Treating chronic pain the osteopathic way
Chronic pain affects millions of Americans each year. Managing chronic pain without the use of opioids and other painkillers is possible for some patients.
William Welches, DO, a family physician at Cleveland Clinic’s Pain Management Clinic, helps his patients manage their pain through lifestyle modifications and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) with the goal of leaving their medications behind.
“Chronic pain is a huge problem and it’s getting worse due to the aging population,” Dr. Welches says. “We’re also more sedentary and overweight. We don’t get enough sleep, are way over-stressed and eat a poor diet.”
Dr. Welches prescribes four components to his patients who are looking to improve their pain and quality of life: diet, exercise, stress reduction and sleep. He then augments those lifestyle modifications with OMT and acupuncture.
Here are 5 takeaways on how to improve chronic pain from an osteopathic pain management physician:
Chronic pain is prevalent
Approximately 20% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8% had high impact chronic pain in 2016, according to a CDC report.
“Chronic pain, one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care, has been linked to restrictions in mobility and daily activities, dependence on opioids, anxiety and depression, and poor perceived health or reduced quality of life,” the report claims.
Anti-inflammatory diets can ease symptoms
Chronic pain and inflammation are closely linked, and diet can be a major contributor to chronic inflammation, says Dr. Welches. He uses an anti-inflammatory diet as part of an integrative approach to treating chronic pain and inflammation in his patients.
“If you eat a diet that’s rich in combustibles—which the standard American diet is—you’re going to be in meta-inflammation all the time, always right on the edge and stoked,” says Dr. Welches “You want to starve the fire, not feed it.”
The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan aimed at treating low-grade chronic inflammation. In addition to chronic pain patients, those with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from the diet, which calls for eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy and limiting sugar and processed food.
If you are looking for an anti-inflammatory eating plan, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fish, and healthy oils with extremely moderate meat consumption, Dr. Welches says.
Anti-inflammatory diet do’s and dont’s.
Foods that cause inflammation include refined carbs, added sugars, dairy, fried foods, soda, processed meat, and red meat.
Anti-inflammatory foods include dark, colorful fruits and vegetables such as cherries, raspberries, blackberries, spinach, kale and broccoli; plant-based proteins such as nuts and beans; olive oil, fatty fish and fresh herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Acupuncture can help modulate pain
In Dr. Welches’ pain management practice, the anti-inflammatory diet supports other lifestyle modifications and non-pharmacologic interventions that reduce inflammation, including exercise, stress management, osteopathic manipulative treatment and acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an Eastern medicine modality that we’re always trying to explain and morph into our understanding of Western medicine, Dr. Welches says. “If you have back pain, I may stick a needle in your ankle, which doesn’t make sense in Western medicine understanding,” he says. “Sticking needles in certain locations can mobilize the inherent pain system. The peptide acts the same as morphine.”
A meta-analysis of over 20,000 patients over 39 trials found acupuncture effective for the treatment of chronic pain. It also found that the effects of acupuncture persist over time and that the benefits of acupuncture cannot be explained only by the placebo effect.
OMT can be a gamechanger
Dr. Welches has seen his fair share of patients who come in after years—and sometimes decades—of pain and finally start feeling better from OMT augmented with acupuncture and lifestyle modifications.
Through OMT, osteopathic physicians manually apply a specific amount of pressure to different regions in the body. These techniques can help:
- Treat structural and tissue abnormalities
- Relieve joint restriction and misalignment
- Restore muscle and tissue balance
- Promote the overall movement of blood flow throughout the body
“OMT helps patients lower their medication requirements, keeps them away from procedures and hopefully keeps them away from surgery,” Dr. Welches says. “Procedures and surgery are great when it’s the right thing for the patient, but osteopathic manipulation is simpler pain management.”