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NATURAL WAYS OF DEALING WITH CHRONIC PAIN
By: Lisa Moretti
According to a 2011 report by the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies, 116 million Americans live with chronic pain – more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. But many of us aren’t looking to just mask the pain by interfering pharmaceutically with our body’s pain signaling system. We want to get to the bottom of it and fix it! We asked experts, athletes and those who have experienced personal, pain-alleviating success for their advice about natural fixes for chronic pain. They have a myriad of suggestions for you.
MOVE IT, BABY! (Physical Therapies)
Find Your Trigger Points. Todd Cambio is a strength and conditioning specialist who knows pain firsthand. His calves and hips give him ongoing pain and are complicated by a cervical 4/5 disk herniation. Over age 35, he competes as a runner and plays basketball. He’s found that soft tissue work using a foam roll combined with a hand-held trigger point tool helps release the muscles and fascia that are pulling joints out of balance. There are trigger points all over the body that quickly and gently release the source point of muscle pain, he said. He also recommends using a good flexibility program that includes joint mobility work. For more information, visit www.GoPrecisionFitness.com.
Get Your Head On Straight. Dr. Stan Pierce, Jr. uses Orthogonal Chiropractic, a specialized form that only adjusts the first two vertebrae of the spine (cervical 1 and 2) painlessly with a sound wave to gently put them back in alignment. Orthogonal chiropractic helps open up the spinal nerve network choked off by the first two vertebrae being out of place. Pierce points out that when your spine is aligned, the nerves get full transmission, but, “the longer a vertebra stays misaligned, the more damaged the tissues of the body will get.” A little known fact, most of us have our first two vertebrae forced out of joint during birth when doctors grab us by the head to pull us out of the birth canal. Using traditional chiropractic techniques, Pierce has also had great success correcting carpal tunnel pain by a quick correction of the lunar bone in the wrist. Many of his patients have been able to cancel their scheduled surgeries. For more information, visit www.advancedorthogonal.com.
Rewire Your Hard Drive. Internationally recognized Dr. John Downes helps professional and Olympic athletes with their pain and athletic performance. He has developed a ground-breaking diagnostic technique called the Performance for Life Method, because many times the places where we think the pain is coming from is often a work-around to compensate for miscommunication between the brain and body. Downes looks to the nervous system for global (versus regional) clues to how the body has “adapted” and created new patterns of movement due to previous injuries or extreme demands placed on it. Then he can reset the communication system using chiropractic methods. A big red flag that you’ve got some faulty wiring is a cross-pattern of injuries, for example, a bad left knee will often produce pain problems in your right shoulder. For more information, visit www.pflmethod.com.
Be An Animal. Eduardo Barrera, 49, lived with fibromyalgia for more than 20 years, but he’s been pain free for the last 14 years and just won a soccer gold medal at the Washington State Senior Games (four games in two days!). Eduardo uses a form of somatic exercise called pandiculation. Somatic exercise uses gentle movement patterns that keep the central nervous system communicating with the muscles. “We don’t ever see a cheetah pull a hamstring [while] running at 60 mph,” he said. Like animals, we can reboot our natural movement “software” and take out stiffness naturally. While it may look like stretching, it isn’t! Pandiculation has six characteristics:
Taking a cue from his faithful canine companion, Eduardo pandiculates throughout the day and has successfully avoided knee surgery, eliminated his chronic pain and found a new career helping others. For more information, visit
WORK IT OUT! (Bodywork & Acupuncture)
Get Rolfed. For more than 30 years, Owen Marcus has been using rolfing to help patients living with chronic pain. As Owen explains, rolfing is a series of sessions that work to remold the soft tissue (muscles, tendons and fascia) into a looser and straighter shape. This procedure of sculpturing is slow and firm, causing the body to release tension and tightness. Not the warm touchy massage stuff, rolfing can often be painful, but the long-term results are worth it. For more information, visit www.align.org.
Stick It In Your Ear. Dr. Walter Scott is an acupuncturist who uses very small, semi-permanent acupuncture needles on key spots within the ear to help patients manage and end chronic pain. Many people don’t realize that the ear is loaded with acupuncture points. Semi-permanent needles can be left in place to stimulate key points for hours, days and in some cases weeks. For more information, visit www.acupuncturecenterofbaltimore.com.
