural and Alternative Medicine Market as a profit incentive. In order for them to deem it effective for the mainstream, it has to fulfill their profit requirements.
But, ironically in actuality, you will find that alternative therapies and natural medicines are very expensive. That is because many of the herbal supplements that are sold are not regulated by the government. Therefore there are set price for these herbal supplements like the traditional pharmaceuticals.
Also through regulation, it takes 7 years for a new drug to be sold at as a generic and then the price becomes greatly lowered and more affordable. But until it becomes on the market as generic many people may not be covered by their insurance for the best and latest pharmaceutical prescriptions.
In Europe, countries like France and Germany include alternative health practices particularly “Herbal Medicines” in their comprehensive pools of medical treatments. This includes prescribing legally herbal medications in these countries.
In Asia, Many of the Asian countries like China combine their traditional medicine with their Current Medical Facilities. You will find it normal for a Chinese Medical doctor to also be a licensed TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Doctor. So what happens is a Chinese MD would also use acupuncture and herbal medicine in treating a patient and it would be government approved. Traditional medicine and Western Medicine in many areas of the world go hand and hand. It makes you wonder why doesn’t our country approve of these types of “Alternative” or “Natural” methods of practicing medicine.
Western Medicine or mainstream medicine is called the “Practice of Medicine.” This is because treatments are practiced on patients based on track records. Add to that, the factors of big business insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations; and you have what they call in the United States Comprehensive Health Care.
Comprehensive Health Care means all your health care needs are usually all in one building and you get referred to different doctors who handle different illnesses, conditions and parts of the body from your General Health Care Provider.
It is done this way because it is cheaper to the government to shovel people through what is called the gatekeeper system which is what I described. This way the insurance companies only pay for that doctor or specialist that you see. You have to have a referral from your main doctor to get any further treatments besides what he does to you in your visit.
This does not include medicine if you need it. Many times the newest and best medications are not covered by the insurance companies. So, the average working person and the poor are subjected to only generic medicines that their insurance companies do approve of.
I have seen elderly people in the pharmacy who can only purchase a couple of pills from their medical prescriptions. This is because it is not covered by their insurance and they cannot afford to buy the whole prescription. I am talking about the major heart and other serious health-related medications that people need and cannot purchase. These people have to do without many times because they cannot afford the medicine at the time they need it.
Usually, the first line of attack on illnesses in our Medical system is to give a patient medication. It can be for any symptom related to any type of illness. Many of the medications eventually give you more illnesses with prolonged use.
The description of the side effects and adverse reactions come in printouts that are attached to the medication bags now because of these effects and reactions. Many people are so discomforted and in need of relief when they fill a prescription that they don’t care about the side effects and adverse reactions.
They take the pill or serum the doctor prescribed and call it a day. They may end up on the prescription they use for prolonged periods of time. The truth of the matter is that many of the prescription drugs eventually break down other body systems while treating the one the medication is for initially.
Alternative medicine usually looks at treating the whole person to give them optimum health in addition to the illness that is being treated. For example, an illness may be treated but also a diet regimen, vitamin supplements, and various therapies are also incorporated to help treat the whole body for optimum healing and health.
Many people today are looking for healthy alternatives to the conventional treatments of illness that are available. They want more than just a symptom appeased. They want to find a true sense of cure in their treatment. This is not to poo-poo the conservative part of the medical community at all, I mentioned these things like a suggestion to open your eyes. Its to tell you there are more options available to you then what your doctor may tell you.
It is not surprising that today many conventional doctors are also toying with the ideas of alternatives in their medical treatments. It is difficult though because many alternatives are not approved in our country. A doctor does not want to risk their license or practice for suggesting something not approved by conventional medicinal law upholders. I don’t blame them. It takes years to become a good doctor.
Popular Alternative and Natural Medicine Treatments for Pain
Alternative and Natural Medicine does have a broad spectrum of treatment possibilities that one can choose from today. Natural and Alternative Medicine Treatments include but are not limited to Eastern and other Traditional Medicines including Acupuncture
Mind-Body Therapies and Treatments including Hypnosis and Bio-Feed Back.
Nutritional Therapy includes diet, vitamins and supplements, herbology and homeopathy, massage, therapeutic touch, chiropractic treatments, and spiritual components to healing the body.
Natural and Alternative medicine can also be comprehensive and include several types of treatments in its healing process. It is comprehensive because it looks at the whole person for their wellness not just the symptom at hand. Many people do not wish to be constantly drugged up and treated with the conventional methods that are not effective for them personally. These people seek out other alternative methods especially in relation to pain.
Lets briefly look at some of the more popular alternative treatments for pain:
Mind-Body Therapies employ different techniques to stimulate the mind, to effect changes in how the body responds in situations like pain. Treatments that fall into this category are things like relaxation techniques, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and hypnosis.
These work for some people quite well in helping them to cope with chronic pain. These techniques work by giving the patient tools that help them gain control over their minds when the body undergoes certain situations like chronic pain. They teach the person how to direct the mind to deal with pain. The patient is taught to channel the energy causing pain in such a way so the pain can be controlled, tolerated and even eliminated altogether in some cases. They learn to redirect the pain so they can live with it.
The World Health Organization recognizes over 30 diseases or conditions that have been documented as helped with the treatment of acupuncture. One of the main reasons however people turn to acupuncture is to help alleviate chronic pain.
