Yoga Exercises For Chronic Pain

Pain Treatment—Often a Square Peg Aimed at a Round Hole

At my center, we treat chronic pain using multiple, complementary approaches, each of which has a proven track record. It’s a “big picture” approach made up of many pieces assembled in a unique way for each patient. But you probably won’t get such treatment through your regular doctor, HMO, or insurance company. Dance therapy, exercise classes, and lessons in reframing harmful thoughts are rarely offered during a doctor’s office visit, and almost never covered by HMOs. That’s why I’d like to spend a little time talking about how you can reconcile what works with what is typically covered by health plans. Please be aware that it will be up to you to initiate discussions with your doctor regarding your treatment and medications, and to figure out how best to spend your dollars and cents. It’s a sad fact that no one operating within the traditional health system is going to help you with this.

I know it can be hard to think about such things when you’re in pain. But taking the time to analyze the kinds of treatment offered by “the assembly line” can guide you away from treatments you don’t need and toward the better alternatives. You can start by gaining some perspective on what the system has to offer, what you need to do for yourself, and what it may cost you out of pocket.

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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

You may be inundated with information from doctors, family members, friends, health websites, social media, and “regular” media, but be aware that much of it is unhelpful, useless, and possibly even dangerous.

What you need is solid facts about effective treatments and someone to guide you through an information/insurance/treatment maze that baffles even the experts. If you see five different doctors, there is a good chance you will get five different opinions about what to do. So how do you make sense of what you hear and read about chronic pain and its related problems? Let’s begin with what you’ll learn from your physician.

There’s a good chance that your doctor won’t have time to explain things carefully to you. And what he says may be peppered with confusing medical terms like spondylitis or dystrophy. Unfortunately, doctors speak to each other in what may sound like a foreign language, and many are not good about translating this into plain old English. And the issues are ofen so complex that words may not help you understand what is happening inside your brain and body.

Articles in magazines and newspapers, health segments on TV, and information presented on daytime talk shows may offer up-to-date, accurate information about your health condition, but it’s often presented out of context. You might, for example, read an article about the results of a study on a new pain medicine, but one single study is not a good representation of reality. And even studies that are well designed will have a limited focus, run for a finite and usually brief period of time, and examine a small population—often a hundred people. Such studies produce helpful information, but they are just small pieces in the very complex pain puzzle.

As for the Internet, while it’s a repository of potentially valuable information, it cannot be objective or come up with any kind of tailor-made “cure” for your specific predicament. Nor is it well-regulated for accuracy or authenticity. Internet search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo! have secret algorithms or “rules” for determining which websites appear at the top of the search list. The companies or people that run the websites focus more on appeasing the search engines so they’ll gain a good position, than on providing the most relevant, helpful, and in-depth information possible. Thus, a site may or may not have great information. But you can’t be sure, either way.

Community sites are growing in popularity on the Internet. People suffering from similar conditions will post messages about their symptoms and treatments and offer advice and support. Health practitioners of all kinds may also weigh in, offering their own opinions. There are pluses and minuses to these sites. On one hand, you certainly take a risk when you follow the advice of a total stranger on the web. On the other hand, you just might pick up on something valuable that your doctor hasn’t thought about or told you about—something you can mention during your next appointment.

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of health-related mobile apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone. But how do you sift through all that claim to be relevant to your particular medical condition? Ask yourself: Who developed the app? What are their qualifications? What is their purpose—are they providing unbiased information, pushing a product, or what? Be aware that using apps to help manage pain is a brand new idea that has not yet been subjected to scientific study.

Then there are the social media sites, where you can interact with other people suffering from pain similar to yours. These might be helpful, but remember that any information about yourself and your condition that you disclose on social media sites—or on any community sites—will be reviewed carefully by organizations with deep pockets who hope to profit by learning about your pain. You have no privacy on the web.

Seeking out medical information about your condition is a positive thing, a sign that you are actively engaged in improving your health. But remember that the information you get from the Internet is a mixed bag, and it can be very difficult to decipher even the most accurate information. So when you find something interesting, read it carefully and consider the source. Is the information or advice coming from a physician? An herbalist? A layperson? A fellow pain sufferer? An attorney? A company that wants to sell you something? Or is there no indication at all who wrote the article or post? Identify the source; then do a little digging to see if you can discover a reason for bias. You can’t always tell, but it’s worth a try.

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