Written by Tracie Grimes
A back that aches so much it wakes you up at 3 a.m. A neck so stiff you can hardly turn your head. A migraine that hits you like a freight train. Coping with pain is a way of life for millions of Americans, and for many, treating chronic pain has become a complex issue. And with conventional medicine sometimes unable to give them the relief they need, thousands of Kern County residents are turning back the pages of medicine to find relief in practices thousands of years old.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), a new name for old therapies, is gaining popularity among Bakersfield area residents looking for relief from their aches and pains. Licensed CAM practitioners work with patients using modalities such as acupuncture, guided imagery, chiropractic treatment, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, nutrition, herbal remedies, and massage, just to name a few. The main purpose of CAM practices, also known as “natural medicine” or “non-pharmacologic” based therapies, is to bring into focus the mind-body connection to enhance health and control pain, explains Diana Roman, Lac, DAOM (Licensed Acupuncturist & Herbalist, Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine).
Dr. Roman’s approach is to use mind-body treatments that will help the mind’s ability to influence the body’s functions and symptoms.
“A person who is experiencing chronic pain is getting a message from their body that there is something wrong. The body is saying, ‘Wake up! There’s something going on here.’ And unless a person has some unresolved physical issue going on, say, for instance, a protruding disk, there’s no reason they should be experiencing chronic pain.”
There’s also no reason a person should be experiencing pain years and years after a trauma or injury to the body, Dr. Roman adds. “That chapter should have come to an end after the trauma was dealt with. If there’s still pain, it means the body is still giving out signals that something’s going on and it’s trying to say ‘do something!’ ”
The mind-body connection is an integral part of the healing process because it allows the patient to tap in to the emotional side of pain they might be feeling, Dr. Roman continues.
“A big percentage of physiological pain can stem from emotions. I’ve had many, many patients come to me and tell me that doctors have told them their pain is ‘all in their head,’ to which I say ‘well, yes—it is, so let’s get to the root of the problem and figure out what your body is trying to tell your mind through the pain.’ ”
“Pain is the ‘voice’ of your body and you must listen to it,” agrees Nina Manny, CHT (Certified Hypnotherapist). “Find out what the voice is trying to tell you because if you shut it down, you’re going to keep feeling pain.”
Acupuncture, a treatment developed by 16th century Chinese physicians, is one therapy Dr. Roman uses to address her patients’ “body voice.” Small, flexible, disposable needles are used to manage pain associated with hundreds of symptoms and conditions, including back pain, fatigue, fibromyalgia, insomnia, and injuries.
“Acupuncture stimulates the body’s 14 major meridians (energy-carrying channels) to help restore the normal balance and flow of Chi (the body’s vital force) so the body can resist or overcome illnesses and conditions,” Dr. Roman says, adding that the main objectives of acupuncture are to relieve symptoms; strengthen the immune system; and balance, harmonize, and integrate the functions of the organs with one another. “Acupuncture also decreases pain by increasing the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-blocking chemical.”
While acupuncture may quell the body-voice that’s sending a message of pain, it’s just part of the holistic approach CAM practitioners use to treat their patients.
“Acupuncture may be just one of several treatments we use as we treat the ‘whole’ person and work to get to the root of why a patient is experiencing pain,” Dr. Roman stresses.
This holistic approach is what attracted Sherry Fanell to CAM a year ago when conventional treatments for her fibromyalgia and lupus weren’t helping her the way she had hoped.
“My doctors were just piling on more and more pills for me to take, and since I’ve never been very good about taking pills, I decided to look for another approach to dealing with my illnesses. [This approach] had so much more to offer me.”
Fanell admits she wasn’t at all sure about the alternative medical treatments prescribed for her on her first visit. “To be honest, I wasn’t really sure acupuncture was for me and I certainly wasn’t very enthusiastic about massage therapy. But now I can really tell a difference. “
Along with weekly acupuncture and therapeutic massage treatments, Fanell’s doctor tested her for food allergies and had her eliminate the foods she was allergic to from her diet.
“It’s an intense regiment, but for me it’s been very good. I feel like the holistic approach to my treatment keeps me from having to take medication. And the level of care is so different, so individualized.”
It all boils down to finding a way to balance a person’s body so the body’s systems can work together to restore health, says Chelsea Brewer, LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist). “I’m a firm believer in Eastern medicine because I’ve seen what a difference Eastern modalities have made in our patients. And I think that if you’re going to be so daring as to consider taking strong medication to help your pain, why not try natural methods first?
It’s amazing what the body can do once you’ve gotten it to the point it can relax, release toxins, and oxygenate the blood, Brewer adds.
“There’s really nothing [pain or illness] that massage therapy can’t help alleviate, but I see a lot of success with patients who come to me with headache disorders or suffer from migraines. Among other types of massages, I perform cranial-sacral massage [a gentle massage focusing on the membranes encasing the central nervous system that moves the fluid surrounding the skull and spine to ease the restrictions of nerve passages] and/or cold stone therapy [stones are placed on different parts of the head and neck to open constricted blood vessels and restore circulation]. Some of my patients notice a difference the next day while it takes others three or four visits before they start noticing a change.”
But restoring balance so the body can heal itself starts with the person hearing what the body is trying to tell him. That’s where hypnotherapy comes in, says Manny.
“Hypnotherapy can help them find the source of their pain,” says Manny. “It’s the act of relaxing the mind so completely that you’re able to hear the voice of the body.
“Hypnotherapy is an extreme form of relaxation, but people aren’t ‘out of it’ so much as they are tuned in to their body. I do very little ‘programming’ because I feel it’s best to get people into a state where they can listen to their own body. It’s when you’re in this altered state of meditation and you’re physically relaxed that you’re able to ask yourself questions and find your own answers.”
And the answer to the question , “Where is my pain is coming from?” sometimes emanates from a surprising source, Manny adds, remembering a client who came to her asking for help in relieving back pain.
“Once I had her relaxed and asked her what her awareness of what her body was trying to tell her was, she suddenly became aware of green tea at Starbucks. After some more work, we discovered that she wasn’t drinking water—only the green tea. Green tea has caffeine in it and caffeine is dehydrating, so I told her to cut out the green tea and drink water. Once she got back on water and was hydrating appropriately, her back spasms went completely away.”
Answers are different for every person, Manny continues. “People are very complex. There are no scripts and the answers to people’s problems aren’t cookie-cutter answers because everyone has their own ‘best’ programming. You just have to take the time to find out which software is right for you.”
And though hypnosis may seem extreme or even cause concern for people who may be a little afraid of what may come up during the session, more often than not, getting to the root of a problem is nothing more than shifting your perception, Manny says.
“And the beauty of tuning in and making changes is that it’s never as traumatic as people think it will be. It’s usually something simple, like drinking water.”
The bottom line for people suffering from pain and illnesses is that there are plenty of options to ease their aches and pains. Conventional medicine does offer solutions for many physical problems, but there are alternative approaches out there.
Article appeared in our 27-5 Issue - December 2010