Healing

Surprising New Pain Relief Methods

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

 

If you are one of the more than 100 million Americans suffering with chronic pain, you know how desperate you can get searching for relief. For constant or chronic pain, sometimes knowing that you can only get temporary relief from medications sits at the back of your brain and sets up pain anticipation. Shouldn’t there be a better way, an approach or approaches that don’t rely on pharmaceutical drugs to combat pain? According to new research, there are some new pain relief methods that look very promising to do just that.

TREATMENT FROM STRANGERS MAY PROVIDE UNEXPECTED PAIN RELIEF

It may seem counter-intuitive, yet a study conducted by researchers from the University of Würzburg, Amsterdam and Zurich found that participants treated for pain by strangers (medical professionals from a different social group) experienced stronger pain relief than when they received pain treatment by someone from their own social group. Participants rated their pain “less intense” after being treated by strangers, and the reactions were reductions in both subjective and pain-related activation areas of the brain corresponding to the pain. Researchers call this “prediction error learning,” otherwise known as the analgesic effect of surprise. Patients didn’t expect to experience pain relief from strangers, and the less they expected to receive pain relief, the greater their surprise and the more pronounced their actual pain relief afterward.

HIGHER MINDFULNESS MAY LESSEN PAIN

Long suspected to play a role in providing pain relief, mindfulness now gets a thumbs-up in a study just published in the journal Pain. In the study, supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), researchers from Wake Forest University and some other collaborating institutions looked at how participants with no prior experience with meditation fared after completing the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory and then two testing sessions with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI) and thermal probe and the delivery of minor lower-leg heat stimuli (sometimes uncomfortable). Results showed that those with higher innate mindfulness reported feeling less pain. Their responses to the pain stimuli (heat) showed up in areas of the brain (the precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex) involved in attention and subjective emotional responses to sensations. In other words, this brain area is thought to have a role in how you react to experiences. Researchers point to the study’s usefulness moving forward with nonpharmacological approaches to pain management that, in addition to mindfulness, may include biofeedback and behavioral therapies targeting increasing mindfulness and reductions in this brain region.

A meta-analysis of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness in reducing migraine pain found that it may reduce the intensity of pain from migraine and shows promise as a viable, complementary treatment option for patients with primary headache. The 2018 study was published in the Chinese Medical Journal.

PROMISING DUAL-TARGET PAIN RELIEVER WITHOUT OPIOID SIDE EFFECTS

First, the bad news: it’s not available yet. Second, the good news: scientists are working to develop a dual-targeting painkiller that is an effective analgesic without any opioid painkiller side effects. Opioids have long been known for their effective pain relief and work by activating the mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor. Yet, MOP side effects can be severe: dependence, tolerance, respiratory depression, hyperalgesia, and even lead to addiction. Researchers have developed a bifunctional nociceptin and mu opioid receptor agonist called AT-121 that reportedly provides potent pain relief in primates without causing dependence, hyperalgesia or respiratory depression. The hope is that AT-121 may prove to be a safe and effective prescription pain reliever to treat humans suffering chronic pain.

HOME-BASED VIDEO GAME EXERCISES FOR CHRONIC LOW-BACK PAIN

It turns out there’s another target group who can benefit from playing video games: older adults with chronic low-back pain. That’s according to 2018 research from the University of Sydney published in Physical Therapy. This is a first-of-its-kind study looking at how effective home-based video game exercises benefit pain reduction in people over the age of 55 using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U. Results showed participants had 27 percent reduction in chronic low back pain and the exercises gave them 23 percent increase in function. The 8-week self-managed program consisted of 60-minute exercise sessions of aerobic, strengthening and flexibility three days a week. The results were comparable to exercise completed in a physiotherapist-monitored exercise program. The video game exercise program offers older adults with chronic low back pain a cost-effective solution that doesn’t require them to travel outside the home – and helps them to self-manage their pain and continue daily life activities despite having pain.

