Aquatic therapy is an excellent form of physical exercise which can be a critical component to helping patient’s find a ‘cure’ for their chronic pain. Water is one of the oldest mediums of physical treatment with both physiological and psychological benefits. Water provides an environment where one can move and exercise with little or no pain which can significantly lower stress on the joints. The buoyancy provided by water allows chronic pain patients the ability to move with less effort. Exercise in water allows for improved flexibility and ease of stretch. The activity of water therapy also helps to boost natural endorphin levels a key to healing. Staying active in a less stressful controlled water environment improves a patient’s quality of life, improves mood and can decrease a patient’s fear of pain.
Aquatic therapy represents a positive, rewarding and useful activity for enhancing mood. It can help build hope and provide the motivation to continue activity. Aquatic therapy provides an environment where patient’s can focus on their abilities, not disabilities. As we have mentioned in previous articles, becoming an active participant and enrolling in aquatic therapy is a positive decision our patients can make to decrease and control, possibly even cure, their pain.
This is likely the most obvious of our recommendations for finding a ‘cure’ for a patient’s pain but also one of the most unlikely to be followed. Maybe it’s our hectic lifestyle or just the fact that fast food is so cheap and convenient. Either way, patients inherently know that fast food is horrible for their general health and for pain but they just can’t avoid it.
Fast food is not only quick to be prepared, but also contain some special group of fats that are known to be extremely harmful for the whole body, including for your joints. These fats, either saturated or trans can make the joints weaker and increase inflammatory markers. Alongside with trans and saturated fats, fast food contain high levels of sugar which also increases inflammatory markers and increases pain. Fast food also contains high levels of sodium, it is the main component of all non-organic pieces in a burger and usually it is the common ingredient that brings the whole taste to your meal.
Fast food with it’s high levels of sodium, sugars, trans fats and carbohydrates combines to form what we like to call the pain bomb cocktail. This cocktail is further enhanced in Fibromyalgia patients as almost half Fibro patients suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and leaky gut. Fast food also directly increases the likelihood of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle which in the long run will put more stress on joints and increase pain. Fast food will also increase the likeliness of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetic patients are at increased risk of peripheral neuropathies and chronic pain conditions.
Research an anti inflammatory diet lifestyle and you will feel significantly better within a few weeks.
The origins of soda drinks can be traced to a pharmacist that wanted to stimulate the brain by creating a mixture that contained cocaine. Despite the removal of the cocaine, though, many more drugs that activate the brain remain in these popular drinks like caffeine, sugar and flavor enhancers. More and more popular drinks are heavily loaded with caffeine, known to give people an energy boast and, when consumed regularly, these drinks also cause caffeine dependency. The constant ups and downs of a caffeine roller coaster ride cause headaches, insomnia, mood instability and pain. Caffeine is a brain stimulant, a drug that can over-stimulate the brain and sometimes even cause death.
Sugar in soda is also a drug. Sugar not only stimulates the brain and causes dependency, it also harms the body in other ways. Complications from sugar include diabetes, a disease hallmarked by the harmful effects of frequent blood sugar spikes and consistently high blood sugar levels. Anyone who is experiencing pain should be extra cautious about avoiding anything that contains sugar because sugar promotes inflammation and inflammation leads to pain. In addition to sugar, sodas contain another, lesser known chemical that can lead to more pain, Aspartame. For years, researchers have reported about the potential harmful effects of Aspartame, a flavor enhancer. The effects are primarily seen in the nervous system such as: headaches, depression, anxiety and blurred vision. This chemical is meant to stimulate the taste buds but it appears to do more than that in some people. Aspartame could even contribute to a painful experience by sensitizing the nervous system.
We have seen dramatic pain relief in patients who eliminate soda, specifically in patients with neuropathic pain and Fibromyalgia.
To ‘cure’ your pain a patient must learn patience. Your chronic pain is a complex web that developed through a course of misfortunate events and set up an engrained neurological pathway signal of pain to your brain. We give the example of a girl walking across a dewy meadow. A girl walks across the meadow in the morning, you would not see her path later in the day. However, if that same girl walks across the meadow everyday for the next 6 months, even if she then misses one day you will be able to see the path she has walked. This is the same as chronic pain patterns.
It took a long time to get to the point of your chronic pain and your ‘cure’ will also take a period of time and be a process to heal. Don’t expect any magical healthcare provider to be able to solve all your ills in one visit. Instead, understand that a patient with patience and understanding will have the best results. Patience also helps to curb anxiety that intensifies pain and hinders the healing process.
