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Conquering Chronic Pain

The good news is that our bodies have an amazing, innate ability to heal and adapt. But what if you have pain that keeps coming back or just doesn't get better? Maybe you've seen your doctor, you've rested, or tried some home remedies, but it still bothers you.

Pain is a strong signal from your body that something is wrong. This is similar to having the check engine light come on in your car. We don't ignore these warning lights on our dashboards, so why do so many people ignore these signs in their bodies? We often decide to live with pain thinking that being in pain is normal or we use treatments that simply cover up the pain, but don’t treat the cause.

So, what is your body trying to say when it hurts? Sometimes pain can be an urgent signal that you need immediate help. If you are having acute abdominal pain, chest pain, or new severe headache, you should absolutely get checked out with your doctor or even go to the ER for diagnosis. But if your pain is not signaling an emergency, there are many ways it can be addressed and perhaps even relieved for good.

Pain can be a signal that there is a problem with one of your internal organs, but can show up in a distant place in the body. For instance, your right shoulder pain could be a sign that your gallbladder is not functioning well or a kidney stone may refer pain to the side and back or groin. A well-trained medical provider should be able to help you distinguish between pain of the musculoskeletal system and pain from an internal cause. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, almost all chronic pain is considered to be from an internal imbalance.

There is also a strong connection between structure and function in the body. While its possible to have a structural problem that is so severe that your body cannot heal or adapt to it, many structural problems are within the realm of self-healing. If your doctor has recommended pain treatments, rest, or physical therapy before surgery, it is highly likely that you would benefit from trying other techniques to stimulate healing before resorting to invasive surgery.

Many of the patients we see with chronic pain have chronic inflammation. We need to remember that inflammation is a healthy response from the immune system. It is only when the source of inflammation is not stopped that chronic pain persists. There are several sources that commonly cause chronic inflammation.

Food can be a major trigger of the inflammatory response. The standard American diet is high in sugars and unhealthy trans fats as well as an imbalance between omega 6 fats and omega 3 fats. These are all inflammatory. Food allergies and food sensitivities are also immune/inflammatory triggers. There are a number of lab tests that can verify this, but we often recommend take-home instructions for a food allergy elimination diet to follow for a few weeks.

Chronic infections trigger the immune system and can be related to inflammatory pain in other, unrelated parts of the body. These are commonly chronic/recurrent sinusitis, bladder or prostate infections, dental infections, or just an imbalance in the gut flora. The gut/digestive system is also related if there are imbalances in pH or intestinal permeability.

Hormones and hormone imbalances can be inflammatory. This is why women are often more prone to chronic inflammatory and autoimmune problems. While there are many hormones in the body, we can usually look at insulin, thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones.

The immune system can also be triggered by toxins and toxicity. Unfortunately, toxins are everywhere and are impossible to avoid completely. Our own bodies even produce toxins during metabolism.

Having inadequate blood circulation can cause pain as well. Just like the heart muscle has pain when the blood flow is blocked (heart attack), reduced blood flow anywhere in the body can be a source of pain. This should be a consideration if you have sharp-stabbing pain, pain that is fixed, or if there are areas of coldness around the pain. In addition to using heat, try a low-fat/heart healthy diet and be physically active within your limitations.

So what do you do?

The first steps to getting your pain under control are the same things that will keep you healthy. Transition to more of a whole food diet and drink plenty of clean water, reduce your exposure to chemicals and toxins and encourage healthy detoxification, be physically active within your capabilities and try to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, get plenty of restorative sleep, and take stock of your life. If there are stresses that you can get rid of, do it. Figure out ways to manage life's stresses that will invariably still be there. Learn how to meditate and do deep breathing exercises.

Acupuncture can be an amazing treatment for pain. Most of my patients have some relief with their very first treatment and have lasting results when we finish a full course of treatment. If you are looking to balance organ systems, stimulate detoxification, balance hormones, stimulate immunity, and promote circulation; you should be looking to asian styles of acupuncture. While they use an entirely different language, treating these underlying issues are built into their theory and application. Asian styles of herbal medicine have the same benefits. A good acupuncturist should have at least 4 years of graduate level education and a national certification. In Michigan, there is not yet a license for practicing acupuncture. So, there are a lot of under qualified people practicing acupuncture and dry needling.

There are a lot of great herbs and supplements for pain. But, we need to remember to treat the underlying cause of the pain if we want great long term results. While it’s usually fine to try some things on your own, seeing a qualified practitioner will get you the best results.

Give our office a call today to schedule a brief visit to see if our office is right for you.

Stephen Durell hold a Master's Degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine. He specializes in treating chronic pain using acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy.


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