In my previous blogs on pain, I covered some natural interventions for managing arthritis and back pain. With the current opioid crisis and prescribing guidelines tightened for pain medications, consumers are increasingly seeking alternative options for pain relief. This Journal of the American Medical Association editorial outlined the CDC guidelines recommending nonpharmacological interventions before any pharmacologic ones. So in this blog, I’ll cover some non-traditional evidence-based modalities for managing pain.
Did you know that the mind can provide a pain-relief effect without engaging the opioid receptors in the brain? This study showed that similar brain areas are activated during both mindfulness meditation and use of pain-modulators like opioids. These findings also demonstrated that mindfulness meditation reduces pain independently of opioid neurotransmitter mechanisms. Although more rigorous research is recommended, this systematic review of 38 randomized clinical trials also shows that mindfulness meditation improves pain, depression symptoms and quality of life.
Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)
Have you heard of Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field therapy? It’s a form of energy wave therapy that penetrates into the body, particularly around damaged areas to stimulate repair. The PEMF energy amplifies the cellular energy in your body to stimulate healing and cell function – it increases blood flow and proper circulation to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Before you decide to dismiss PEMF because it has EMF and therefore must be harmful, it’s important to distinguish that PEMF energy waves are carefully designed to support health and healing in the body.
Does PEMF therapy work? This randomized control study showed that adding pulsed electromagnetic field to conventional physical therapy yielded superior clinical improvement in pain and functional ability in low back pain patients. PEMF is a safe therapy for most people with little to no negative side effects but is NOT recommended for those with pacemakers or other electrical implants.
This review showed that PEMF therapy is useful for the management of post-surgical pain and swelling in patients having plastic surgery without the harmful side effects. Any type of surgery is hard on the body so a non-invasive technique like PEMF therapy is a great option for natural, chemical-free pain relief and healing.
There are a myriad of PEMF devices in the market ranging from full-body mats and rings to smaller devices for specific areas. I own a small hand-held unit which I use when my carpal-tunnel wrist pain or localized back pain from over-exertion becomes annoying. Your naturopath or chiropractor’s office may also offer some full-body units but if you want to have your own, you can invest in a small device to start. This is the unit I have – it’s portable so I also travel with it.
Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO)
Do you know what DMSO is? It’s a chemical that is actually a by-product of the paper making process. It has been used as an industrial solvent for almost 200 years and was discovered accidentally to also be an analgesic. DMSO has been popularized by Dr. Stanley Jacob who was evangelical about its use and treated a lot of professional athletes and pain patients. The buzz around DMSO was even showcased in an old 60 Minutes story. Also popular in veterinary medicine, it is widely used for muscle pain, osteoarthritis, chronic injuries and swelling. Medical use of DMSO has been established in this study and is advocated as an adjunctive therapy. DMSO is available as a topical gel or cream and when applied to the skin, it is quickly absorbed into the deeper tissues to provide pain relief. It works as an antioxidant and scavenges free radicals that gather at the site of injury and reduces inflammation.
A word of caution on DMSO – it is a solvent that will cause anything on the skin to be absorbed, so make sure you apply to clean skin and not let it come in contact with anything your body should NOT absorb until it’s dried. Also, as it has sulfur, you may smell a bit like a garlic clove!
Here’s one I use for topical pain relief: