Healing Chronic Pain with Functional Medicine
Despite the prevalence of chronic pain, standard treatments are usually inadequate in achieving lasting relief.
Sometimes, it is even implied by practitioners as being 'all in the head’ of the patient.
This dismissal of symptoms and their origins can be devastating to a patient and can lead many to unnecessarily delay treatment or to suffer indefinitely. Thanks to advancements in diagnostic tools we are now able to pinpoint and treat many conditions that cause chronic pain to persist.
Treating these underlying conditions, in many cases, leads to the full resolution of pain symptoms.
There can be an underlying autoimmune condition, nutrient deficiencies, genetic factors and food sensitivities that can cause or worsen chronic pain.
These causes can be ascertained using the latest diagnostic tools and a full physical assessment.
Below are just a few examples of the many potential underlying conditions that can be responsible for your chronic pain issues.
For many, chronic pain begins with an injury. The pain may linger far beyond the normal window of healing and may become inflamed by everyday activity.
Due to an injury, there may be subtle differences in how your joint moves. As you move a joint out of alignment, this friction creates micro-scar tissue.
Unless this type of movement is corrected, there can be a repetitive injury which can perpetuate your pain cycle.
Repetitively taking NSAIDs or prescription pain medication to reduce pain may seem like a good fix, but in reality, these medications come with their own risks and long-term side effects.
NSAIDs usage long-term is known to increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, it can also cause damage to the parts of the cell (mitochondria) that produce energy.
When you damage these parts of the cell it can perpetuate chronic pain. NSAID usage may, in fact, be a major factor in why your pain is still around.
In addition to natural supplements and diet changes - which can drastically reduce the level of inflammation affecting your joint - I make soft tissue adjustments of the muscle, tendon, and ligament as part of a functional medicine appointment for patients experiencing chronic pain.
These corrections last weeks to months as opposed to days with the traditional chiropractic adjustments.
Restoring the way your body is supposed to move is key to preventing constant exacerbations of your injury/pain.
DIET / FOOD SENSITIVITIES
A diet that is high in sugar, low in nutrients, and full of poor quality fat can create chaos within the body.
In addition to increasing your overall risk of disease, it is well documented that a poor diet can increase overall pain levels within the body, and exacerbate pain in old injuries or stress points.
Cutting out refined sugar, consuming enough omega 3 fatty acids, eating a balanced intake of omega 6’s and eliminating processed foods is a great place to start.
I have seen the full resolution of debilitating pain using diet alone - I make it an integral part of any healing regimen.
It is important to drink an adequate amount of water, dehydration is known to make pain worse and to slow down any healing that needs to take place.
It is also necessary to ensure that you do not have any underlying food allergies or sensitivities.
While many people associate a food allergy with the anaphylactic reaction that happens with a severe peanut allergy, food allergies and sensitivities can come with many different symptoms and are sometimes not accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms.
I had a patient who wanted a second opinion after she was recommended to have knee surgery after experiencing years of chronic severe pain. After her initial examination and her personalized diet changes, it was discovered that she had a food sensitivity to eggs.
Removing eggs completely from her diet totally resolved her knee pain. Sometimes, but not always, the cause of chronic pain can be isolated and removed that simply.
Migraines, skin rashes, anxiety, and chronic pain can be caused by food sensitivities. By eliminating any potential food sensitivities we can see how your body is functioning without any added inflammation from your diet - and possibly remove the source of your pain.
Many people are surprised that an infection can cause pain in different places in the body. Sometimes those infections may not even have overt symptoms.
Infections like these are what is referred to as a ‘hidden infection’ and may not cause a fever, lethargy or a runny nose - but it can contribute to conditions like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, chronic fatigue, and persistent pain.
The EBV virus is a frequent contributor to chronic conditions and is one of many possible viral causes to chronic pain. An infection, whether or not it is ‘hidden’ will lead to inflammation - this inflammation can cause pain.
For example, 'mystery' shoulder pain that cannot be explained by an injury often stems from an underlying and undiagnosed chronic viral infection. Unexplained abdominal pain often is the result of a bacterial infection.
We can test to determine if there is an underlying infection in your body and then use herbal or nutritional medicines tailored to combat that specific infection.
In addition to dispensing with the severe side effects of conventional treatments of infection, there are side benefits to using nutritional medicines.
Many of these herbs help restore the balance of your gut bacteria after the infection is resolved. While we use these medicines to heal the underlying infection, we will utilize your diet and lifestyle to normalize inflammation levels which will also help reduce your pain.
Every day our bodies ingest, absorb and inhale chemicals that are harmful to us. In a recent study which tested umbilical cords, chemicals were found that were banned a decade earlier - showing that potentially deadly chemicals can stay in our bodies for years.
Many of these chemicals are known to cause inflammatory diseases, dementia, heart disease, and chronic pain.
Toxic levels of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, and tin are common in my patients who have chronic conditions.
There are safe and natural ways of extracting these compounds from within the body in order to relieve symptoms and reduce inflammation but this should be done under the supervision of a doctor.
I often see patients who experience chronic nerve pain and neuropathy - often this is a result of heavy metal toxicity - primarily lead, mercury and copper overload.
You can read more about toxicity here.
ORGAN REFERRED PAIN
Organ referred pain is when an area of your body, like your lower back, is painful - not because of a musculoskeletal issue - but because a corresponding organ is impaired.
Conventional medicine and alternative medicine practitioners are both taught about organ referred pain in school and yet it is not often ruled out in patients.
I see it often enough among my own patients to believe that pain in a particular area of the body should be investigated to see if it is a symptom of a larger issue.
Constant, burning pain next to your shoulder blade could actually be a sign of an impaired gallbladder.
You can read more about organ referred pain in my blog post here.
There is a correlation between many autoimmune conditions and chronic pain. Sometimes chronic pain is the first sign of an underlying autoimmune condition, other times it is a byproduct of the tissue damage that accompanies many autoimmune conditions.
Autoimmunity can be very responsive to alternative treatments like dietary interventions, nutritional medicines, and lifestyle changes.
In the case of autoimmunity and chronic pain - functional medicine is uniquely suited to track down potential causes and provide real solutions.
Many of the ‘hidden' causes of chronic pain - latent infections, bacterial overgrowth, heavy metal toxicity, poor diet - are contributing factors of autoimmunity which can be addressed by the application of functional medicine.
You can read more about autoimmune conditions here.
I do not believe in reducing your health to a set of symptoms. ‘Healthy’ does not simply mean ‘pain-free’ - it means having the energy to pursue what you want in life, to feel good mentally and physically.
While getting you pain-free is very important, I use functional medicine to optimize the function of your body as a whole.
Rectifying long-standing infections or deficiencies often resolves symptoms but it also leads to better sleep, better mood and increased energy.
You are not defined by your diagnoses or your symptoms. When you arrive in my office we start at the beginning.
After a full patient history and a complete analysis of your previous test results, you can go into detail regarding all of your symptoms as well as your health goals.
I take every symptom and goal of yours seriously. There is always a reason behind severe symptoms, and finding it can unlock the key to relief.