OTHER PAIN RELIEF STAND-BYS THAT WORK

While research continues on novel methods to effectively treat pain, including some that may be years off in reaching the marketplace, there are some therapies that have loyal adherents and are backed by research to provide non-opioid relief from pain. They may not work for everyone in every instance of chronic pain, but the fact that they do work for a significant number of individuals seeking pain relief at least offers pain sufferers viable alternatives to taking potentially-addicting painkillers.

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION AND COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

Results of a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health found that the combination of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove “more effective than usual treatment in alleviate chronic low back pain.” MBSR combines elements of mindfulness meditation and yoga. CBT, on the other hand, trains individuals to modify specific beliefs and thoughts relative to pain. Researchers studied participants who used MBSR and CBT or usual treatment for one year. At 26 and 52 weeks, participants using both mind-body approaches experienced better functioning and less back pain than the usual care group. Both groups (mind-body and usual care) received relief in terms of pain intensity and some mental health measurements, those using CBT didn’t see continuing improvement after 26 weeks. The MBSR group, however, did continue to see improvement. Researchers suggested that MBSR may be an “effective” form of treatment for people suffering chronic low back pain.

A form of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven helpful to individuals struggling with chronic pain. By utilizing several methods, CBT helps pain sufferers to cope more effectively with chronic pain, better manage it, change their pain response behaviors, and boost their self-confidence that they can be an active participant in reducing their pain – and do so successfully. CBT is considered the psychological gold standard of treatment for a wide variety of pain. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown the efficacy of CBT in reducing pain distress, pain interference with daily activities, distress, and disability.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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10 Benefits of Tai Chi for Better Overall Health, Well-Being and Living Longer

 

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Kenneth H. Cooper

 

In the search for effective ways to experience positive outcomes in the all-important life aspects such as overall health, well-being and mortality, one of the sleeper strategies to consider involves adopting an ancient Chinese practice called tai chi. Here are some of the benefits of tai chi documented by research.

Live longer.

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that originated in China and remains today the most common form of exercise for adults in that country. In addition to the much-researched benefits for reduced mortality from moderate-intensity exercise, such as you get from regular walking and jogging, researchers found the first evidence that tai chi also promotes longevity. The greatest benefit from tai chi was obtained from those who self-reported engaging in the practice 5-6 hours per week.

Improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

A systematic review of older patients with chronic conditions who engaged in regular tai chi exercise found that, in addition participants’ physiological and psychosocial benefits, the practice also appeared to promote better balance control, flexibility, strength, respiratory and cardiovascular function. Researchers noted, however, that it was difficult to state firm conclusions about the reported benefits and called for more well-defined studies to drill down to specific, verifiable results. In other research, a clinical trial of older women with osteoarthritis who completed a 12-week tai chi exercise program found participants experienced improved arthritic symptoms (less pain), balance and physical function. Researchers urged a larger-sample longitudinal study to confirm use of tai chi in arthritis exercise management.

Boost cognitive function.

Although the fact is that cognitive decline is prevalent among older adults (about 40 percent of older adults in America have some form of cognitive impairment, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease), it need not be considered a foregone conclusion. Nor should getting older need be synonymous with cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence points to the benefits to older adults from practice of tai chi in the areas of global cognitive and memory functions, especially verbal working memory. A meta-analysis found agreement with the findings of numerous studies on the benefits to cognitive function from physical exercise, and researchers recommended tai chi as an alternative mind-body exercise to improve older adults’ cognitive functioning.

Improve COPD symptoms.

An Australian study found that a modified tai chi program – Sun-style tai chi — helped boost exercise capacity and improved participant’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. Researchers noted that tai chi has “highly clinically relevant effects on endurance and peak exercise capacity in people with COPD.”

Get better night-time sleep quality.