USE YOUR HEAD! (Psychology & Mental Therapies)
Pay Attention. A clinical psychologist for more than 35 years, Dr. Doris Jeanette has been helping people with chronic pain. “It is extremely unhealthy to ignore pain when your body is telling you that it hurts,” she said. “You need to listen and respond appropriately or you will get very sick or do serious damage to yourself.” Jeanette has also found that chronic pain can be due to mental health issues. She encourages people to learn relaxation techniques, get counseling to learn how to let go of control, and gain assertive skills that will help them set boundaries. For more information, visit
Try Hypnosis. Marilyn Bellezzo suffered for years with pain from abdominal adhesions (scar tissue) after surgery. She and many others finally found relief by using English physician Dr. Michael Mahoney’s audio hypnosis, called The Chronic Pain Program. Mahoney developed the protocol to deal with his own Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Marilyn now makes his program available here in the United States. For more information, visit www.healthyaudio.com.
Meditate. Dr. Anne Dunnewold of Dallas, Texas is a psychologist who teaches meditation techniques to her clients to help them handle chronic pain. She points out that neuroscientists at Harvard and MIT have shown that meditation helps people to control alpha brain waves and focus their attention to “turn down the volume on pain signals.” For more information, visit www.livingselfcare.wordpress.com.
TIP: For an easy meditation technique, try putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Keep your focus on your tongue as you breathe in and out. When thoughts try to grab your attention, simply refocus on the connection between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
WHAT'S EATING YOU? (Diet & Nutrition)
Go Gluten-Free. Margaret Romero, an integrative nurse practitioner who frequently works with people with autoimmune diseases, said, “I have helped lupus sufferers with joint and muscle pain by putting them on a gluten-free diet, [which works] about 90 percent of the time.” Gluten is a protein found in some grains that causes gut inflammation and leads to celiac disease. Going gluten-free takes dedicated label reading because gluten is hidden in many surprising foods like BBQ sauce, thickeners and cereals. For more information, visit www.inspire4health.com.
Alkalinize Your Diet. After watching her husband struggle with chronic pain, Celia Westerbury decided to revamp their diet, which, thankfully, ended her husband’s pain. The secret was eating more alkalinizing foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts and legumes) since over-acidity in the body can create tissue and muscle pain. Celia has written a cookbook that not only alkalinizes your diet but purportedly helps reverse aging! For more information, visit www.eatyounger.com.
Get Rid of Toxins. Dr. Kristen Burris recommends detoxifying to reduce chronic pain. “Cleansing the liver reduces muscle tension, stiffness and pain,” she said. She recommends drinking up to six cups a day of premium green tea as one easy method. She also uses the botanical, Spent Hops, to get rid of metallothionein, a protein released by the body due to heavy metal toxicity, which can cause muscle tension and chronic pain and can inhibit athletic performance. For more information, visit www.eagleacupuncture.com.
Get Your Amino Acids. Food-mood expert Trudy Scott is a nationally recognized nutritionist who notes that low levels of some neurotransmitters, which are made by the body from amino acids, can contribute to chronic pain. Low gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels can result in stiff/tense and painful muscles, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, she said. Other neurotransmitters related to pain are low serotonin and low endorphins. Find a good supplement and be sure to eat your eggs to get your aminos. For more information, visit www.everywomanover29.com.
Eat Your Vegetables. “We rust in our joints, immune cells, DNA, arteries and all other cells all over the body,” says Staci Ellis, a registered nurse. She recommends neutralizing oxidative stress by eating a diet that is high in colorful fruits and vegetables. Staci notes that plants use color compounds to protect themselves (what we call antioxidants), that “donate electrons that pair up with free radicals, turning off the destruction.” A diet that’s full of color can help reduce pain. For more information, visit www.pacific-coastwellness.com.
KEEP THESE HANDY (Herbs & Supplements)
De-Puff The Pain. A former white-water kayaker who suffered a life-changing back injury, Melissa Picoli turned to Ayurvedic Medicine. “Chronic pain hits athletes and sedentary people the worst, those of us who have really taken advantage of our body, or those of us who have not taken care of it at all.” To bring down inflammation, Melissa uses Boswellia, from Frankincense, which has been clinically shown to help as much as non-steroid pain reducers (NSAIDs) without the side effects. She also recommends using Oolong and Pu-erh Tea to further reduce inflammation and to clean out the toxic residue in your liver if you have been taking NSAIDs. For more information, visit www.bijabody.com.
