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chronic system inflammation and pain

If you’re reading this looking for answers for yourself, I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing chronic inflammation. I can relate somewhat–a family member of mine has an autoimmune condition that leads to chronic pain–this is something that hits close to home with me.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 475 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


Chronic pain and systemic inflammation can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. What often happens is that for some reason, the pain will come and go or “flare up.” Sometimes the cause is known, but often, it’s a complete mystery. It’s the latter that can make it so maddening. Sometimes the pain seems to be triggered for no reason at all. Maybe it’s caused by the environment (like pollution, our food, or water supply), our lifestyle (diet and exercise), the genes we inherit from our parents, or a combination all of those things.

Besides taking pain medications, there are very few long-lasting treatments. But some practitioners do recommend alternative therapies like Reiki, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage to help reduce some of the pain. I will start by talking about Reiki.

Reiki for Chronic Inflammation & Pain

Just to be sure we’re all on the same page, I want to explain what Reiki is all about. Reiki is often associated with eastern traditions and has been used for over 2,000 years as a treatment for a number of conditions.

The person practicing Reiki usually has the individual lie down in front of them and using a very soft touch or no touch at all (instead the hands are held just above the body), the practitioner uses vibrational energy to help relieve the patient’s symptoms or heal them completely.

Reiki has been studied as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and pain relief.

After looking at some of the data, it appears Reiki can be beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, depression, or for those with chronic pain. The evidence isn’t very strong, but I am willing to be more lenient with the data here because Reiki is unlikely to cause harm. Why am I ok with recommending something that hasn’t been studied all that much, you may ask? In other articles, I’ve been much more of a stickler about having well-designed studies to back-up my recommendations, so what gives?

Because there is a very low risk for harm, I can be more lenient. But if you read the article where I talk about working out on an empty stomach, I talk about how we don’t have quality research to support this behavior. This is because the consequences of working out an empty stomach can be pretty severe. Someone could develop low blood sugar and pass out during their workout. Pretty serious, indeed!

With a therapy like Reiki that’s highly unlikely to cause any harm to people, I can be more flexible.

Acupuncture as a Treatment for Systemic Inflammation

With regards to acupuncture, luckily the majority of the research looks at whether acupuncture can help reduce chronic pain specifically.

Acupuncture is the insertion of needles at specific points on the body to promote optimal health.

A meta-analysis was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and found that acupuncture was an effective treatment for chronic pain. I like looking at meta-analyses because these types of studies basically collect a bunch of other published research and looks at them as whole. We often hear how one study found a particular treatment to be helpful, then another one says the complete opposite. Meta-analyses can help us make sense of these conflicting results.

Sure enough, it was discovered that acupuncture can help relieve chronic pain. The authors even went so far as to say that this was NOT due to a placebo effect.

Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain Relief

Some meta-analyses have been published for massage therapy and its effectiveness for chronic pain as well. Since there are different forms of massage, like deep tissue, Swedish, lymph drainage, and so on, it can be bit trickier to determine which is truly most effective.

There have been cases where deep tissue or lymph drainage massages can actually cause more pain. Why might this be? Have you ever had a massage and then after, the therapist says to you, “Ok, I want you to take it easy afterwards–it’s normal to feel like you’re coming down with something afterwards so hydrate and rest”?

This is because the body’s immune system may begin to wake up after the message. If the immune system wakes up, it may lead to more inflammation and increase pain. So it may be worthwhile to consider getting “relaxation” massages, as opposed to deep tissue or lymph drainage.

Other Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Systemic Inflammation

When it comes to other lifestyle choices, here are the ones that are supported by quite a bit of well-designed studies:

Exercise

Moderate intensity cardiovascular activity (like walking at a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes at a time) most days of the week has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body and therefore help reduce chronic pain.

If you want to incorporate weight-bearing exercises, like weight lifting, just try not to overdo it. This is because if you begin to experience muscle soreness, that will lead to more pain. Plus the immune system will wake up to heal those muscles. Again, waking up the immune system is not what we want in this situation.

I’m not saying you should never perform weight-bearing exercises, just no need to overdo it.

Diet

There are a number of foods that have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation may be a trigger for chronic pain.

Believe it or not, there are a number of well-designed studies that have found whole grains to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Other foods include:

  • beans and lentils
  • green leafy vegetables (spinach and kale)
  • omega-3 fatty acids (marine sources tend to be the best for helping with autoimmune disease, so fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and halibut are great)
  • foods that contain turmeric

There have actually been a number of studies on the effects of turmeric and its role in preventing systemic inflammation. Turmeric is that bright yellow spice that it’s often used in eastern dishes. You can actually supplement with this as well, but be sure to do your research before buying a specific product.

Conclusion

Luckily, there are a number of options to help reduce chronic pain. Just know that Reiki, acupuncture, and massage should be considered complementary therapies. You should still follow your doctor’s orders, take your prescribed medications, etc. But, adding one or more of these modalities to your care plan may help you feel even better.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 475 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.