Being in pain is the worst! From tooth pain to a headache or back pain, we know it can range from not being a big deal to being completely unbearable. When I was pregnant with my daughter Penelope, there was a two-week period where she was sitting on my sciatic nerve. Talk about pain! Every time I moved, it hurt. I couldn't bend over to tie my shoes, and sometimes even walking was a challenge. I tried everything. Thankfully, she finally moved and I had some relief, but I just remember feeling helpless and wondering if it would be like that forever. It makes me sad that there are people who live their lives battling chronic pain. To find out more about both pain management and the science behind pain, I reached out to Jennifer Chung, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
What is the science behind pain?
Dr. Chung: When we experience pain (i.e. cutting our finger), sensory receptors in our skin send a message to the spinal cord, brainstem, and then the brain, where the message is processed and pain is perceived. Thus, pain is a perception interpreted in the brain. This explains why psychological factors (such as stress and anxiety) can magnify the strength of these perceptions, resulting in more severe pain.
A friend of mine suffers from chronic back pain and seems to take Ibuprofen daily. What sort of alternative treatment options are there for chronic back pain?
Dr. Chung: There are many alternative options to manage chronic back pain, but first, and most importantly, you need the correct diagnosis. Then different treatment options can be discussed, including physical therapy, soft-tissue treatments, manual therapies, injections, acupuncture, topical ointments, meditation, and stress management.
Are there any home remedies that you could recommend?
Dr. Chung: Some home remedies include hamstring and glute stretches, ice and/or heat, a TENS unit, traction device, Epsom salt baths, and relaxation techniques. But, I have to reiterate that determining the correct diagnosis first will help guide you in the right direction with treatments.
What sort of daily exercises could someone do to help with chronic pain or back issues?
Dr. Chung: I recommend low-impact activities in patients with chronic pain - especially in a warm water pool that is gentle on the joints and muscles. Tai Chi is another one that can be done every day, also in the comfort of your own home. A good stretching program should also be incorporated into your daily exercise routine. I recommend working with a trained physical therapist to formulate a stretching and exercise program that is right for you.
Are there any kind of supplements or vitamins that could help pain?
Dr. Chung: I always advise speaking to your physician before starting any vitamin and supplement. Low Vitamin D levels can be associated with muscle aches and pains, so replacing this vitamin, if it's low, can help. Supplements for inflammation and pain include turmeric/curcumin, fish oil, ginger, and CBD/hemp.
I keep seeing all this hype and information about essential oils. Can they help with pain management? Are they safe?
Dr. Chung: There is not a lot of scientific evidence supporting the use of essential oils, but there are several small studies suggesting that oils - such as lavender, eucalyptus and chamomile - can help with analgesia and pain relief.
Ultimately, it comes down to doing research to ensure that the oils are both safe, pure and high grade.
How long should I try alternative medicine or non-traditional methods before I know that my issue might need a little more attention?
Dr. Chung: If the pain is somewhat manageable, you can try alternative and non-traditional treatments. However, once pain begins to disrupt your day-to-day activities, it is time to seek the advice of a physician or health care professional.
Is it easy to book an appointment?
Dr. Chung: Yes! I do my very best to see new patients as quickly as possible.
Is this something I could talk with you about through a video visit?
Dr. Chung: We can discuss your history and complaints through a video visit. If additional evaluation is needed (a good physical exam is often the best way to make a diagnosis!), then we can schedule an in-office appointment.
Thank you, Dr. Chung! From exercise to essential oils, it seems that some pain can be managed at home, but consulting a doctor is really the most important thing to do when it comes to chronic pain! Learn more about Dr. Chung's speciality area - Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation - and how it can help you, or schedule an appointment online with her!