Healing Chronic Pain
Pain is intended to serve a purpose. It is supposed to be a signal that something is wrong and needs your attention. If you break your leg, the pain you experience tells you to take care of it and not to walk on it until you have done so. This is acute pain. The pain that persists years later and gets worse when it rains or the nagging, almost continuous pain from arthritis is chronic pain. Even chronic pain can retain its informational function. Perhaps you broke your leg and used a walking cast for several weeks, altering your gait and stance-you might well have back pain that persists after the leg is healed due to the strain on other body parts. This pain is communicating something to you and compelling you to take action.
Pain Without PurposeSometimes pain loses its purpose. Chronic pain from an old injury, intractable pain from cancer or arthritis, or the ongoing sympathetic pain called reflex sympathetic dystrophy are examples of pain which appears to serve no ongoing function. These various types of pain are all real, physiological experiences. Yet there is no one specific medical treatment to cure them. Traditional allopathic medicine often relies upon invasive treatment such as surgery or may settle on palliative care involving pain medication and external devices to reduce pain. But often nothing seems to help enough or the treatment and its side effects or after effects may appear worse than the pain itself.
The Psychology of PainA more detailed look at the structure and function of pain offers a changed perspective that allows for the potential to remove or significantly decrease it. All pain has three components: biochemical, physiological, and psychological. Simple, acute pain is often responsive to treatment that addresses only one of these components. Some pains are alleviated by mechanical means--massage, chiropractic manipulation, setting the broken bone. Other pains, such as stomachache, require medical investigation and may necessitate surgery. Other pains are easily responsive to medication. Some types of pain can be treated by purely psychological means such as relaxation training or imagery exercises. Acute pain is often easily relieved when the appropriate individual treatment is applied.
Learn From Your Acute PainYou could, however, help yourself to heal even from a broken leg by approaching it with more than one modality. While setting and casting it would be the primary focus of treatment, you might also use pain medication for comfort in the short term while healing takes place. Guided imagery to encourage comfort and healing would further contribute to the process. Bodywork after the cast was removed could help you to reestablish normal use of your body. It is important to select the correct curative treatment and apply adjunctive treatments appropriately. Clearly, you would not simply take medications for a broken leg rather than setting the fracture. If you hurt yourself repeatedly performing a certain action, simply using relaxation or pain medications rather than altering your behavior accordingly would be unwise.
The Complexities of Chronic PainChronic pain is more complex to treat. Pain is considered chronic when the acute illness or injury has been resolved, but the pain remains, as with reflex sympathetic dystrophy or fibromyalgia, or when the ailment itself is chronic, as in arthritis or cancer. It is in these situations that all three modalities, the biochemical, the physiological, and the psychological, taken together, offer unique potential for cure or significant relief. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy and fibromyalgia are two examples of sympathetically maintained chronic pain conditions for which traditional approaches have little to offer, whereas an integrated, multifaceted approach often leads to remission. It is hypothesized that chronic, sympathetically maintained pain is the result of real injury or illness that essentially becomes linked into the fight-or-flight mechanism known as the sympathetic nervous system. Because of this link, the pain fails to remit when the injury has healed. In the integrated treatment approach, standard medical treatments such as nerve blocks or medications are not used as merely symptom-relief nor as cure, but as part of a training in which they are paired with relaxation and gentle bodywork, enabling the client to quiet the sympathetic system and develop a habit of increased comfort.
Effective, Integrated Treatment for Chronic PainThis perspective indicates that regardless of the origin or duration of pain, it is logical to take a multifaceted approach to its treatment. Chronic pain is most effectively treated via all three pathways: the biochemical, the physiological, and the psychological. After treating the acute phase by taking the appropriate medications or having the appropriate surgery if needed, the chronic pain is approached using traditional means of treatment as part of a learning process, having some type of bodywork, and applying appropriate psychological techniques. In this way, many clients are able to gain remission where other methods have failed. The Center for Conscious Living, in conjunction with our adjunct staff of massage therapists and Feldenkrais practitioners, as well as referring or consulting physicians, is able to offer a unique opportunity for pain sufferers to obtain treatment that applies all three of these modalities. Call Dr. Low today and start feeling better.
Flemming, D.C., Gainer, M.J., Perkus, B.L., Low, C.B., & Flemming, J.R.(1997). Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy: Long-Term Remission with Hypnosis Suggests Different Paradigm for the Disease. Clinical Bulletin of Myofascial Therapy, Volume 2 , Numbers 2/3.