Naturopathic Medicine for Pain Relief
As holistic practitioners, naturopathic physicians approach patients suffering from chronic pain with an overall assessment, working to target the nature and source of the pain before determining an appropriate treatment. “We’ll first look to see if there is a systemic or organic cause,” says Dr. Kevin Connor, naturopathic physician and faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. “If the pain occurs on both sides of the body and in multiple locations, we’ll look to see if there is an underlying disease. If the pain is specific to one location, it’s more likely to have resulted from an injury or some assault on the muscle and tissue.”
Nutrition and supplements
“In many cases of chronic pain, you’ll find inflammation,” Dr. Connor continues. “So we recommend dietary changes that can decrease this.” An increase in whole grain foods and vegetables might be recommended, along with a shift in the ratio of essential fatty acids, decreasing omega-6s and increasing omega-3s, to decrease overall inflammation. Additionally, many botanicals are effective anti-inflammatories. Bromelian, an enzyme found in pineapples and curcumin, also known as turmeric, are two excellent choices. A naturopathic physician may also try to determine whether the patient is low in minerals, such as calcium and/or magnesium, and prescribe supplements.
Prescription pain medication
If a patient is taking prescription pain medication, a naturopathic physician will work adjunctively with that. In the state of Washington, naturopathic physicians cannot legally prescribe narcotics. If a patient is taking over-the-counter medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen, an attempt may be made to gradually reduce the dosage and replace it with botanicals, which do not exert as much stress on the liver, kidneys and stomach.
Dr. Connor indicates that manipulation is also an important treatment for pain and one that he uses frequently. NDs are trained in both soft-tissue manipulation and osseous (bone) manipulation, drawing on the traditions of chiropractic manipulation, osteopathic manipulation and physical therapy. “People tend to think of manipulation as putting a bone such as a vertebrae back into place; but it is actually about restoring mobility, function and movement, and increasing circulation to the injured area.” He explains that when tissue is injured, scar tissue results, mobility and blood flow is compromised and the result is pain. Manipulation can be highly effective in these cases. A related treatment is visceral manipulation, in which the organ and the connective tissue surrounding it are gently manipulated. Not all naturopathic physicians practice this treatment, says Dr. Connor, but he has found it beneficial.
Other physical treatments for pain include hydrotherapy, hot and cold applications, peat baths and capsicum, a topical application from the ingredient that makes hot peppers “hot.”
Dr. Connor encourages patients with pain to assume some ownership for their healing. “I tell them the treatment is not about what I’ve done to them today on the table, but about how their body is going to respond. I’ll encourage them to help that process by staying hydrated and possibly doing some gentle stretching or exercise.” He also cites breathing as a key factor. “Most people in pain are breathing very shallowly and rapidly. This can add to their muscle tension. It can also alter the PH of their body, often worsening the inflammation.”
Writer: Bastyr Staff Writer
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