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Find your zen
Non traditional methods can ease chronic pain


June 2013

The line between traditional and complementary medicine has blurred. Patients seeking relief from chronic pain want to know all of their options before turning to medications, injections or surgery.

"Itís not alternative. Itís East meets West," says Mary Reynolds, a national board certified acupuncturist and pain management instructor.

Reynolds teaches medical qi gong at Solcare, a wellness center in Glendale. Qi gong is a nonmartial arts form of tai chi and can be helpful to people experiencing headaches or pain in the wrist, lower back or ankles.

"We all know if we just sit around, we get stiff and sick," says Reynolds. "You need to bring blood and oxygen to the head to release toxins that can cause pain."

Qi gong exercises are easy to follow (even for Alzheimerís patients) and can be done while seated, notes Reynolds. Typically, patients take a 45- to 60-minute class once a week for at least five weeks.

Dr. Oscar Wille, medical director of the Columbia St. Maryís Center for Pain Management, agrees that exercise is important.

"There is a wealth of evidence about the beneficial effects of regular low-impact aerobic exercise for chronic pain management," Wille says.

In fact, Wille says, the most important nonmedical interventions for chronic pain are the same things experts have long suggested for managing chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, namely not smoking, getting proper sleep and having ways to properly deal with stress.

And dietís role? Reynolds says processed foods can contribute to inflammation. Wille, meanwhile, points to studies linking some vitamin deficiencies to pain related to nerve damage. But, Wille says, "There really is no clear evidence that taking one specific supplement or eating one particular food is going to result in a reduction in pain."

The most important nonmedication approach to chronic pain, Wille says, is often overlooked ó psychological techniques such as specific relaxation exercises, deep breathing or meditation.

"Acknowledging the mind-body connection is critical to successful chronic pain management," he explains. "The best results come from working with a trained pain psychologist, who can incorporate elements like biofeedback and guided imagery."

A team approach ó doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and pain psychologists ó is what works best, Wille says.

There is no single fix or cure for chronic pain, according to Wille. Some therapies may not be covered by insurance, leaving patients with out-of-pocket expenses.

"People with chronic pain have typically tried many treatments without success, and so often begin looking further and further off the beaten path for something to offer them relief," he adds. "Unfortunately, a suffering person, desperate for relief, can become an easy target for someone elseís financial gain."


This story ran in the June 2013 issue of: