If you are suffering from chronic pain, you are not alone. It is one of the primary reasons people see a doctor. If you like many others want to find a solution that is not from a prescription or over-the-counter medication, then natural medicine may be the perfect avenue.
Whether an aching back, sore shoulder or persistent headache, as many as 40% of Americans experience chronic pain. Though September is Pain Awareness Month, every day is a good time to explore natural medicine options as practiced by licensed naturopathic doctors. Natural medicine relies on lifestyle changes, personalized physical therapies, dietary recommendations and nutritional supplements along with botanical medicines to help reduce inflammation and the pain it causes.
When treating patients, for any condition – including pain – Naturopathic doctors are trained to follow these six principles of healing:
- First, Do No Harm
- The Healing Power of Nature
- Identify and Treat the Causes
- Doctor as Teacher
- Treat the Whole Person
Understanding Chronic Pain
Anyone who has ever experienced chronic pain knows how debilitating it can be. Yet the most commonly recommended conventional medical solution—prescription opioid painkillers—is turning out to be worse than the problem. Opioids may stop the pain, but at a high price: there is an ever-growing number of deaths due to opioid overdose and rates of addiction and misuse are not slowing down.
As a medical discipline that emphasizes a holistic approach and natural treatments, naturopathic medicine offers safe and effective alternatives to highly addictive drugs for managing chronic pain. Licensed naturopathic doctors are educated at four-year, post-graduate medical schools that teach non-drug approaches to chronic pain management and painkillers are on used as a last resort. This is in sharp contrast to traditional forms of pain management, which start with a drugs-first approach.
Personalized Pain Treatment Plans
Naturopathic medicine takes into account each individual’s lifestyle, nutrition, work and leisure activities, current and past stressors, and relevant previous injuries—in other words, the root causes of each person’s pain and all its manifestations. The plans use various combinations of physical therapies, dietary recommendations and nutritional and botanical supplements to help reduce inflammation and the pain it causes.
Ways to reduce pain that do not rely on medications, include:
- Hydrotherapy: This practice uses the therapeutic benefits of water applied in various ways and temperatures to promote healing and a reduction in pain. Water is used to soothe or stimulate various systems in the body for relief.
- Exercise: While movement may seem counterintuitive when experiencing pain, the body is naturally meant to move. Naturopathic doctors have training in anatomy, biochemistry biomechanics and physiology, which allows for comprehensive treatment plans, including physical movement.
- Physical Medicine/Rehabilitation: Naturopathic medicine uses a variety of techniques to help patients recover from injuries and improve the healing process and immune system. Depending on the injury, therapies may include ultrasound, realignment of the skeletal system and tissue massage, among many others.
- Botanical Medicine: For doctors who are licensed in naturopathic medicine, they undergo a rigorous training in botanical medicine that is taught throughout their four-year degree. When properly prescribed by a trained physician, herbal medicine can be used to treat the underlying cause(s) of pain. Read more here.
- Mind-body: This unique aspect of natural medicine, captures the interconnectedness of psychology, biology and a patient’s life history to focus on transforming pain, illness and stress into self-awareness and mind-body healing. The mind can actually help or interfere with healing processes, especially with pain.
Why is Drug-Free Pain Therapy So Important?
The statistics are disturbing …
- Drug overdose takes the lives of 128 people per day. It is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
- Prescription drugs for pain are the leading cause of addiction in this country. Of the more than 67,000 overdose deaths due in 2018, prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl accounted for half.
How did this happen? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured health care providers that people would not become addicted to prescription opioids. As a result, physicians began to prescribe them at greater rates, leading to widespread misuse. Between 21 percent and 29 percent of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them; between eight percent and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
As pain continues to be a chronic health issue for many Americans, naturopathic medicine also continues to offer safe and natural solutions that do not resort to a drugs-first mentality.
For more on the topic, visit the Institute for Natural Medicine on Why Natural Medicine? and How Naturopathic Doctors Treat Pain without Opioids.
This article is a service for consumers from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Amy Rothenberg, ND for her contributions to the content of this FAQ. Some of the content for the FAQ appeared in articles by Dr. Rothenberg in the Boston Globe and Huffington Post.
Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin's Press).