We recommend mindful meditation, prayer, exercise or relaxation techniques to help patients practice patience. These techniques will help decrease stress cortisol levels, boost natural endorphins and will help patients become more in tune with their body and help the healing process.
To ‘cure’ your pain you will need to actively seek a health care team dedicated to achieving your goals. Although our practice is only one example, you will want to seek providers that take a multidimensional approach. Ideally you will have a healthcare provider who can manage any approach medication options needed. Find a provider that doesn’t treat you like cattle. Find a provider that takes the time to know their patients and not someone who kicks you out the door after 10 minutes. Avoid the ‘pill mill’ clinics! If you suffer with underlying anxiety and depression, which is almost every patient, you will want to also work with a pain psychologist or psychiatrist to help with coping skills.
Some alternative add-ons that we recommend would involve joining a pain support group, either one specifically for your pain condition or one for chronic pain. Having a support group to vent at, share ideas, share victories or frustrations is a critical component. I like to call it the “Oprah effect” as Oprah has done wonders with addressing issues and bringing them into the viewer’s living room. So can these support groups be your “Oprah effect”.
As you become a more active participant, we then encourage our patients to actively seek an exercise instructor with experience in pain patients. Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, aquatic Therapy are all wonderful examples of improving strength and flexibility while decreasing pain.
The goal is finding the right members to fill out your pain fighting team!
Chronic pain and depression are so closely linked that a viscous cycle can easily set in if one does not honestly address and treat any underlying depression. Studies show that patients with chronic pain have lower levels of the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine compared to patients not in pain. Lower levels of these hormones are known to lead to depression and anxiety. Combine these physiological lower levels of hormones with the frustration patient’s feel regarding their lower quality of life and limitations from their pain and you have a set up for patients to fall into a feeling of hopelessness.
The first step toward finding your ‘cure’ and treating pain is to work to attack depression directly. Depression is a medical condition that should be treated with a multimodality approach. We work with our patients on setting up successful coping skills and techniques to improve their outlook on pain and depression. For a good amount of patients, working with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist will also be a valuable member of a patient’s pain fighting team. There are prescription medications that not only treat depression related issues but also have FDA indications for pain. Cymbalta is one example, it has FDA indications for Fibromyalgia, Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, chronic low back pain as well as anxiety and depression.
For patients that want to avoid traditional pharmacological medications, supplements like Magnesium have been used to treat stress and are an excellent smooth muscle relaxant. If you want to avoid pills all together, meditation and exercise are two successful strategies that every patient would benefit from. Both meditation and exercise boost endorphin levels, decrease stress hormone levels and give patients an improved outlook on life.
Finally, anyone with depression issues need to find someone to talk with, whether that be a support group, licensed professional, or a close friend. Releasing stress through the power of conversation is vital in helping patients gain both insight and learn tools to better cope with pain and depression.
Chronic pain is a misunderstood and complex condition to treat. Research on the biology and neurobiology of pain has shown a relationship between spirituality and pain. Using a number of cognitive and behavioral strategies to cope with pain, including religious/spiritual factors, such as prayer or seeking spiritual support to manage pain is an essential component to finding a ‘cure’ for your pain.
Many patients confuse spirituality with religion. Although the two can overlap there is a difference between the religion and spirituality. Religion is an organized faith system grounded in institutional practices while spirituality is grounded in personal beliefs and practices that can be expresses with or without a specific formal religious belief.
The role of spirituality in treating chronic pain is vital as it helps patients to create a meaning and purpose that is essential in fighting chronic pain. Spirituality can help patients cope with the physical as well as the psychological component to chronic pain. The psychological meaning that patients assign to their pain impacts how they process their pain long term.
Spirituality lies in the sense of connection and inner strength and peace that individuals derive from the relationship with themselves, others, nature and possibly a connection to a specific religion. The role of a more spiritual patient is vital to improving a patient’s overall well-being and quality of life. This improved well being takes time and training to accomplish but works through visualization, meditation, positive thinking and possibly even prayer.
A sense of connection to one’s environment, nature and a higher power helps to give patient’s an improved outlook on their treatment and significantly improved outcomes in treating their pain. Patients that find the ability to improve their inner strength will have an improved outlook, a sense of purpose and will lead them to their ‘cure’.