Acute and Chronic Pain… Causes and Natural Treatment options
It is among the strongest motivational forces in our culture – and for those who’ve experienced it, that may be an understatement. Pain, both acute and chronic, can stop you in your tracks, prevent you from doing the things you need or want to do every day. And sometimes it seems that no matter what one tries, different postures, medications, etc… it just doesn’t seem to go away, rather remaining at a constant level or increasing and decreasing continuously. There are so many questions about pain: “What is it really?” “Why is it there?” and “What can be done about it?”
Overview of Pain
Pain defined: Pain is an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience experienced with actual or anticipated tissue damage.
Pain is actually, believe it or not, actually both beneficial and detrimental:
It is a good thing because: it is present as a survival mechanism.
The primary purpose of pain is to act like an alarm in the body. It’s sending your brain a message that there is something wrong that needs to be dealt with. Dealing with that pain may mean removing a stimulus (for example a thorn in your foot), resting (sore muscles after a run) or treating the damaged tissue in some way (heat, ice, massage, etc…). Good pain is there for a limited, and then goes away when the tissue is healed.
Pain teaches us a valuable lesson, one that’s less likely to be forgotten than if it didn’t occur. How many people would remember that touching a hot stove can damage the skin on your hand if they didn’t feel the pain associated with it?
FYI: There is actually a rare disease called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA) where the nervous system prevents the sensation of pain. The affected individuals are in constant danger of injuring themselves (leaving a hand on the stove, excessive overheating/freezing, etc), and many even die from the lack of pain sensations that are meant to be protective.
It is a bad thing when: it doesn’t go away.
This can occur for a variety of reasons including: failing to remove a stimulus or allow the body to rest are the primary acute reasons. However considering that 1/5 of Canadians experience recurrent or chronic pain, there is obviously another reason.
There are two main types of pain, and they are managed and treated differently.
Acute Pain: Is generally associated with perception and anticipation of pain
Is present 3 months or less
Is caused by tissue damage
Is a result of real physical damage to the tissue
Is intended to improve survival of the individual
Is typically less difficult to treat and resolve
Chronic Pain: Is often an emotional association to pain
Is present for longer than 3 months
Is caused by nerve sensitivity and is an emotional response
Is no longer a result of physical damage (the real damage had typically healed)
Is not a survival mechanism
Is complex and may be more difficult to treat
A major difference between Acute and Chronic pain is that chronic pain is a “Learned” pain. The body/nervous system becomes used to feeling it, and in effect becomes “rewired” and progressively better at experiencing it. This is what makes it more of an obstacle to treat. Not only is there no longer any localized damage actually present in the tissue; we have to go about treating the thoughts and emotions as well.
In Naturopathic Medicine, our focus is on helping the body achieve balance and therefore to heal itself. We aim to treat acute pain so that symptoms can be resolved and chronic pain can be avoided, and we also work to bring resolution to any chronic pain that might be present so that relief can be finally obtained.
Naturopathic Treatment of pain will begin with identification of the cause of pain through in-depth questioning about causes and compounding factors, physical examination, and occasionally lab testing. The focus then turns to addressing your pain and correcting any other factors (for example lifestyle and dietary) that may be negatively impacting both healing and the pain perception.
When pain is finally managed, your Naturopath will work with you to prevent recurrence of pain and maintain optimal tissue function so that you can resume your daily life in a healthy, pain-free way. This may include some or all of: education about exercise and strengthening protocols, dietary monitoring, supplemental therapy and/or maintenance treatments, depending on the individual.
Naturopathic Modalities for the treatment of Pain.
Naturopaths have many treatment options at hand for dealing with many different types of pain, both acute and chronic, physical and emotional. These may include one or a combination of:
Analgesics, while often excellent and often recommended in the short term, don’t address the actual cause of the pain, and are therefore not appropriate long-term treatments for actually resolving the symptoms. They are simply a type of “band-aid” that covers up pain as opposed to actually assisting with tissue healing.
A note about analgesics of any kind: be cautious with their use – they can actually be detrimental if they prevent pain so much that you fail to seek treatment for the actual problem, letting it instead become more of a hard-wired, chronic pain rather than the physical acute pain it started as.
Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
Counseling regarding Proper nutrition and Adequate hydration
This can help reduce inflammation, modulate pain and strengthen tissue to help prevent future injury
Stress reduction and Counseling
To help deal with the emotional components that may accompany the pain and impacted quality of life as well as any anxiety or depression that may have resulted from your injury.
Sleep and relaxation
Critical components for both physical and emotional healing, these can become compromised by your pain sensations as well as from the stress you may be feeling.
Certain vitamins, minerals, cofactors and other medicines are known to be anti-inflammatory, pain modulating and tissue restoring. Additionally, supplements are often very useful for the stress and emotional components (anxiety, depression or fear) that may accompany pain symptoms.
Other Naturopathic Therapies:
Acupuncture has been used for centuries and is a proven treatment for both acute and chronic pain. The use of extremely fine needles into specific points along the meridians of the body helps stimulate organs to re-achieve a harmonious balance of Qi (energy) so that the body can return to a pain-free, healthy state.
Depending on your practitioner and your particular situation, acupuncture may be used either alone or in combination with mild electrical stimulation or cupping therapies.
Acupuncture also is extremely beneficial for working on stress reduction and improvement in sleep patterns that are commonly impacted when one is in pain.
There are many herbs that are known for their effects on pain modulation. Depending on the particular herb they may act as anti-inflammatories, be numbing agents, temporarily block pain signals, etc.
Herbal therapies are also excellent for treating other symptoms that may accompany pain such as insomnia, stress, depression and anxiety, etc.
This treatment modality involves the use of injection therapy into acupuncture points, nerve sites, scars and muscle trigger points to relieve pain and dysfunction throughout the body. This is accomplished by using combinations procaine (a local anesthetic) with or without the addition of specific homeopathic medicines into the areas of disturbance in order to allow the nerves to flow freely, optimal body function to occur and pain to resolve.
Neural Therapy is used both as a treatment for acute pain by treating the damaged tissue, as well as for chronic pain by helping to reestablish healthy free nerve flow and functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which are impacted when pain and tissue damage occur.
Physical Activity and Stretching
Education will focus around exercise and stretching protocols that are most beneficial for helping you break free from your pain patterns and re-align your muscle and joints in a safe way.
Guidelines are specifically developed to for the individual, as not two pain patterns are the same. This is true regardless of whether it is acute or chronic, purely physical or a combination of physical and emotional (for which appropriate physical activity and stretching is just as important).
If you or someone you know is suffering from pain, rest assures that there is help available. The keys are persistence and ensuring you work with the correct practitioner who will use the appropriate treatment for you. Naturopaths are knowledgeable, trained and ready to help you achieve complete, permanent pain relief, as well as both physical and emotional balance!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND