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Understanding Chronic Pain: Looking for Solutions for Relief

Chronic pain affected an estimated 28 million adults in the UK in 2016 - that's between 1/3 and 1/2 of the population (Fayer et al. 2016). This can have physical, emotional and social impacts on those experiencing the pain and also those close to the sufferers (West, 2016).

Health conditions associated with chronic pain include: arthritis; cancer; chronic fatigue syndrome; complex regional pain syndrome; diabetic neuropathy; unexplained back pain; fibromyalgia; multiple sclerosis; peripheral nerve damage; post-herpetic neuralgia; post-injury or post-operative pain that has not healed; phantom limb pain and many more (Bausbam, 2014; Keane, 2011)

Throughout history, humans have sought ways to understand and alleviate pain. From ancient remedies to modern medical interventions, the quest to relieve pain has been ongoing.

What is Pain?

Pain is useful as a protective mechanism to let us know if there is something that needs our attention so that we can react to this if needed. It can alert us to potential harm so that we can take action to remedy this. It can occur in response to tissue damage or inflammation, or any other stimulus that the body interprets as threatening or harmful in some way. Pain can be acute, which is short-term and typically resolves as the underlying cause heals, or it can be chronic, lasting for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic pain symptoms may include:

Allodynia: painful response to stimuli not normally painful e.g. normal movement, light touch.

Hyperalgesia: heightened painful response to normally painful stimuli (Keane, 2011).

We are still learning about how different elements of the body work together to detect, assess and respond to stimuli. The following depicts some of these elements:

Neuroplasticity can mean that, in cases of chronic pain, the body may adapt so that the sensitivity levels are changed, so a stronger response can occur to even weak stimuli. An analogy could be walking through a metal detector machine. If the sensitivity levels are low, having just some metal buttons on, the detector will probably not go off. If the sensitivity levels are high, maybe turned on too high by someone that thinks there is a high risk of a potential threat, and wants to make sure they don't miss something important, all of a sudden just one metal button will cause the machine to sound its alarm.

Neuroplasticity does also mean that there is potential for changing this alarm sensitivity. And it may also be beneficial to work on multiple levels to train so that we have both less sensitivity and less or no 'metal buttons'. In our massage treatments we have found when working to release blocked lymph, tight fascia, and contracted muscles, pain is often released. In our meditation-based treatments, we've found that our response to stimuli also changes, which in turn can release physical symptoms.

Treating pain:

It has been suggested that a combination of lifestyle changes and treatments may address the ‘orchestra of pathophysiology’ involved in chronic pain (Siddall, 2013, p. 177). Studies show potential for the following therapies:

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) (McCracken and Vowles, 2014).

Acupuncture (Fixler et al., 2012).

Acupressure (Yeh et al., 2015).

Alexander Technique (McClean and Wye, 2012).

Aromatherapy (Gagnier et. al., 2016).

BodyMind Approach Technique (Payne, 2015).

Chiropractic (Haavik et. al., 2017).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (McCracken and Vowles, 2014).

Dietary changes (Berstad and Valeur, 2016).

Energy Medicine (Sutherland et. al., 2009).

Exercise (Liesbeth et al., 2015).

Expert Patients Program (NHS Choices, 2014).

Herbal Medicine (Gagnier et. al., 2016).

Hypnosis (Bausbam, 2012).

Massage (Kumar et al., 2016).

Mindfulness Meditation (McCracken and Vowles, 2014).

Neuromobilisation (Giardini, 2017).

Osteopathy (Licciardone et al.., 2013).

Pain Management Program (Dargan et al., 2014)

Physiotherapy (Giardini, 2017).

Positive mood inducing (McCaffrey, 2014).

Qi Gong (Huijuan et al., 2011).

Reflexology (Babadi et al., 2016).

Shamanic Healing (Vuckovic et al., 2012).

Solution-Focused Therapy (Dargan et al., 2014).

Supplements (Magnesium) (Huijuan et al., 2011).

Surgery, Prescribed Medication e.g. Gabapentin, NSAIDs, opioids (Bausbam, 2012).

TENS machine (Bausbam, 2017).

It is important to consider whether a therapy is suitable and to ask your health professional if they have any risks or side effects for you as an individual.

Please note that it is recommended that patients choosing private therapies research practitioners well, such as checking qualifications, insurance (NHS, 2017) as well as feedback.

Our understanding and management of pain has evolved over time. From ancient remedies to modern medical and technological interventions, we've developed a multitude of approaches to tackle pain. It is a complex phenomenon, that does serve a purpose in our evolutionary history for our survival. However, when this becomes chronic, it is beneficial to the right solution for pain relief. This often involves a personalised approach, considering the individual needs of each person. If you would like to try the treatments that we offer as part of that approach, please do get in touch. You can book treatments via this website

This blog post includes information from the following academic poster by Katherine

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