Natural Approaches to Clearing Chronic Pain

By Deanna Hope Berman, ND, CM

pain-in-finger-jointsI don't have a high number of clients who come to me solely because of pain. However, pain is often a secondary symptom of the many chronic conditions my clients present with. Therefore, out of necessity, I find myself helping people overcome chronic pain. That's no surprise. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined.

The most common types of chronic pain are back pain, migraine or headache pain, and joint pain. Although some pain stems directly from current or past injuries, this is not where I want to focus this article. Here, I'm discussing the chronic pain due to fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, Lyme disease, and other chronic conditions. Because pain can affect the simplest of daily tasks (walking the dog, doing the dishes, getting dressed), it can make living a fulfilling life nearly impossible. For this reason, I am dedicated to helping my clients find lasting relief, and better overall health in the process.

As you may have experienced, the cycle of pain itself exacerbates the problem. Chronic pain makes it harder to exercise or to get a good night's sleep. A lack of exercise can lead to both depression and weight gain. Weight gain can often exacerbate chronic pain especially in the back and joints. The lack of sleep leads to an increase of stress hormones. Stress hormones and the related anxiety and depression can exacerbate inflammation, thus further increasing the pain. My goal is to help people break these negative cycles by getting at the underlying causes.

Often, by the time someone comes to see me, they've been to one or more doctors, tried various over-the-counter or prescriptive medications, and concluded they don't want to take more pills. My clients are frequently leery of taking medicine in the first place, may be sensitive to medications, or have been taking them for some time and are tired of the associated side effects.

I'm not suggesting there isn't a place for over-the-counter and prescriptive pain management. These do have a role, as do other modalities such as chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, and other forms of physical therapy.

Chronic pain is due to chronic inflammation, and inflammation is simply the body's natural response to injury. In addition to the loss of function, inflammation causes various signs and symptoms at the site of injury, including pain, redness, heat, and swelling. Pain is your friend. It tells your body not to use the injured area and forces you to rest to allow healing. When there's an acute injury, healthy tissue responds with inflammation and then heals itself. Once the healing is complete, the pain stops. With chronic pain, the body does not heal the tissue and the pain and inflammation continue, uninterrupted. The reasons for this include chronic infection, long-term wear and tear, repetitive use, auto-immune processes, other stresses on the immune system, poor circulation, leaky gut syndrome and food sensitivities, hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances, poor nutrition, and more.

Some of the approaches I use to help with chronic pain are biotherapeutic drainage, homeopathy, herbal medicine, hormonal and neurotransmitter support, and nutritional therapies. The common issue in chronic pain and inflammation is that the immune system's response interferes with the natural processes involved in healing. When the immune system responds in a normal way, it removes toxins from the injured area and flushes them out of the body. While over-the-counter and prescription pain-relief meds may seem to stop the pain, they do little or nothing to help the body with this process of removing toxins and debris that interfere with the natural immune response. Frequently, the medications, being somewhat toxic, actually add more interference, which only shows up over time.

The approach of naturopathic medicine to pain is to help the body heal itself. When I work with you, I look at the whole of you, including your diet and lifestyle. I'm a detective, seeking to identify all the things that may be contributing to your chronic pain. When it comes to nutrition, there is no one diet right for everyone. I look to see that people are taking in appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals and have a good balance of essential fatty acids. As I search deeper, there are some basic things I look for, such as leaky gut, imbalances in gut flora, a high intake of pro-inflammatory foods, as well as possible food sensitivities. This is a starting point. About 70 percent of the immune tissue is in the digestive tract, and because inflammation constitutes an immune response, dietary changes may be an important piece of the puzzle. Diet seldom causes pain, but it may well contribute to its continuation.

After we begin to adjust the diet, the next step is to look for other ways to decrease inflammation. There are many synthetic and natural products on the market that can help, but I almost always start with natural supplementation. One of the best supplements is Curcumin — a natural anti-inflammatory with a lot of solid research backing up its effectiveness — which I often combine with herbs such as White Willow Bark and Boswellia. This can significantly decrease pain and inflammation.

The final piece of the puzzle is the removal of toxins. No matter the cause of the pain and inflammation, its continuation signifies toxins. To clear them out, I often turn to biotherapeutic drainage. I find these therapies to be extremely effective for helping clients eliminate toxins present in deep tissue, such as muscle, joints, and the nervous system. These therapies stimulate regeneration of injured tissues. To assist in the detoxification process, I also suggest supplements to support whole-body detox, like glutathione and chlorella, which insure that the toxins leave the body, rather than simply move around within. Other therapies to support detoxification may include exercise, saunas, and hydrotherapy; drinking sufficient amounts of water; adding fiber and specific vegetables to the diet; and using herbs and herbal infusions.

Getting at the underlying issues that contribute to pain and inflammation often requires a multi-faceted approach. People are often looking for a quick fix, but I have to caution them that their condition developed over a long period of time. I can often provide some quick symptomatic relief, but to reverse things takes time and commitment. A naturopathic approach can, in almost every case, help people reduce and manage pain and gain better health in the process.

Dr. Deanna Hope Berman, ND, CM, has been practicing in Ithaca for 12 years. She is a Vermont licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, a New York Certified Midwife, and a member of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). She works with women of all ages to help identify nutritional deficiencies, balance hormones and neurotransmitters, and get at the underlying causes of dis-ease. For more information, please visit or call 607.351.7808 for a free 15-minute consultation.

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