A 2016 pilot randomized controlled trial evaluating the benefits of tai chi qigong (TCQ) on night-time sleep quality of older adults with cognitive impairment found better quality of both sleep and life than a control group not participating in tai chi qigong. Since more than 25 percent of older adults with cognitive impairment suffer impaired sleep quality, the search for nonpharmacological approaches to improve the quality of night-time sleep is gaining momentum. Due to their low physical strength and medical condition, however, many older adults with cognitive impairment cannot engage in certain exercises. Thus, developing exercise programs tailored to mental conditions and reduced physical well-being is important. Results from the pilot trial showed tai chi qigong participants benefited from improved sleep qualities in the areas of sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and the mental health component of quality of life. Researchers noted that, as a low-intensity exercise, TCQ is an appropriate intervention to improve night-time sleep quality in older adults with cognitive impairment.

Improve symptoms of fibromyalgia.

In a study comparing the effectiveness of tai chi and aerobic exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms in patients, researchers found that tai chi resulted in similar or greater symptom improvement than aerobic exercise. Longer-duration tai chi provided greater improvements, researchers noted, concluding that the mind-body approach of tai chi may be a viable therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.

See improvements in cardiovascular fitness.

Millions of Americans exercise to help boost their cardiovascular health. Yet, many who do so do not realize the research-backed evidence that certain types of exercise specifically benefit cardiovascular function. Indeed, zeroing in on what types of exercise benefit the heart in healthy adults is only recently attracting researcher interest. A review of 20 studies of healthy adults comparing tai chi exercise with non-intervention found that tai chi has a significant impact in improving heart efficiency by reducing resting blood pressure, resting heart rate, and enhancing stroke outcome and cardiac output at quiet reading. The review also found significant improvement in respiratory function from tai chi exercise.

Reduce risk of falls.

Among older adults, the risk of falling is an ever-present and major concern. As such, finding therapeutic approaches to help reduce fall risk in this cohort is of major importance. A 2016 review  of 10 randomized controlled trials examining tai chi’s effect on fall reduction found the ancient Chinese exercise demonstrates a significant protective effect on fall prevention risk among older adults. Researchers noted the need for additional trials to determine both optimal duration and frequency of tai chi programs and optimal style of such programs for older adults.

Reduce prenatal anxiety and depression.

A 2013 study of tai chi and yoga treatment for prenatal women with anxiety and depression found that the tai chi group had lower scores in depression and anxiety, as well as lower scores in sleep disturbance at the end of the 12-week, once-per-week sessions.

Obtain moderate benefits for chronic nonspecific neck pain.

Chronic pain sufferers are always on the lookout for effective pain relief that is nonaddictive, effective and safe. A 2016 study found that a 12-week program of tai chi resulted in more than 50 percent pain reduction in 39 percent of patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain, compared with more than 50 percent pain reduction in 46 percent of study participants engaging in conventional neck exercises. Researchers noted that both tai chi and conventional neck exercises are safe and effective. They said further that tai chi may be a suitable alternative to conventional neck exercises.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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We All Get Sick Sometimes: How to Keep Going When You Feel Miserable

Photo by Michele Hohner

 

“Life is too short to be miserable.” – Rita Mae Brown

 

While it would be wonderful if you never got sick, that’s not life. In fact, you can count on having some bouts of illness no matter how healthy you currently are or have been. There are countless opportunities to encounter germs, carried by people who are infected – even if they don’t look sick – or clinging to surfaces you touch. Allergies afflict millions every day, while family contact and heredity account for many more instances of sickness and illness. When you do fall ill, it may be of short duration or a long and drawn-out episode. Either way, you might feel miserable. Here’s some advice on how to keep going when that happens, drawn from personal experience and a keen sense of research on what works and what doesn’t.

Keep your perspective.

It might seem like this illness or condition will last forever, yet it’s likely more of a barrier in your thoughts than will pan out. A cold or the flu will run its course over a week or two, unless there are complications. A broken leg will eventually heal, given appropriate medical treatment. A chronic disease or condition can be managed with time and discipline. Doing the best that you can to be good to yourself while what’s bothering you now rages on will help speed recovery. In the meantime, take the long view. Envision yourself getting stronger each day and regaining your health and vitality. By seeing a mental image of a healthier you, you’re priming yourself to get on the road to improvement. Research proves that imagining being able to perform a task, even when physically unable to do so, may benefit recovery. Remember that the next time illness lays you low.

