At HolisticPain.com, we try to provide information that’s relevant to pain patients with a holistic view. The word “holistic” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as follows:
“Relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.”
Therefore, a holistic pain patient is someone who is concerned with treating their whole body, rather than just the part that hurts.
Treating pain holistically simply means placing an emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle and promoting wellness throughout the entire body and mind.
More traditional pain treatment tends to focus on treating the pain itself. For instance, someone with migraines might be given migraine medications to take as needed. The medication would treat the migraine, hopefully effectively, but would do little more.
However, treating pain holistically is quite different. Medications might still be utilized, but they’re simply one aspect of treatment. Also, the effects of medications on the whole body might be more deeply considered. For instance, many medications can cause side effects, such as nausea or difficulty sleeping. Someone with a commitment to holistic pain management might look for a different medication that doesn’t cause side effects, or he or she might choose to look for complementary or alternative treatments instead (although it’s always important to check with your physician first before discontinuing a medication).
Alternative treatments might include therapies like acupuncture or massage. Even if an alternative treatment doesn’t specifically treat a particular pain condition, it can have an overall benefit as part of a holistic pain management plan. They may help reduce inflammation or stress, which by extension supports pain management.
The mind-body connection is a large part of holistic pain management, too. Therefore anything that supports mental well-being – like meditation or relaxation techniques – is also key to holistic patients.
The science shows that oftentimes, whatever benefits the body also benefits the mind, and vice versa.
The connections between pain and mood disorders, particularly depression, are well-established. Not only is depression significantly more prevalent in people with chronic pain, but it’s even been shown that rates of depression increases in line with severity of pain.
There are also some common factors to consider between people who have mood disorders and people who have chronic pain, including:
- Sleep deprivation. It’s common for people with pain and for people with mood disorders to not get enough sleep. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation usually exacerbates both pain and mood disorders.
- Less exercise. Both depression and chronic pain can lead people to exercise less, which tends to worsen both conditions.
- Withdrawal from social activity. Feeling isolated often worsens the perception of pain and mood disorders, and it’s common for people with either condition to feel alone, as though no one else understands.
However, these connections between the mind and the body work both ways, so something that helps the body feel better will likely benefit the mind, too. Getting enough sleep can lead to a lower risk of mood disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Being well-rested can also improve cognitive function and memory, lower pain, and strengthen the immune system.
Exercising regularly can have extensive benefits, far beyond simply losing a few pounds. A reduced risk of certain cancers, better pain control, a healthier brain, and a stronger immune system can all result from exercise. Studies have even shown that a holistic exercise program (which incorporates physical movement with activities that support emotional, social, intellectual, social, and spiritual health, too) can help elderly people with dementia achieve better memory recall.
A healthy diet, too, is often a key part of holistic pain management. An anti-inflammatory diet will support both mental and physical health. Also, lots of specific foods that are known to help reduce pain have been shown to potentially benefit brain health. Fish with lots of omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can improve blood flow and reduce inflammation to reduce pain, but it may also prevent brain shrinkage, as well as support a healthy heart and reduce the risk of mood disorders.
Shifting to a holistic lifestyle takes patience and dedication, but the benefits can be significant.
First, having a physician who supports your decision is very important. Speak to your physician about holistic ways to treat your pain. If he or she is unsupportive, or if you’re not comfortable with the treatment you’re getting, look for a new physician. You should be comfortable enough with your physician to discuss everything you’re doing to treat your pain, including lifestyle changes and complementary treatments.
Keep in mind that for some pain or health conditions, medications will always be a necessity, even if you make as many holistic health changes as possible. With that said, though, if you’d like to reduce the number of medications you take to deal with your pain, mention it to your physician. If a particular medication has unwanted side effects, discuss alternative medications or ask about the possibility of lowering the dosage.
Focus on overall health to support holistic pain management, but don’t expect immediate improvement. For example, eating a single meal that supports holistic pain management is not going to have the same fast, noticeable results as taking a painkiller. Changes like better sleep, more exercise, or a healthier diet can be a difficult adjustment at first, and improvements may take a while to become clear. Once those improvements in mental and physical well-being do become clear, though, they might be more profound and long-lasting than the results provided by pain medications.
Consider taking up a practice that supports mental and emotional well-being, like meditation or muscle relaxation techniques. These practices, much like lifestyle changes that support mental, physical, and emotional well-being, can help you achieve overall wellness over time.
What changes have you made toward a holistic pain management plan?
Image by star5112 via Flickr