Traditional Acupuncture is an ancient science from the Chinese believed that illness stems from energy imbalance due to blockage in the body. The premise is, by stimulating certain energy or Qi (pronounced chee) points with fine needles along what is called the 14 major meridians, the imbalanced or blocked Qi is released.
Acupuncture is used in pain relief because when the needles are placed in certain areas it releases endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers. What happens is many of the acupressure points are near the nerves. When these points are stimulated the make the muscle feel full.
As a result, the muscle sends a message to the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) causing endorphins to be released. Endorphins are naturally the body’s own morphine-like chemicals the body produces when it is under stress or pain. It is the endorphins and other neurotransmitters which are chemicals that modify the bodies nerve impulses and actually blocks the message of pain that is transmitted to the brain.
Today acupuncture is used either alone or as part of a pain management regimen. Many Traditional Chinese doctors use acupuncture, herbs, and diet in combination with healing chronic pain.
Chiropractic treatments are one of the most popular therapies for back pain. Many people who have neck, hip, knees, and even feet problems also now go for chiropractic treatments as part of their pain management.
Chiropractic is based on the idea that if you align the spine to its correct position it will alleviate many of the chronic pains associated with the body. With Chiropractics the idea is that much of the pain we experience in the back neck, hips, knees, and feet are caused by the misalignment of spinal placement.
This is both due to standing wrong as well as including some injuries. When we stand incorrectly and the spine is not lined up properly the vertebrae put pressure on nerves and the bones move out of place causing pain. Chiropractics sets out to correct this by aligning the spine correctly so the rest of the body is incorrect placement. Once you are incorrect alignment any damage caused by a misalignment in the body can heal resulting in minimizing or stopping pain altogether.
Massage is used besides relaxation to also increase blood flow to areas that are painful. It helps to break up substances in areas where congestion causing pain builds up. By stimulating that area that is painful with circulation, any congestion or inflammation build up is broken down so the blood can flow freely through that painful spot.
There are different types of massage such as Reflexology.
Reflexology focuses on massaging areas of the foot and hand that are related to various internal organs and systems. By stimulating these areas on the hands and feet you are also stimulating these body areas. The foot sends impulses to those areas that may have blockages by sending chemical reactions through the body to that area via the foot or hand. Reflexology also releases pain-reducing endorphins throughout the body.
Therapeutic Touch and Reiki
These are considered energy based techniques and the practitioner doesn’t have to necessarily touch the person. These techniques are done to heal and align the person’s body energies so they can help heal themselves. Reiki works by sending energy between the practitioner and patient in order to heal and align the bodies chakras or energy centers along the meridians. Meridians are vital energy points along the spine of the back and other strategic body points that release energy in the body. Therapeutic touch is when the practitioner may touch various areas on the patient sending healing energy to them through touch.
Dietary Approach To Healing Pain
The dietary approach to reducing pain includes changing one’s diet. This is especially true in relation to one’s dietary fat intake and increasing one’s plant intake. Pain reduction diets focus on increasing those foods that have anti-inflammatory properties in our diets and decreasing the other types of foods that cause inflammation. By limiting those foods that cause inflammation in the body, it decreases the pain experienced. There is a definite correlation between the decrease of pain with a decrease in those foods that have to inflame properties when consumed.
There have been studies done with various conditions that were painful and the changes were noted after the people experiencing pain changed their diets. It has been noted that people with fibromyalgia experienced less pain on low-fat vegetarian diets. Their painful periods were shorter and less intense after switching to a low fat vegetarian dietary regimen. Likewise, people with osteoporosis saw improvement when they lost weight and were able to increase their activity level with a low-fat high vegetable diet.
There is now a lot of evidence written based on the finds of how certain vitamins help with certain conditions and diseases associated with pain. There is concrete evidence associated with knee osteoarthritis and the use of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. These two compounds when taken have been shown to help increase fluidity in knees afflicted with this form of arthritis and help alleviate the pain. This is just one example of many types of benefits that using supplements for the body help with.
Many of the medicines that are produced by big pharmaceutical companies use various herbs as their bases. That’s why places like rain forests throughout the world are shown to have big pharmaceutical companies associated with them these days.
Indigenous people and cultures have relied on herbs since Neolithic days as remedies. Today many people are using these same remedies. The problem is that on the market many herbal supplements are not regulated and you have to know what you are taking. Like anything else, you need to have the expertise or know what herb is effective for what ailment because plants can also be toxic if not used correctly. That is why one may go to a licensed Herbalist to have the proper herbs prescribed for them. This category includes Homeopathy which uses tinctures and liquid concentrations made from various herbal bases.
All of these Alternative Methods may or may not be effective for a particular person. It is advised that you tell your doctor of your intentions if you plan to use or work with an alternative doctor or method for your health condition. The doctor will make sure that what you are taking herbally or doing is not in conflict with their regimen for you.
I believe both Western Conventional Medicine and Alternative Medicine can work hand in hand together. It should not be one type of healing versus the other. If you have any medically related issues and are receiving medical care from a regular doctor; any possible alternative health treatments should be discussed with them also. This is especially true if you have a serious health condition. Talk to your doctor first when considering one of the many alternative treatments available for you. He may even help you choose the one safest and most effective for you based on your medical history or current condition.