Leave the big decisions for later.

When you’re sick is no time to make major changes in your life. For one thing, you’re not thinking clearly. For another, making an impulse decision now could jeopardize long-term goals, alienate those you care about most or whose friendship or counsel you value highly. When you are anxious, sad, worried or angry about not being able to continue with your schedule, you might make an impromptu choice to quit school, break up with a loved one, close off contact with friends, cope by making rash purchasing decisions. Keep in mind that smart choices are often the ones given appropriate time to consider carefully. Jot down points you find pertinent now, with the aim of revisiting them when you feel better. At present, make healing your highest priority. All other decisions, unless urgent, can wait for later.

Adopt an optimistic outlook.

Have you ever found that thinking in negative terms subsequently affected how you performed when doing the task? That’s called self-fulfilling prophecy by some or engaging in negative self-talk by others. Whatever phrase you ascribe to it, avoid doing it. In fact, researchers have found that imagining a more positive future colors memory of such action when it becomes part of the past. You remember more positive things about the action than negative ones. This can help when you’re stuck in pain at present, nursing an illness and doing the best self-care you can to speed healing. It’s much preferred than wallowing in negativity, which only exacerbates your current misery.

Focus on today.

If you can remember what bothered you so intensely six months ago, it’s likely a distant memory. In similar fashion, what seems so monumental now will likely fade quickly. This includes physical and emotional pain, perhaps caused by chronic illness or the sudden onset of a virus or bacterial infection. Painful emotions, another type of deeply-felt pain, can also be resolved over time with appropriate professional help and the support of loved ones and family members. One technique that may prove helpful is to center your thoughts on today. Just get through the next 24 hours. Things will be better tomorrow. Whether you’re dealing with substance abuse, going through detox, suffering cravings and urges, getting used to pain medication post-surgery, dealing with depression, anxiety, or a broken heart from a recent break-up, tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, you’re healing. That’s what’s most important.

Lighten your load by only doing what’s essential.

Since you’re not physically or emotionally capable of doing everything on your schedule when you’re miserable, the smart move is to remove some items from your to-do list. In fact, ditch nonessential ones completely for now, as they’ll only drain what precious energy you can marshal today. There’ll be time to circle back to them once you’re feeling better. Ask for help tackling tasks and handling responsibilities from loved ones, family members, friends and co-workers. Be sure you reciprocate the favor when they request similar assistance from you. Of the items left that must be attended to, prioritize them and do the best you can with the highest priority one. A single mom who must make dinner for her children will make this a priority, even if that dinner consists of microwaved casseroles or canned soup heated on the stove. Be sure to let the kids know that regular dinners will resume once you feel better – and keep your promise.

When possible, communicate with a friend.

There’s nothing lonelier than suffering in misery by yourself. Pain seems magnified, like you can’t escape it. Thoughts of dire consequences and fears about illness progressively getting worse also tend to rush in during times of solitude. If you’re not contagious and feel that the physical presence of a friend, loved one, family member, neighbor or co-worker will be welcome, invite that person for a visit. If an in-home visit isn’t possible, connect via phone call or social media, even email. Exchanging conversation will at least take your mind off your ills for a brief period. Often, this is enough to change the trajectory of your convalescence, going from stalemate to an upward swing.

Be sure to hydrate.

Many medications have an unpleasant side-effect of dehydration. Even if you don’t require prescription medications when you’re feeling miserable, over-the-counter medications can also cause dehydration. Perhaps you’re not taking any medication. Do you still need to rehydrate when you’re feeling miserable? The answer is that you do. By the time you think you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. This is detrimental to every organ in your body, including your brain. When you’re consumed with thoughts about how bad you feel, you’re probably not taking adequate care of yourself, and that includes drinking sufficient fluids. Water is the best choice to hydrate, so aim for 6-8 8-oz. glasses of water daily.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

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10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, and Google+.