By Barby Ingle, Columnist
Continuing with my series on alternative pain therapies, I find it interesting that those who have not tried the treatments I cover are often the most vocal about whether they help or not.
I want to remind readers that I am not suggesting that these are cures for any chronic pain condition, but more a way to possibly lower pain and stress levels, and increase daily activities.
Also, please consider that pain can be bio-psycho-social in nature and may not always have a physical cause. I work with over 150 conditions in my advocacy work, and have learned that not all patients -- even with the same diseases -- respond to the same treatments. Most of the people I know that are in remission or have learned to lower or manage their pain levels are using multiple techniques and treatment options.
The four E’s I will introduce you to are energy therapy, electromagnetic therapy, equine therapy, and exercise.
Energy therapies, such as therapeutic touch and magnetic healing, are commonly referred to as bio-field therapies in the alternative medicine area. Supporters of these therapies believe “energy fields” flow through and around our bodies, and that when energy is flowing freely we have good emotional, physical and spiritual health. When the energy field is blocked, we become ill.
In therapeutic touch, also known as Rieke, attendants use their hands to find “blockages” and touch the patient at the blockage sites to remove the harmful energy, replacing it with their own healthy energy. In magnetic healing, the therapist places magnets at the blockage sites.
I tried an energy therapy session once and was actually in more pain when the therapist stopped than when she started. I remained fully clothed and lay down on a massage table as the therapist moved her hands just above my body. Because I have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and parts of my body are very sensitive, I choose the version with no touch.
It didn’t work for me and I was told it was because the therapist didn’t follow my energy field properly. I was stressed the whole time, worried that she was going to touch me and how painful it would be.
Energy therapy is mainly used to ease symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, pain, nausea or vomiting. Some believe it even improves quality of life. Many people say that they feel more relaxed, calm and peaceful after an energy therapy session. I was afraid the whole time, so I didn’t get this effect.
Some studies suggest that energy therapies work because the person experiences the focused and caring presence of a therapist, rather than a change in energy flow. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of energy therapy, but if you are looking for a way to help lower stress and relax, this maybe a choice for you.
Proponents of electromagnetic therapy (ET) claim that by applying low frequency electromagnetic radiation to your body that it can help lower pain levels, promote cell growth, improve blood circulation and bone repair, increase wound healing, and enhance sleep.
I tried this therapy for three months with an ET mat that I would lay on for an hour each day. The heat from the mat was relaxing and helped my circulation, but I can’t say that it worked any better than a heating blanket.
The practitioner who had me try the mat said that it could help with a wide range of symptoms and conditions, such as headaches, migraines, chronic pain, nerve disorders, spinal injuries, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. I think due to the increase in blood flow from the heated mat that I did get some temporary and slight pain relief.
The National Institutes of Health says there is a lack of scientific evidence about electromagnetic therapy and the American Cancer Society warns that "relying on electromagnetic treatment alone and avoiding conventional medical care may have serious health consequences."
As the name implies, equine therapy makes use of horses (and sometimes elephants, cats, dogs and even dolphins) to help promote emotional growth. It helps to try it with an animal that can mirror human behavior. A horse is considered most effective because it can respond immediately and give feedback to the patient’s actions and behaviors.
Last year the movie "Unbridled" was released and it covered this type of therapy for physical and emotional pain. The movie is unforgettable and an uplifting story of redemption, healing, and overcoming some of life’s greatest obstacles.
Equine therapy is usually offered for patients with attention deficit problems, anxiety, autism, dementia, delays in mental development, Downs’s syndrome, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues, and other mental health issues.
The reason why eqine therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field is that some horse riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly to humans in their social and responsive behavior, it is easier for patients to establish connection with a horse.
I think this is an interesting concept when it comes to emotional pain. Although I haven’t done equine therapy myself, I have been intrigued over the years with the idea. That said, caring for a dog was hard for me and I can’t imagine taking care of a horse.
I think the word “exercise” has many different connotations for every person who hears it. Before starting any exercise program, precautions are needed to make sure you can do physical activities without further damage to your body. I have experienced unpleasant and painful exercise, which only served to make my pain worse.
I have found that there are some exercises that are better for me than others. For instance, I can walk now for a few minutes each hour. That is more than I have done in years and I had to work my way up to it. Other pain friends can do a moderate program on stationary bicycles for 30 minutes at a time a few times a week.
I have one friend who is doing full weight bearing activities. It causes her flares, yet she chooses to keep pushing her body until she reaches a crash.
Please be sure to consult with a doctor before starting to exercise. Some studies suggest that moderate amounts of exercise can change your perception of pain and help you better perform activities of daily living.
It’s important to keep an open mind on what can help lower pain levels. There is no single technique or one size that fits all. From my own experience of living 20 years with chronic pain, I have explored many different options and done a fair amount of research before deciding if they were right for me to try.
Using a multiple modality approach is often key to lowering pain levels. Nothing I have tried has been a cure, but many did help in some way.
Whether it’s one of the 4 E’s or a combination of treatments, I hope you find what helps give you a better life and that you will have continued access to it while we continue our quest for a cure.
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.