Eat The Pain Away. Andrew Johnston is a former pro-cyclist, the first leukemia survivor to qualify for and finish the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, and a trainer. He uses proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain or papain because they work as an anti-inflammatory if taken on an empty stomach. These food-derived enzymes break down fibrin, which creates scar tissue, blockages and can impair your muscles’ function. Andrew cautions that taken with food, these enzymes help break down proteins in your gut and you’ll miss the benefit of them breaking down fibrin. For more information, visit www.triumphtraining.com.
Turn to Turmeric. Turmeric is a media darling right now, and with good reason. Julie Brannon, an herbalist who owns Bailey’s Naturals, creates custom blends for clients. Her first go-to is always turmeric/curcumin to lower inflammation. David Jones, a respected acupuncturist, also recommends it because, “the active ingredient in curcumin, inhibits [pain causing enzymes] COX-1 and COX-2.” Pharmaceutical drugs are designed to block these two enzymes but 1,200 mg per day of curcumin has been found to be more effective. For more information, visit www.baileysnaturals.com and www.herbalogic.net.
Bark Up This Tree. A nutritionally-oriented dentist, Dr. Gregg Schneider uses many natural products. He gives his patients White Willow Bark as a natural anti-inflammatory for pain relief. White Willow Bark contains an extract called salicin that is used to make aspirin. For more information, visit www.drgreggschneider.com.
Hook Up With This One. Dr. Shane Mangram’s specialty is physical medicine and rehabilitation, so he treats a lot of people with chronic pain. He prescribes Devil’s Claw for low back pain. “One study found that more than 50 percent of people with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip or low back pain who took Devil’s Claw reported less pain and better mobility after 8 weeks,” he said. Devil’s Claw, or Hook plant, is an African plant whose roots and tubers are used to create pain medicine. For more information, visit www.backexercisedoctor.com.
Get Your Sulfur. Organic white sulfur (MSM) and vitamin C are wonder twins for pain reduction according to Dr. Mike Bauerschmidt, a doctor who has spent more than 25 years in emergency medicine. “I have used them successfully for plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and also rheumatoid arthritis in addition to the daily aches and pains of the weekend athlete.” Bauerschmidt recommends using therapeutic doses, which are much higher than over-the-counter versions. For more information, visit www.mbauerschmidtmd.com.
Try Homeopathy. Dr. Eric Udell is a naturopath at Arizona Natural Health Center who uses homeopathy because it calls on the body’s own anti-inflammatory and anti-pain responses. He recommends homeopathic formulations (derived from plants) like arnica to reduce inflammation and pain, Bryonia for pain and inflammation aggravated by movement, and Rhus Toxicodendron (aka poison ivy) for pain made worse by sitting or lying in one position too long. You can find these at your natural health store. For more information, visit www.aznaturalhealth.com.
Integrate Your Approach. Dr. Henry Roca is the medical director of Greenwich Hospital’s Integrative Medicine Program in Connecticut. He uses a comprehensive approach to dealing with chronic pain that includes Omega 3s (especially EPA), bromelain, papain, turmeric and ginger to bring down long-standing inflammation, which can be the precursor to disease. He also uses the Graston Technique, a chiropractic approach that employs a specialized machine to find and treat over-use or trauma injuries, and then break up resulting scar tissue. Roca also includes exercise and acupuncture to restore normal function or range of motion and eliminate pain. For more information, visit www.greenwichintegrativemedicine.org.
PUSH THE ENVELOPE (Cutting-Edge Technology)
Use your own stem cells. One of the most exciting recommendations comes from Dr. Christopher Centeno. He uses stem cells extracted from his patients’ own fat tissue or bone marrow and then injects the stem cells into the damaged body parts. Centeno helps people avoid surgery and drugs and bounce back with almost no recovery time at his clinic. Take the case of Joseph Maroon, 63, who was facing the end of competing in triathlons and a total knee replacement. After Centano’s treatments, Joseph was back racing the Ironman within six months and still races today – 7 years later. Using your own stem cells to treat chronic pain is the wave of the future and will hopefully end America’s need for pain medications. For more information, visit www.regenexx.com. MS&F
*Photo by James Patrick