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Managing Chronic Pain: Considerations for Complementary Services- The MEGA BLOG

Chronic pain has become an all-to-common condition in modern adults, and is typically a side-effect of other medical issues. Pain in itself, can be a unique experience for each person. How pain presents itself is based on a variety of factors, that include, but are not limited to: nerve sensitivity; emotional response to pain and discomfort; learned behaviors toward pain and discomfort; medical conditions that directly impact nerves, skin, or inflammation; and beliefs about pain and discomfort and how it should be treated. We develop beliefs and views about pain (and its impact on us) from a very young age, and much of this is influenced by the beliefs and behaviors of others in our environment.


Pain occurs in two distinct forms: Acute/post-acute and Chronic. Acute pain is experienced immediately after injury, trauma, surgery, or procedure, and occurs because the body is attempting to manage the inflammation and impact to the structures and nerve tissues around the area of injury. Anyone who has had a surgery or procedure is aware of how this pain feels. It is common to have pain or anti-inflammatory medications post procedure to address the acute/post-acute pain, as well as to have additional follow-up instructions to rest, to move around, go to Physical Therapy for treatment, or a combination of these. Typically, this pain resolves within a few weeks as your body returns to its normal.


Chronic pain is different. When pain persists long after the initial treatments without resolution, we enter the chronic pain cycle. The longer the chronic pain persists, the more likely that the pain will not be fully resolved and the person will continue to experience symptoms on an ongoing basis. Chronic pain can also occur due to the presence of another disease process in the body. Persons with auto-immune disorders or other diseases that affect nerves, bones, and connective tissues in the body often have to deal with chronic pain in addition to the other symptoms of their disease process. Auto-immune conditions result from a skewed response that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and structures for no reason. Examples of auto-immune disorders include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorders, and others.


Pain Management in the western medical model typically focuses on oral medications, Physical Therapy, advanced methods for pain control (ablations, epidurals, and injections), and occasionally a recommendation for massage. Being a doctoral-level Physical Therapist, and a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist, I certainly have no problem with supporting these methods (and providing some of them as well), but encourage any person impacted by chronic pain to have regular discussions with their medical provider(s) in order to best address their issues. Sometimes, pain persists even with these interventions but typically, western methods don’t tend to support- or recognize- other approaches that offer complementary benefits to assist with the total management of pain and pain syndromes.


Complementary interventions work with other systems in the body to address pain in ways that are not ‘invasive’, meaning that they work through the surface of the body. There are so many wonderful methods to explore, many of which can assist your traditional medical interventions to boost effects or to work on adapting your response to the pain. If you decide to explore some of these services, it is very important to keep an open mind! Most of us do not realize how much our views are colored by judgements and biases against interventions that are not familiar to us, or for which there is minimal ‘research’ based on the western scientific peer-reviewed process. A lack of research does not always mean that research ‘proves that the intervention doesn’t work’ but instead means that no one has performed research on a method for which there are examples of improvement based on patient reports. The complementary methods that will be highlighted here have been practiced for hundreds of years with constant reports from experiencers that improvement occured. If you are still skeptical, then don’t stress yourself over trying something different. Stress and worry will actually increase your pain levels.


The services that will be highlighted today are: meditation and hypnotherapy, sound baths and targeted sound, and therapeutic massage. Acupuncture is another excellent service, but I will not address that one today.


Meditation and Hypnosis: Since I am also a Clinically Certified Hypnotherapist, I utilize meditation and Hypnosis to assist clients to address a number of concerns. Meditation can be used often- I recommend it daily- to develop a greater sense of calm and self-awareness using mindful techniques. For people who are new to meditation, I recommend guided meditation. This is a performed by someone who is trained to guide the client through a process of relaxation and quieting of the mind and body, using imagery and breathing. If you don’t want to go to a class or to a practitioner, there are several apps for your smart phone or tablet that provide guided meditations of varying lengths based on specific goals, intentions, or subjects. The more consistently this is done, the easier it becomes and the benefits occur more quickly. Calming the mind, and the body, can create physical relaxation, stop the fight-or-flight response and reduce stress-inducing chemicals in the body, as well as calm the cardiovascular system to reduce physical resistance in the body. Common effects of meditation include lowering blood pressures, easing muscle tension, calming the mind, and better breath control. What’s not to love about this? Clinical Hypnosis is provided by a practitioner who has education and has qualifications to address a number of clinical conditions, phobias, fears, and limitations by reframing thoughts, beliefs, and ideas using the client’s words and goals after the guiding the client into a trance state that is similar to the dream state. The client has full control and receives other tools and practice exercises to support the new thought process and mindset to meet their goals. Hypnosis is utilized in some areas of medical care such as cancer treatment to aid in the reduction of pain. I also provide very successful hypnosis for client with autoimmune disorders- such as MS- specifically to address pain and fatigue issues. These are two excellent examples of working with the mind to address chronic pain and discomfort.


Sound Baths and Targeted Sound: Sometimes referred to as ‘sound healing’ or sound therapy’, this is the use of specific musical tones to create vibration on or around the body. This type of modality is provided by using tuning forks, crystal bowls, crystal pyramids, brass bowls, chimes, and is provided by someone who has training to provide sounds and vibration to the body. I, too am certified in sound healing, so I have a love of these tools. A sound bath is typically provided using singing or crystal bowls and pyramids, sometimes with gongs and chimes, in order to create a ‘bath’ of sound and vibration throughout the room. It is often used in combination with meditation or yoga to round out the mind-body experience. Because the musical tones are associated with the chakras of the body- chakras refer to the energy centers of the body that have an associated vibration and color, and respond to sounds that produce the same vibration. The vibrations and the tones produce a sensory response that can be both calming and invigorating. Targeted sound is produced over or directly on the body and directed at specific chakras in order to harmonize the flow of energy in the body. Since the chakras influence specific moods and energetic actions in the human body, the sounds and the subsequent vibrations, can address how the body feels. These methods can address the sensory system on the surfaces of the body and many people report that they feel much better- including having less pain- after an application of sound/vibration to the body. It is worth the experience simply to discover how the body feels afterward.



Therapeutic Massage: A licensed massage therapist or a licensed physical therapist can provide different techniques to the skin and underlying muscles and fascia in order to increase blood flow into the tissues, move stagnant fluids back into the blood stream, and increase relaxation throughout the body. Typically, massage can be accessed through any spa or massage studio for varying lengths of time and pressures. A physical therapist is a medical practitioner, so more advanced techniques are used to alter the actual soft tissues themselves, typically as part of an overall plan of care to bring the body back to optimum movement and balance through a variety of interventions. The goal with PT is to correct movement and function and not to provide relaxation as it is with massage itself. Either way, chronic pain can be improved using either massage or physical therapy manual therapies and movement therapies to improve the comfort and function of the human body. PT is usually covered by medical insurance, and massage might be covered depending on your plan and location.



I hope this provides some guidance into accessing complementary services that can support and augment, your medical pain management treatment plan. Emotions, feelings, thoughts, movements, medical conditions, and other issues impact how we manage and address pain.

Since we are all very different in our approach to life, have differing beliefs and biases, and since we experience pain and discomfort differently, it is helpful to have other options if your pain isn’t responding to your current methods.


We are energy beings experiencing life and surviving in a muscle suit, yet most of our approaches target the muscle suit only. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but I like to remind everyone that when you change your perspective, you can literally change your mind…..and the body too. The more you know, the more you grow!


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