When my father was in his early twenties, he was bucked off a horse and landed directly on his left shoulder and neck. Since he didn’t go to a hospital or seek medical care in the proceeding months, he has developed chronic pain in his neck and shoulder; chronic pain that has literally lasted a lifetime.
This pain is something that a large group of people in the world know all too well, as chronic pain is a frequently occurring health issues that many people face.
100 million people in the U.S. live with chronic pain, with 6 out of 10 of those people experiencing pain so severe it impacts their quality of life severely.
On a global scale, 1 in 7 people are hindered by chronic pain. This constitutes as the leading cause of long-term disability in the world.
Chronic pain is not only difficult to live with, it’s also extremely costly. It’s estimated to cost society between $560-$635 billion each year. This is equal to everyone in the U.S. paying $2000 a year.
Many people opt for invasive treatments like surgeries or treat chronic pain with heavy painkillers. These have problematic, sometimes catastrophic, side effects. Addiction to painkillers has hit epidemic levels.
So what are some less invasive options for pain management? What healthy alternatives are out there?
Many people stray away from acupuncture if they are afraid of needles. However, acupuncture needles are so small that they rarely cause any pain. They actually barely even break the skin. The process of acupuncture feels like releasing a pressure valve in your body. It’s even euphoric for some people.
Acupuncture is something that’s proven to help me manage pain associated with sitting in front of a computer for long hours. When I was experiencing waves of lower back pain and soreness in my wrists I started going to community acupuncture clinic. These types of clinics clinics offer services to people at sliding-scale rates that are based loosely on how much money you make. Many places will even see patients with no medical insurance.
Related: Find an acupuncturist near you
Massage and Chiropractic Work
If it’s within your budget or your health insurance plan, massages and realignments can make a substantial difference. A lot these places are able to fluctuate prices if you just ask, especially if it’s your first time there or if you plan to pay for multiple sessions.
Additionally, check deal sites such as Groupon for special rates on massage and chiropractic services. It may take a little bit more planning with this approach but you can save a lot of money when you pay these services well in advance at promotional rates.
Related: Find a chiropractor near you
Stretching and Yoga
One of the best ways to start your day is by warming up with stretches and yoga.
I go through a simple stretching routine as soon as wake up each morning. Most days I also use a yoga app on my iPhone to jumpstart my day (there are numerous user-friendly options for both Android and iOS).
Studies have shown that yoga and stretching assist in managing chronic pain. This is because yoga not only makes us more limber and flexible, it also eliminates stress and releases endorphins into our body. Another main reason to stretch and do yoga as much as possible is that it releases muscle tension which oftentimes causes a lot of pain.
Related: Find a yoga instructor near you
An Overhauled Diet
Sometimes pain can be amplified by poor diet choices. Over-eating processed foods and meals full of preservatives and additives has been shown to negatively impact fibromyalgia and other digestive disorders like IBS and Crohn's.
Cut back on yeast and gluten, dairy, carbs. Eliminate additives and chemicals in food such as aspartame, and MSG and pack plenty of Omega-3’s, healthy fats, and clean protein sources into your diet.
Up your superfood and vegetable intake and focus on antioxidants, which is actually a promising alternative painkiller of the future. Experiment with supplements, detoxes, and even IV boosts for a supercharged approach.
Perhaps the most controversial form of alternative treatment on this list is the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain. Whatever stance you take, there is no denying the fact that medical cannabis has proven to be an effective alternative treatment for pain and other illnesses.
A previous Wellness article points out that cannabis helps treat epilepsy, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Crohn's Disease, Arthritis, and PTSD. It also helps people with eating disorders and is frequently used to treat pain.
It’s important to point out the distinct differences between the two active components of cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD):
Currently 8 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis use and 29 states allow marijuana to be used medically. There are only seven states left in the U.S. that do not allow medical marijuana or CBD use of any kind. The scales have turned as the majority of our country has opened up to the promising uses of medical cannabis and CBD. The ‘minority’ is now truly the ‘majority.’
Information on legalities for recreational and medical cannabis use courtesy of NORML.
Pain Management Counseling
Sometimes pinpointing the source of your chronic pain poses a tremendous challenge. Pain can be sporadic and difficult to trace. It may even be so widespread that finding the source is difficult. This may result in cognitive issues and stress that causes physical pain.
If you struggle with chronic pain make sure your doctor is also a pain management specialist who focuses on counseling and actually talking with you about your unique pain elements. It’s important to be thorough with this process; communication wins!
When addressing chronic pain, reserve painkillers and opioids as a last option. There are so many alternative pain management options out there so be diligent until you find something that works best for your individual pain management.
Be proactive and set goals centered around chronic pain. You really can overcome your pain if you keep yourself accountable for your needs!