contributed by Annette Demeny, DTR | Health Programs Coordinator, Centralina AAA
Chronic pain affects more people than cancer, diabetes, heart attack and stroke combined. The Institute of Medicine estimates there are more than 100 million sufferers in the United States. So, what is Chronic Pain? Usually, people feel acute pain after an injury or illness. If pain lasts longer than three to six months, it’s then considered chronic. Unfortunately, chronic pain isn’t a straight forward experience like acute pain is. Anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems, fatigue and sometimes even depression. These symptoms could lead to damaged relationships and loss of work.
Chronic pain lives in the prefrontal cortex and limbic system of the brain. This area of the brain is used for memories, especially emotional ones (New World Library, 2000). Although medications are sometimes necessary and a life-saving part of pain management, studies are showing significant position outcomes from natural, drug-free remedies. One such remedy is guided imagery. Patients practice imaging themselves in a calming place, maybe a beach or mountain. By engaging in imagination, this calming effect has been shown to reduce pain levels. Other alternative treatments include movement-based therapies that incorporate physical exercises to strengthen muscles supporting joints while release endorphins. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are a few examples of movement-based therapies.
Energy healing therapy is another natural, holistic approach that can reduce anxiety and depression by activating natural pleasure point of the body. Acupressure, Reiki, and massage are examples of this natural remedy. Finally, lifestyle changes at home and the workplace can be effective in restoring rest, enhancing relationships with family and co-workers and overall wellbeing. This can be achieved by creating a positive environment, nurturing honest relationships through quality time, healthy eating habits and exercising regularly.
As you can see, helping a person with pain management could take a team-approach. This could include; acupressure or massage therapist, dietitian, physical therapist, physician, counselor, and family. This approach works directly with the person to offer a variety of interventions or strategies for self-management designed to include communication, treatment, education and follow up. The treatment is never focused on just the pain, but taking a holistic approach, meaning who you are and how you feel. As with any treatment, it’s important to consider safety before using natural health approaches.
Safety depends on the specific approach and on the health of the person using it. If you’re considering a natural, holistic approach for pain, check with your health care provider to make sure it’s safe for you.
No matter what treatment approach you and your health care provider decide that’s best for you, participating in a self-management community workshop could be an added tool in your pain management. One such workshop is the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program. This evidence-based program was developed at the Stanford Education Research Center for people who have a primary or secondary diagnosis of chronic pain. The research studies during the development of this program found that, on average, people who participated in the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program have more vitality or energy, less pain, less dependence on others, improved mental health, are more involved in everyday activities, and are more satisfied with their lives compared to those who have not taken the program. Classes are highly participative where mutual support and success build the participants’ confidence in their ability to manage their health and maintain active and fulfilling lives. Held in community settings such as senior center, churches, libraries, health clinics, and housing facilities, the workshop is one session per week for six weeks, 2 ½ hours per session. Led by two trained Lay Leaders, one or both whom have chronic pain themselves, lead the group in learning effective techniques to deal with problems such as fatigue, isolation, poor sleep and pacing.
For more information about the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, where you can participate in a community workshop, or information on being trained as a Lay Leader, contact Centralina Area Agency on Aging at 704-372-2416.