Treatment of Chronic Pain

Nearly 8 million people in Canada live with chronic pain (does not include acute cases). That means approx 20% of the population. To put this into perspective, approx 2000 people on Salt Spring Island live with some type of chronic pain.

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”. For most people, pain is temporary and serves as a warning that something is wrong, that something has caused or may cause damage to some part of our body. This is acute pain, which usually resolves as we heal. When pain persists for longer than 3 months, it is defined as chronic.

Biological, psychological, spiritual, environmental, and social factors influence our experience of pain. Chronic pain, like other chronic diseases, is best understood within a biopsychosocial framework, and its treatment should integrate pharmacological, physical, psychological, spiritual, self-management, and other approaches, as appropriate.

As a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncturist since 2004, I have treated a lot of people with pain. For the purposes of this post I will exclude mental-emotional & spiritual pain, but that said, it is certain that physical pain affects mental-emotional-spiritual life, and issues with mental-emotional-spiritual life can also be the causes of much chronic physical pain. Therefore, treatment with me rarely is simply superficial, as the ‘whole’ must be addressed for the greatest treatment effect.

Yes, I would immediately administer acupuncture to any patient coming to me with pain, as the evidence is clear with approx 1600 research articles published over the past 10 years on the positive effects of acupuncture for relieving pain through the regulation of nerve pain transmission, release of natural pain relieving neurochemicals, and increasing blood circulation to regulate inflammation.

But my investigations and treatment possibilities go much deeper, and specific treatment plans would be developed for each person.

When required, electro-acupuncture, infrared light/heat, Chinese herbal medicine, cupping, and magnet therapies are all options we have to explore in the clinic setting. As mentioned, digging into mental-emotional-spiritual disharmony may also be warranted.

What caused the pain? Is your diet and lifestyle making the pain worse or slowing healing? Is stress and poor sleep further compounding its impact on your life? Do you need to adjust your gait, increase strength and flexibility? Was there a recent loss, trauma, or are other illnesses making it challenging to overcome the pain?

Have you tried applying heat? Pain creams? Natural anti-inflammatories, compression, self-massage, essential oils, meditation?

If you have chronic pain and haven’t approached it with ideas or methods I have outlined above, consider acupuncture, TCM and more holistic approaches to relieve pain and restore your quality of life.