Mind-Body Medicine in Management of Chronic Pain
Presented by Dr. Wes Rocki MD, PhD
Pain may be localized in a particular part of the body, yet this is not the pain we actually perceive. The electrical pain signal has to travel through the nerves to certain areas of the brain where it is translated into a sensory experience. However, our pain experience is influenced by our perception of the circumstances, rather than the actual magnitude of the pain’s signal. For example, a victim of a motorcycle accident may immediately walk away from the traffic in spite of having serious leg injuries. This may be due to released endorphins, which suppress pain intensity to allow us to focus our attention on immediate life-saving measures.
Although a sensation we would rather not experience, acute pain has many benefits. The same endorphins that allow an injured motorcyclist to act can also prevent the body from going into pain-related shock, which can be life threatening. Pain can also be protective, as it forces us to limit the use of an injured body’s part. Finally, pain can carry important informational which may help to diagnose a disease.
In contrast, most chronic forms of pain (e.g. migraines, lower back issues, osteoarthritis, cancer-related pain) don’t carry diagnostic information and often become more intense with time. This is due to the hypersensitivity of the pain pathways, where frequent experiences of pain create new neuronal connections that specialize in conducting pain.
The process described above points to the importance of the brain’s participation in sensing and analyzing the perception of pain. This is why mind-body medicine is beneficial in the management of chronic pain. This treatment form works with the conscious and subconscious to address and correct all the mental and emotional factors that aggravate the sensation of pain. Effective mind-body tools include hypnotherapy, biofeedback and the emotional freedom technique (EFT). Energy-based techniques include acupressure/ acupuncture, therapeutic touch, Reiki and massage. Many of these techniques offer some degree of an immediate relief from pain, thus building the patient’s trust in a given therapeutic modality. Hypnotherapy is particularly effective in this aspect since it can induce analgesia (eliminating the sense of pain while preserving the sense of touch) and anesthesia (when both the pain and touch sensations are blocked).
Mind-body methods are further supported by the use of specific nutrients/ diets, supplements, essential oils and exercise. These measures suppress pain directly and also address coexisting conditions like depression, anxiety and general inflammation, all known either to cause or to aggravate chronic pain.
Dr. Rocki is uniquely experienced in various alternative medicine methods and how to integrate them with the strategies of conventional medicine. He learned how to manage pain within obstetrics and then continued chronic pain management as an internist. Before transitioning to alternative medicine, Dr. Rocki also was involved in researching and developing pain-relieving pharmaceuticals.