Holistic Remedies for Natural Pain Relief

January 25, 2016

In addition to the Salonpas line of products, what are safe and effective pain management options for pain sufferers?   Salonpas interviewed Jonci Jensen, ND, an Adjunct Professor at Bastyr University, whose practice is based largely in treating chronic pain diseases with naturopathic and homeopathic medicine, to discuss why she specializes in this area of medicine and what’s in her medical arsenal of holistic remedies:

Jonci Jensen, ND

Jonci Jensen, ND

What is your background and how did you get interested in holistic remedies?

I am a naturopathic doctor with a practice based largely in the homeopathic treatment of auto-immune and stress-related disorders.  My initial interest in naturopathic medicine grew out of watching friends and family rely on and become addicted to pharmaceutical medications; with little attention paid to other non-drug related options.   Later, while I was attending naturopathic medical school, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome and faced the opportunity to begin my own healing journey.  I was surrounded by natural medicine and able to effectively treat these conditions through natural medicine.   My life is now dedicated to teaching others about the healing power of nature and empowering them along their own journey of self-healing.

Are there any holistic remedies that could be dangerous?

Probably the biggest danger in using holistic remedies is trying to navigate these options without the guidance of a trained doctor or other practitioner.   There is so much information available on the Internet, some of it is accurate and some of it is not… most of it is overwhelming.

It is helpful to engage a trained professional to help navigate all of these options, accurately diagnose relevant conditions, formulate a treatment plan, and properly follow-up on the effectiveness of this treatment.

The second great danger comes from allowing the doctors or other practitioners to make all of the decisions about treatment.  There are many paths to health and the right path for one person may not be the right path for another.  Doctors and other practitioners are meant to be there to provide guidance but I believe that the true power to heal lies within each one of us and requires our active participation in making informed choices about treatment.

Are there any adverse reactions that holistic remedies can have with OTC or prescription medications?

Of course!  Often herbs, supplements, and sometimes even foods, can interact with OTC or prescription medications.  Navigating these adverse reactions can also be overwhelming; naturopathic doctors are trained in these interactions along with few other healthcare professionals such as many pharmacists and some medical doctors.   One great aspect of using homeopathic medicines is that there generally are few, if any, interactions with OTC and prescription medications. For people taking OTC or prescription medications, it might be helpful to consider seeking treatment from a well-trained homeopath to discuss these options.

What are some holistic remedies you recommend for pain management?

Research seems to be pretty clear that a plant-based diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans)  lowers markers of inflammation in the blood, decreases pain, and improves functioning in many patients with chronic pain disease. Some research suggests that these effects can be seen in as little as 4 weeks after adopting a plant-based diet.  As an added benefit, eating a plant-based diet has been shown to not only be beneficial to the individual; it has been shown to be more beneficial to our environment.

Psychological interventions such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have been shown to be helpful in managing chronic pain and more research is beginning to show the benefits of mindfulness meditation practices in decreasing pain.  Many university medical schools now have centers for teaching and researching mindfulness-based training such as UCSD, UMASS, and UCLA that can be good resources for local and on-line training programs.

Many cities also have local centers that teach classes on mindfulness either free or at very low cost such as the Ann Arbor Center for Mindfulness.  There are a ton of resources available on-line at Mindful Magazine, Stop, Breathe & Think, and Calm.

Homeopathy is based on the principle of “like cures like” that can be traced back as far as Hippocrates.  Effectively used homeopathy is not based on the condition being treated as much as it is based on all of the unique symptoms experienced by the individual with the condition.  This makes homeopathy very difficult to study in clinical trials.  Homeopathy has been shown effective however in decreasing pain arising from a variety of conditions ranging from fibromyalgia to ear infections to pain after dental surgery. Because homeopathic remedies are based on the individual’s symptoms, finding the most appropriate remedy for that individual may be challenging.   This makes it very important to consult with a trained homeopathic doctor before beginning any treatment.  A great resource for learning more about homeopathy and how it works is the book Beyond Flat Earth Medicine by Dr. Tim Dooley

Are there any holistic remedies you recommend for stress management?

It seems as though some stress, such as a reasonable amount of physical exercise can be beneficial, while more than this reasonable amount can be damaging.  And, the amount that is reasonable can vary from person to person and from time to time.   Because of this, it is increasingly important for each of us to pay attention to how our bodies are responding to the stress in our lives and make modifications to alleviate this stress in order to prevent damage and possible disease.

There seems to be some differences of opinions in explaining exactly how exercise is beneficial in reducing stress, especially since exercise is technically a stressful event itself.  Some suspect it is because the body is allowed to “burn off” stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline.  Others suggest the positive benefits are due to the release of endorphins after exercise, also known as a “runner’s high.”   In either case, it seems clear that a regular exercise routine can help to combat the negative effects of stress on the body.  Even walking for 30-minutes most days of the week seems to be helpful.

Adaptogens: The interest in studying how herbs might mitigate the effects of stress on the body is largely attributed to Russian scientists of the late 1940s and 1950s.  These scientists started to notice that people could better manage the physical and emotional effects of stress when they ate herbs such as ginseng.  We now refer to herbs that aide the body in managing stress as “adaptogens.”

The use of adaptogens to manage the effects of stress began long before the Russian scientists discovered their physiological effects.   Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocinum sanctinum) and Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) have been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine; Panax ginseng and Astragulus membranaceous are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Other commonly used herbs that are also considered adaptogens include Rhodiola rosea, Maca (Lepidium meyenii), and Licorice (Glycyrrhizza glaba).

Go play with some friends: probably the best explanation for this one comes from George Bernard Shaw who said that “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  A group of kids playing is so frequently described as “carefree” but so is a group of adults playing.

Feeling the effects of stress should not be seen as a weakness, rather an experience that is challenging us, forcing us to grow and improve.  Like the stress that a runner experiences in training for a marathon.  Without the stress of daily practices, the great achievement of completing a marathon could never be realized.  We cannot ignore the effects that stress have on the mind and body however.  It is essential for us to be conscious of the damage that we are causing our bodies as a result of these stressful challenges and reward ourselves properly through self-care.

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