Alternative Pain Relief

November 7, 2016

By Oklahoma Pain Management Center

About 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain, which is greater than the combined number of people with diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

Those 100 million pain sufferers are looking for relief, and they have numerous options. From minimally invasive interventional treatments like epidural steroid injections, to more invasive surgical options like spinal cord stimulations. Many people also seek alternative pain relief options such as acupuncture or hypnosis. It’s clear there are many options available and finding the right ones for you can be difficult. Although interventional treatments are our specialty, we want to discuss three alternative pain relief options — essential oils, acupuncture, and massage.

Essential oils

What is it?

Mood-Oil collection from The Mood-Factory

Mood-Oil collection from The Mood-Factory

Essential oils are concentrated liquids extracted from leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, and resins. The oils are extracted by distillation, using steam or water; expression, cold pressing; or maceration, macerating the plant in warm water. Although essential oils have gained popularity in recent years, the practice of aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years. Aromatherapy is the art of using naturally extracted essences from plants to bring balance and harmony for a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

How can it relieve pain?

It’s said that essential oils, or aromatherapy, is effective by stimulating the smell receptors, which send signals from the nervous system to the limbic system, which controls emotions in the brain. “They also help stimulate blood flow and increase oxygen, which are both key to reducing pain,” said Elizabeth Skala of Energetic Wellness.

Essential oils are often highly concentrated and cannot be applied directly to the skin. For these oils they are combined with a “carrier” oil or lotion for dilution. “Oils, and their carrier if necessary, can be applied to the body, inhaled, or diffused into the air,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth recommended seven essential oil recommendations for pain relief:

  • Peppermint
  • Lavender
  • Clove
  • Helichrysum
  • Copaiba
  • Frankincense
  • Valerian

Because essential oils aren’t FDA approved, it’s important to find a licensed aromatherapist by visiting the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.


What is it?

Acupuncture is an aspect of traditional Chinese medicine used to treat pain by balancing the qi, or chi, flowing through pathways in the body. “In traditional Chinese medicine, pain is considered a symptom of the blockage of the free flow of qi and blood in the body and meridian. Acupuncturists place the small acupuncture needles along the corresponding meridians to help return balance to the patient’s energy flow,” describes Sarah Thompson, Dpl. OM, L.Ac and Doula of Sacred Vessel Acupuncture in Colorado.  The qi is balanced by placing small needles along the meridians, or pathways, to re-balance a patient’s energy flow.

How can it relieve pain?

Acupuncture can be used for various pain conditions. “I see a great number of patients with pain in their lower back, upper back, neck, sciatica, shoulder pain, and those suffering with migraines,” said Toni Penery, an acupuncture physician at Be Well Acupuncture.

Acupuncturists will do an initial consultation of a patient, taking note of the pain points in their body, color of their face, wrist pulse, and their tongue color and shape.

“Acupuncture is a cumulative treatment to where patient’s pain alleviation builds upon each procedure they’ve previously undergone. Most patients see a positive change in their health after four to six treatments,” said Toni.

During an acupuncture session, five to 20 thin needles are inserted into a patient. The needles may be manipulated by moving, twirling, applying heat, or electrical pulses. After 20 to 45 minutes, the needles are removed.

“It’s important for patients to do research before seeing an acupuncturist,” Toni said. “Since there isn’t a license for acupuncture in Oklahoma, it’s best to turn to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to find practitioners that have completed an approved Master’s Degree program.”


What is it?

massage is a procedure done by pressing, rubbing, or manipulating the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments to reduce stress, pain, or muscle tension. There a different forms of massages, including Swedish, deep, sports, and trigger point.

How can it relieve pain?

Most people think receiving a massage is a therapeutic exercise to pamper yourself, but receiving a massage can also help alleviate pain. A massage can relieve anxiety, headaches, myofascial pain, sports injuries, joint pain, fibromyalgia, and soft tissue strains or injuries in patients.

Most massages last anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes and techniques, skin care products, and more can vary depending on the type of massage.

A study published in Science Translational Medicine found that massaging an area after vigorous exercise reduced the production of cytokines, which cause inflammation and pain, and increased the proteins that tell muscles to produce more mitochondria, which produce energy and help muscles recover from physical activity.

To find a massage therapist, go to the American Massage Therapy Association or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Pain isn’t something you have to live with. Essential oils, acupuncture, and a massage are just a few alternative pain relief options available for patients.

Other pain relief options

While these alternative pain relief techniques may work for some, it is best to seek a doctor’s opinion before beginning a new treatment option.

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