Did you know, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 1 in 5 Australians aged 45 and over live with persistent, ongoing pain? The act and function of pain is such a relevant topic to so many of us, that there is a facet of healthcare dedicated to the relief of pain by an array of pain management personnel such as medical practitioners, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists or even massage therapists. Some of these health professionals provide some measure of pain control in the normal course of their practice, though for the more complex, additional medical specialty in the form of pain medicine, typically pain-relieving analgesics may be employed.
Do you experience 'acute' or 'chronic' pain?
Pain can be experienced in varying dimensions. From acute and simple, which refers to a sudden onset of symptoms and typically characterized by the beginning stage of an illness or condition. It is a simple issue if the pain symptoms can be directly and immediately attributable to a particular or known cause. On the other hand, pain can be deemed chronic, if it is recurring in nature and persists for a long time. In which case, coordinated efforts by the pain management team is ideal, as it is often useful to have a multidisciplinary approach when it comes to easing pain. Medicines and medical practices and recommendations by these health personnel treats injuries as well as diseases in support of healing, but sometimes pain management does not bring total eradication of pain. To be more precise, the objective of effective pain management is to ease suffering whilst assisting the patient or individual to achieve a satisfactory quality of life, despite living with pain.
Understanding the pain cycle can help an individual living in pain to manage pain more effectively. Whether, the pain originates from an injury, which creates pain and inflammation leading to other imbalances within the body, such as muscle imbalances and other issues. It is important to be aware that when we get into unergonomic body movements to compensate for these imbalances, we must be mindful that it does not cycle to cause other injury and increase pain down the track. After all, pain, stress, tiredness, and depression all affect each other and can have a cumulative impact on one’s overall wellbeing.
It is important to understand the role of analgesics or painkillers in managing pain, as analgesics can have side effects. Though considered safe to take for shorter periods of time as directed by your health professional, combining certain analgesics for instance can lead to depression or even addiction and other health issues.
Hence, non-pharmacological treatments should be explored first where possible, especially for children because there are less risks, and often more cost effective compared to analgesics. On the other hand, if pain is left untreated- it can lead to loss of motion and further suffering. So, understanding the pain cycle will help you take some degree of control in your life.
Try different techniques to determine what works best for you.
A good approach to pain management is the notion of self-management via the individual’s own monitoring of their symptoms, even goal setting and determining any present or future actions required.
Not surprisingly, for people that experience ongoing pain, the word ‘exercise’ can often bring with it, a certain level of fear. It is important to recognise the difference between exercise to assist with recovery from acute pain and exercise for persistent pain. The British Pain Society explains that “exercise for persistent pain is designed to help you best use and build on what you can do”, sometimes this could mean core muscle exercises to help build core strength for support and stability. Alternatively, a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to stiff joints, weak muscles and poor fitness, long term this lack of exercise could lead to diabetes and other health conditions. Exercise can be general or specific, general exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling is more cardio based, good for improving overall fitness and for weight management. Specific exercises are devised for strengthening certain muscles or joints on a case-by-case basis. The advice of an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist can be particularly useful, as they can come up with a bespoke and specific exercise program for the individual.
Classified as a complementary therapy, remedial massage aims to treat damaged, knotted, tense or immobile muscles via application of pressure points within the body. Massage is helpful for the body to regain full strength following an injury. It can also speed up recovery periods, improve muscle suppleness, range of motion and over time, alleviates muscle adhesions and even scar tissues.
Originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, it involves the practitioner using needles to unblock stagnant energies and to stimulate the different points within the body’s meridian systems as needed. Physical manipulation of the body or the use of herbs are often included in a session. Acupuncture, being a segment of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and like other natural therapies, it tends to have a more holistic approach. Patients are treated intimately from a holistic perspective rather than just treating the symptoms.
Using concentrated oils extracted from plants for general health promotion or for treating illnesses is known as essential oil therapy or aromatherapy. These highly scented extracts commonly referred to as essential oils contain substances that not only give plants their various smell, but they are also reputed to have varying medicinal benefits. Sandalwood oil for instance can be used to mitigate anxiety, enhance relaxation, and to rebalance our mental and physiological aspects of ourselves. It is useful for managing pain as it helps create a more positive outlook. Additionally, pain from sinus headaches or migraines can often benefit from inhalation of sandalwood oil. Much like eucalyptus essential oil, breathing in sandalwood deeply can assist to dissipate congestions in the head. Since variables in any environment is never constant, and so too are our bodies. In this way, aromatherapy has a pivotal support role in enhancing wellbeing as a complementary practice.
The basis of homeopathy is in the belief that the body is resilient and can cure itself. Homeopathic remedies can be explained as vibrational therapies typically made with specific plant and minerals. It is largely based on the theory that ‘like cures like’. Arnica with its incredible anti-inflammatory properties, is a well-known remedy for improving muscular or joint pain. It is particularly useful to decrease swelling from injuries sustained and can often reduce post-recovery time after sustaining injuries. Chamomilla is another notable homeopathic remedy, ideal for situations such as minor ear pain, teething, colic, and even back pain such as sciatica. It is a good idea to consult a homeopath before dosing, alternatively there are many self-help books on homeopathy available on the market.
Herbal balms and blends of herbs with superior anti-inflammatory properties are easily accessible and suited to managing pain naturally. A good example is the Mt Romance Deep Rub Ointment, a natural ointment consisting of a blend of active essential oils: sandalwood, wintergreen, tea tree, camphor, and menthol. In fact, for acute pain situations, applying sore muscle or joint balms can often provide some degree of immediate relief.
Overall, one’s emotional wellbeing and outlook can certainly impact the ability to manage pain. As you can see, understanding the cause as well as the pain cycle can assist individuals to manage and cope with pain. From here, individuals experiencing pain, can seek professional advice or even come up with further strategies and techniques that best suit their situation, in their pain management journey.
Though analgesics has a clear space in pain management, exercise and massage are two other, more accessible pain management methods that ultimately functions to break up the chronic pain cycles. For extra weight accumulated due to overeating while in depressed states for instance will only exasperate the condition for pain. Other alternative therapies like acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, and pain-relieving balms are other more natural, non-pharmaceutical methods to manage pain.
If you are an individual living with pain, perhaps coming to terms with pain by not denying or fearing it- is the best way to approach the issue at hand. As in the words by C.S Lewis, ‘hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny’.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Chronic Pain in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 267. Canberra: AIHW.
The British Pain Society 2022. London, UK: The British Pain Society | An alliance of professionals advancing the understanding and management of pain for the benefit of patients
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Lennihan. B, Homeopathy for Pain Management, Mary Ann Li8ebert Inc Publishers, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 2017, Vol 23 (5), p.176-183. doi: 10.1089/act.2017.29129.ble