Nearly everyone experiences occasional pain. When someone strains a muscle, stubs a toe or cuts their finger, pain is the body’s way of letting them know something is wrong. In most cases, once the injury heals, the pain is gone.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts much longer. In some cases, the individual continues to experience pain months or even years after an injury heals. Other times, pain occurs alongside a condition such as lupus or osteoarthritis.
Pain that lasts three months or more is considered chronic and can have a significant impact on the individual’s quality of life. Medication may seem like the easiest way to manage it; by simply taking a pill or two, the individual can participate in their normal activities without the agony.
Unfortunately, medication is rarely a feasible long-term solution. Even seemingly benign over-the-counter medications have significant risk factors when taken over a long period of time. These may include an increased risk of liver damage, stomach ulcers and stroke. Opioids are a common go-to for severe pain. However, taking them longer than three days significantly increases an individual’s risk of developing an addiction.
Additionally, the longer a person is on a medication, the more likely they are to develop a tolerance for it and require higher doses. This increases their risk of dangerous side effects.
For these reasons, many people living with chronic pain seek non-medication help with managing their symptoms. One solution that’s helped people address stress and anxiety has also been shown effective for chronic pain. Biofeedback for chronic pain can empower the individual to manage their own physiology and, in many cases, reduce their symptoms.
Neuro-Rehab and Chronic Pain
Neurological rehabilitation, or neuro-rehab, is a doctor-supervised program that helps people with injuries, diseases and conditions that affect their nervous systems.
Infections, injuries, degenerative diseases, certain disabilities and disorders can impair the nervous system, causing chronic pain. A neuro rehab program is tailored to the individual’s needs and condition. The goal of treatment is to help them return to their highest level of function possible and improve their overall quality of life. Depending on the individual, a neuro rehab program may be completed on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Many conditions can improve with neuro rehab, including:
- Infections such as brain abscesses, meningitis, polio and encephalitis
- Brain or spinal cord injury or trauma
- Vascular disorders such as subdural hematoma and hemorrhagic strokes
- Neuromuscular and structural disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, brain and spinal cord tumors, muscular dystrophy, Guillain-Barre syndrome and Bell palsy
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Neck pain
- Phantom limb pain
- Jaw pain
- Degenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease and Alzheimer’s disease
Why Chronic Pain Is Challenging to Treat
For someone living with chronic pain, everyday activities can seem like insurmountable tasks. Simple tasks such as getting dressed, cooking meals and going to work are challenging when every movement hurts. Most people have experienced this on a short-term basis after breaking a bone or pulling a muscle in their backs. However, someone with chronic pain experiences this hour after hour for months or even years. It’s not surprising that chronic pain is among the most significant factors leading to depression.
Medication is a great option for handling short-term discomfort while recovering from an injury or surgery. Unfortunately, it’s not a long-term solution for chronic pain. First of all, not everyone wants to remember to take pills multiple times per day. Second, medications often come with unpleasant side effects such as tiredness, nausea, hormone imbalances that can lead to problems such as weight gain, and an increased risk of organ damage.
Biofeedback for Chronic Pain
Many actions are voluntary, meaning the individual makes a conscious decision to take an action. Walking, eating and talking to a friend are things the individual controls. Other actions and functions, such as breathing and the body’s heart rate or blood pressure, are controlled involuntarily by the nervous system. For example, when a person is nervous, they don’t decide to make their hands feel clammy and their heart beat faster. These are involuntary; in fact, the individual may only be vaguely aware of these physiological changes.
Biofeedback is a technique that helps the individual gain more control over involuntary functions. It’s based on the philosophy that by becoming more aware of what’s happening in the body in response to certain stimuli, the individual can have more control over their stress response.
With this form of therapy, sensitive electronic instruments are attached to the skin to measure a person’s bodily processes, such as their heart rate and skin moisture. Over time, as the individual becomes more aware of this information, they’re able to regulate their body more effectively and gain control over their own physiology.
Through biofeedback, individuals learn to make subtle changes in their bodies, such as relaxing certain muscles. This can help them reduce pain. Treatment plans vary depending on the individual’s goals and needs, but in general, it takes between 10-60 sessions to complete treatment. Biofeedback can be used on its own or as part of a comprehensive approach that includes physical therapy, nutritional counseling and psychotherapy.
Neurostimulation for Chronic Pain
Neurostimulation therapy is an innovative, minimally invasive therapy. It uses a small implantable device that sends out small electric signals that essentially intercept pain signals before they can reach the brain. It replaces these signals with a soothing sensation where the individual would otherwise feel the pain.
The individual can control the strength and location of the stimulation with a handheld device. If their pain is more significant at certain times of the day or with certain activities, they can change the settings to accommodate these changes. This therapy can provide relief when other treatments, such as physical therapy or medication, don’t work. The procedure is also completely reversible if the individual doesn’t like it or decides to pursue a different option.
Other Options for Managing Chronic Pain
Neurorehabilitation is just one tool available for managing chronic pain. While each situation is unique and not every non-medication option works for every person, there are some general ways to manage pain without medication.
While exercise may be the last thing anyone with chronic pain wants to do, studies have shown the benefits of gentle exercise for pain management. Physical activity and exercise programs are increasingly being recommended by doctors to improve individuals’ general health, function and quality of life. Low-impact exercises such as walking, bicycling and swimming help loosen stiff muscles and improve blood flow, which is important for the body’s healing process.
Pain and stress affect many of the same parts of the brain and take similar tolls on the individual’s wellbeing. It’s common for conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to go hand-in-hand with chronic pain. Proactively preventing excessive stress and discovering tools for coping with symptoms in the moment can help the individual reduce their pain response.
Integrative Medicine Techniques
While the mind-body connection has been largely dismissed for a long time, an increasing body of research shows this connection’s impact on the individual’s overall health. There’s evidence that integrative techniques that connect breathing, movement and mindfulness can calm unhealthy activity in the mind. For many, this can be a simple but effective way to relieve pain.
Physical therapists are trained to help clients strengthen and stretch their muscles in a way that won’t cause injury. Not only can this relieve pain, but it can also keep it from coming back. Many people find that physical therapy improves the way their muscles function, reducing the risk of strain and injury.
FHE Health offers biofeedback for chronic pain, helping individuals manage their symptoms without medications. To learn more about our programs or to speak with an intake specialist, call us today at (844) 980-2545.