Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Everyone experiences pain. From paper cuts to pulled muscles, menstrual pains to migraines, pain signals that something isn’t quite right. Usually, once the injury or condition resolves, so does the pain. Chronic pain is a different beast. Defined as pain lasting over three months, chronic pain impacts ~50 million Americans- roughly one in every six people. Further, nearly 20 million Americans suffer from chronic pain that severely affects their day-to-day lives. And, with treatments as varied as the cause of the pain, finding relief can be tricky. Unfortunately, many find that traditional interventions only mask pain, failing to produce true recovery. Solving for that last part - providing actual recovery from chronic pain - is one of the main reasons I became an Integrative MD. Doctors trained in both Interventional Pain Management and Integrative and Functional Medicine have the most extensive set of tools to help patients heal from pain.
What causes chronic pain?
Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this question or even a remarkably straightforward one. Chronic pain can stem from multiple root causes - from musculoskeletal degradation to chronic infections to gut dysbiosis. Unfortunately, without due diligence to find the root of the problem, the solution is too often to throw steroids or opioids at the pain. Stopping this cycle is one of the main reasons I went back to school for my Integrative Fellowship. When patients come to my office, they are often surprised by how much time we spend digging into questions that may initially seem unrelated. Understanding the source of pain is the only real way to provide a treatment plan for the long term. Sometimes the answer is as simple as changing out an old mattress to improve sleep hygiene or increasing certain anti-inflammatory foods in the diet. Other solutions could be prescription-based. For instance, it’s possible your pain stems from a chronic infection, and can be easily relieved with a month of treatment. For others, the answers may lie in integrative interventional pain therapies- each of which is offered at Case Integrative Health. Ultimately my goal as an Integrative MD is to provide immediate acute relief, while solving the underlying problem, breaking the cycle of steroids and pain pills.
Heal, don’t mask
Every year, millions of Americans are prescribed opioids, some of whom will go on to experience life-changing side effects and dependence. Unfortunately, opioids and steroid injections have been the go-to for chronic pain for many years. Integrative interventional pain therapies have advanced substantially, and continue to do so. Even better, often these options avoid unnecessary surgical interventions or prescription dependence.
One of my favorite cutting-edge treatments for chronic pain is prolozone therapy. Prolozone therapy is a revolutionary non-surgical and holistic pain management technique with the goal of mending the underlying cause of joint pain. By improving oxygen utilization in a localized area of damaged connective tissue, the joint has a chance to heal and return to full function.
Another great option is ketamine infusions. While initially invented in the 1960s for anesthesia, lower doses of ketamine have been used to treat chronic pain and depression for over a decade. Delivered through an IV infusion for up to a few hours, many patients favor ketamine infusions for their long-lasting relief. Extensive studies report shown that IV ketamine infusions are a highly effective way to relieve chronic pain, particularly for those looking to avoid or decrease their use of opioids.
PRP is an exciting form of regenerative medicine based on your body’s incredible capacity to mend itself. Essentially, PRP harnesses this ability and uses injections of the patient’s platelets to accelerate the healing of injured tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of PRP to the musculoskeletal system by reducing pain and improving function. Additionally, because PRP utilizes the patient’s own plasma, side effects are often minimal.
Another valuable aspect of treating chronic pain can be supplementation, often in tandem with other treatments. For instance, turmeric and Boswellia are both great options that are proven to relieve arthritic pain. Turmeric’s main active component is curcuminoids, most notably curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and Boswellia is an anti-inflammatory and analgesic (where it derives its pain relieving properties). Your supplementation needs are unique to you, and an integrative MD can work with you to develop a personalized plan if needed.
Chronic pain can have tangible effects on your daily life and mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, fatigue, and more. However, this Pain Awareness Month, I’d like to instill some hope in those long-term sufferers. By working with an integrative MD, you can get to the root cause of your pain and avoid any “bandaid” treatments. Your team can help develop a pain management and treatment regime that works for you, including medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, injections, and more. Chronic pain management can be a difficult journey, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. This month, and every month, we’re in this together.