By Barby Ingle, Columnist
I often hear from pain patients who say that they have tried everything to help lower or relieve their pain levels. Many times what they mean is that their healthcare provider did all they could, and they got minimal or no relief and gave up.
We must realize that providers don’t have all the answers, insurance doesn’t cover all the options that may help, and there are new treatments and therapies that may lower your pain. Many of these treatment modalities are not covered by insurance – so providers may not even offer them. Access to them is limited unless you know your options and create a plan to get them.
Many of these treatment modalities are not covered by insurance – so providers may not even offer them. Access to them is limited unless you know your options and create a plan to get them.
In my next few columns I’m going to focus on some of these treatments, starting with the 4 A’s: acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy and art therapy.
When it comes to acupressure, you can go to a practitioner or you can learn to do the techniques on yourself at home for free. The practitioner works with your pressure points, which are known as meridians. Putting pressure on these meridian points can reduce muscle tension, improve circulation and stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. All can help lower pain levels.
They are also said to work on your body’s energy field, mind, emotions and spirit. A session with a practitioner lasts about an hour, but you can learn the techniques and do them on your own or with a caregiver.
During the session, you’ll usually lay on a flat comfortable massage table or bed. Some of the pressure points in your hands can be treated while sitting and watching a movie or TV show.
The pressure point that works best for me to calm my mind, improve memory, relieve stress, lower fatigue, and reduce my migraines and insomnia is known as the Third Eye Acupressure point.
Acupuncture is a little more invasive than acupressure. Due to having a small nerve fiber disease, it is not the best option for me, but I know others who love it.
Acupuncture practitioners insert very small needles through your skin at acupuncture/meridian points. Some potential side effects can be temporary soreness, minor bleeding or bruising at the needle sites. If the needle is pushed in too deeply, it can damage muscles and organs. These are rare complication, but make sure you use an experienced practitioner.
Lower back pain is the number one reason people seek this form of treatment, and there are hundreds of clinical studies that show acupuncture can be beneficial for musculoskeletal issues like back and neck pain.
It can also help with nausea, migraines, depression, anxiety and insomnia, all challenges we can face as pain patients. There is promising evidence acupuncture helps with arthritis, spinal stenosis and inflammation.
Although relief is typically short-term for acupuncture and many other treatments, it can still give the patient back some quality of life.
Have you ever smelled something that took you back to a time and place when good things happened in your life? Like apple pie reminding you of July 4th celebrations as a child? Or pumpkin pie bringing back memories of Thanksgiving dinner? Or good times raking up the leaves in the yard?
Aromatherapy can help you get in a good mood for meditation. I use it for migraines and taking the edge off my pain levels. You can use essential oils that help with specific challenges you are facing. You just massage them into your skin or put a dab on your temples. I also use a scented light in my house to keep positive vibes flowing.
This type of therapy has been around for many years, but started to become popular in the 1980’s. Lotions, candles, oils and teas can fill your house with good smells and memories to take the edge off your pain levels. Some promote physical healing, emotional healing, relaxation, and calming properties.
When using a practitioner who combines massage with aromatherapy, the session lasts about an hour and usually involves essential oils. This way your skin absorbs the oils and you also breathe their aroma at the same time. Plus, you experience the physical therapy of the massage itself.
Evidence as to how aromatherapy works is not entirely clear. But it provides relief for many different conditions, including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer pain, headaches, itching, insomnia, constipation, anxiety, and agitation. Studies have shown that chronic pain patients require fewer pain medications when they use aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy products can be inexpensive and are more attainable for low income and underinsured patients.
There are many forms of art therapy, from music, dancing and writing to painting, sculpting and even just watching someone else perform. One of my favorites for dystonia is working on impossible puzzles.
Art therapy can enhance one’s mood, improve emotions, and reduce stress and depression. If we can get these challenges under control, then the stress hormones and chemicals they produce in our body that aggravate pain can be lessened.
Art therapy can also help heal emotional injuries. Think of it as a form of mindfulness where we develop our capacity for self-reflection, which can alter behavior and negative thinking patterns. These forms of expression can be done at home, while on a car ride, in a quiet place during a trip or even at a rock concert as you dance and sway to the beat of the music.
Like aromatherapy, music can help bring back positive memories and get our minds off pain. I believe music is the most accessible and productive art therapy for lowering pain levels.
These techniques may be strange to you, but remember to keep an open mind and realize that there is more you can do in between doctors’ appointments to make your days better and more purposeful.
Whether you choose any of these four treatment modalities or find another that is right for you, keep looking for those things in your life that you have control over and have access to. Find ways to make the most out of life despite the physical and mental pain you may be experiencing.
Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at her website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.