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A natural approach to chronic pain

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Chronic pain can have many underlying factors. A natural approach can improve quality of life by reducing its causes and symptoms.

DO you have pain that just won’t go away? If you suffer from an old injury, an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or reccurring migraines, you know that persistent pain can signifi- cantly impact many aspects of life. In a word, it can take away the fun.

he question to ask: Why do you have chronic pain? Food sensitivities, stress, poor diet and lifestyle choices, and environmental exposures or sensitivities may all contribute to the underlying reason for pain. Ongoing pain often requires thorough investigation and a comprehensive treatment plan. By decreasing pain, natural therapies can help you revive the joy of living.

Acupuncture: The ancient Chinese solution

Acupuncture is used to treat many conditions. According to a recent survey published in the Journal of Alternative and
Complementary Medicine in the US, the most common one
is pain, specifically low back pain (34%), joint pain (16%), neck pain (14%), and headaches and migraines (10%).

A recent review of the research in Primary Care concluded that “acupuncture care yields both clinically relevant short- and long-term benefits for low back pain, knee osteoarthritis, chronic neck pain, and headache.” It also mentions that it’s a cost-effective strategy to integrate into a comprehensive treatment program.

Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment believed to be more than 5,000 years old. The practitioner inserts fine needles into specific points found on meridians or tender “ashi” points on the body. The points are carefully selected based on each person’s individual symptoms. Typically, the practitioner stimulates the needles during the treatment and heat or electrical stimulation may also be applied.

The exact mechanism of acupuncture is still being investigated. However, research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that stimulating acupuncture points can modulate activation of the central nervous system. Animal and human studies indicate that acupuncture may cause the release of opioids — natural painkillers — in the brain. It may also have an effect on the mental and emotional aspects of pain and may help to inhibit the inflammatory response.

Food and pain

The food we eat provides us with the building blocks that our body requires. The impact of choosing an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy protein and oils cannot be underestimated.

A large portion of our immune system is present in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Inflammation, irritation or changes in the bacteria that live in the GI tract may result in food sensitivities. Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities through either an elimination diet or specialized testing can result in decreased inflammation in the body.

Fats and pain

Dietary fats, specifically poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), can
have a significant impact on the inflammatory response.
The average North American diet does not contain sufficient amounts of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, seeds and nuts and some vegetables. The ratio of Omega 3’s to Omega 6’s (another essential fatty acid) is also important. Omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation, while Omega 6’s tend to promote it.

Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the most effective natural anti-inflammatory agents available — especially the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish. A recent article on rheumatoid arthritis in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine revealed that fish oil has clinical benefit in reducing pain, which has led to reduced use of non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Chronic pain is complex. An integrative approach using natural therapies can often be an effective means of improving quality of life. Naturopathic doctors can provide a comprehensive assessment of possible underlying contributing factors and implement an individualized treatment plan.

More Insight: Check out this helpful article on how to boost your immune system.

Author: Theresa Jahn, ND is a naturopathic doctor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She speaks at various events and has been a past contributor to Optimyz, our sister magazine.

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