Safe Solutions: Drug-Free Pain Relief

Natural Treatments for Acute and Chronic Pain
by Shauna J. Douglass, EAMP, L.Ac


The news has been buzzing lately about various painkillers and their associated risks and side-effects.  From the fentanyl-overdose death of beloved singer Prince, to the newly-released study warning that opioid use can actually increase the likelihood of chronic (long-term) pain, it is clear that mainstream healthcare is in need of some alternatives to drugs when it comes to relief from pain.

Opioid Use Can Increase Pain

The study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder was published last Monday, warning that opioid use can actually prolong pain.  One study author, Dr. Peter Grace, said,

“Our results add weight to the growing body of science suggesting that treatment with opioids such as morphine may in fact be a contributor to people’s chronic pain.”

According to Dr. Linda Watkins, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder,

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting.”

Some are trying to focus on the flaws of this study to discredit its validity.  It is important to recognize that this study has its flaws, yes.  At the top of the list: the study was performed on rodents, not humans.  I agree that we cannot draw an exact correlation between rodents and humans, but it’s a great place to start.  Further studies are definitely warranted, but one important takeaway to the first quote above is that bit about the “growing body of science” drawing similar conclusions.

Other Studies Have Similar Conclusions

Opioid-induce hyperalgesia (hyperalgesia definition: abnormal heightened sensitivity to pain) is not a new topic of study and discussion.  A 2011 Comprehensive Review on Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia (OIH) published in Pain Practitioner concluded:

“As with any therapy, side effects and complications can occur. An exit strategy should exist when utilizing opioids to treat chronic pain because of the potential complications in managing these patients such as opioid dependence, addiction, and abuse. OIH is a less recognized side effect of chronic opioid therapy. However, it is becoming more prevalent as the number of patients receiving opioids for chronic pain increases… OIH should be considered in the differential when opioid therapy fails. Prior to instituting treatment with opioids, OIH should be addressed with patients as part of a comprehensive informed consent/agreement.”

This is an important side-effect to be aware of, as it gives one possible reason for the exponential rise of opioid use among consumers.

Opioid Prescriptions Are On The Rise

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid prescription sales have nearly quadrupled since 1999, yet there has not been a significant change in the amount of pain Americans report.  Deaths from prescription opioid overdose has also increased at similar rates.  In 2014, 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.  The most common drugs involved were methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin).

In addition to risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, and increased sensitivity to pain, opioids come with a long list of common side-effects including: tolerance (needing to take more of the medication for the same pain relief), physical dependence (having withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the medication), constipation, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, decreased testosterone levels (which can result in lower sex drive, energy and strength), itching, sweating, and hallucinations.

Alternatives To Opioids for Pain Relief

There has got to be a better way to treat pain.  Oh hey–there is!

I’m a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Spokane, Washington, and I know pain.  While acupuncture and East Asian medicine can be used to treat a wide variety of internal conditions (see the WHO report), pain relief is most assuredly our claim to “mainstream” fame, and is the most common thing we treat in our clinics.

Despite the poor study design of most acupuncture studies (I’ll save this topic for another article), a growing body of research is showing the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of pain.

According to the 2012 study Acupuncture for Chronic Pain published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.  Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo.”

The Military Utilizes Acupuncture for Pain Relief

The military is also increasingly utilizing opioid alternatives for pain management in veterans, including the use of acupuncture.  The David Grant Medical Center opened the Anesthesia Pain Clinic this year to provide acute and chronic pain treatment services for military service members, their families and retirees.

Lt. Col. Ronald White, M.D., Anesthesia Pain Clinic chief, said in a statement:

“The patient will receive a comprehensive evaluation, a thorough review of their medical history, a head-to-toe physical exam and a review of pertinent X-rays and MRIs,” Dr. White said. “Then a treatment plan will be developed using a multimodal approach including a vast array of state of the art interventional therapies, nutrition counseling, physical therapy, chiropractic medicine and acupuncture.”

Acupuncture Is A Viable Treatment Option

More and more integrative clinics–providing Western and Eastern treatment options–are opening up as the public demand for acupuncture is increasing.  Private acupuncture clinics are also increasing in number across the country.

While there is a lot of work to do in educating the public on the dangers and risks of opioid pain treatments as well as the effectiveness of acupuncture in pain relief, I have hope that more and more will find relief with drug-free pain relief methods as acupuncture becomes more readily available to Americans.

To Experience This Effective and Natural Remedy for Pain

Give me a call at Lilac City Acupuncture in Spokane, WA:
(509) 535-4055.  I am here to help!

Experience freedom from Pain!

If you reside outside of Spokane and wish to find an acupuncturist in your area, visit the NCCAOM practitioner list to search for a NCCAOM certified practitioner, or give me a call and I can recommend someone from my network of acupuncturists spanning the country.


Tips for Taming Your Anxiety

Do you suffer from anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you are not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 18.1 % of the US adult population. That’s almost one fifth of the adult population! That’s a lot of people! The average age of onset is 11 years old, and if you are a woman you are 60% more likely to be affected in your lifetime.

Under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, there are an array of disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not uncommon for sufferers to experience depression concurrently (or visa versa). It’s also not uncommon for people to experience anxiety as a prominent feature in the following disorders: Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Sleep Disorders, Substance Abuse, Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, and Stress.

So what exactly is anxiety?

Anxiety is, simply put, nervousness. Fear. Worry. Unease. The truth is, everyone feels nervous at times. We all know what it’s like to worry. To feel afraid or uneasy or fearful. To some extent, anxiety is normal. What is that extent? Where does the line get drawn between a healthy, normal amount of anxiety and an excessive, pathological amount of anxiety? That’s a good question.

I think the answer to this question lies in how well you are managing it and how frequently and intensely are you experiencing it.

Do you have an upcoming work deadline that you are feeling nervous about? You might be well within the boundaries of normal. Do you feel afraid to leave your house for fear of interacting with someone? You might be venturing into the realm of a social anxiety disorder or possibly a phobia disorder. Do you feel uneasy and nervous about life in general, and can’t quite explain why? You might have generalized anxiety disorder.

There are many ways anxiety can present pathologically, and in much more severe ways than I’ve mentioned. Sometimes anxiety can have accompanying physical symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, headaches, neck tension, upset stomach, ear ringing, burning skin, nausea, shortness of breath, electric shock feeling, shooting pains, heart palpitations, muscle weakness, inability to rest, and sleep problems.

So what can you do if you are one of the 18.1% of adults affected by anxiety? Keep reading…

Shauna’s Top 3 Tips for Managing Anxiety

1. Put Down the Caffeine

Whaaaa? You want me to fork over this tasty latte? Shauna, you’ve got to be kidding me. I love soda pop! I don’t want to give up my tea!

Yes, I know you love caffeine, in all its tasty forms. (It hides in food, too, you know. Like in that delicious chocolate candy bar sitting on your desk.)

Caffeine is a drug. More specifically, it’s a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It calls to action your “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system — the part of the CNS that’s responsible for the ability to run from the proverbial saber-toothed tiger. (Though these days that “saber-toothed tiger” is any number of mental stressors caused by living in our fast-paced, perfection-focused culture.) Yes, caffeine can increase your mental alertness, but it’s doing that at the cost of your mental health (and likely your sleep habits, too–which could also be exacerbating your anxiety).

If you are suffering from anxiety, caffeine will make it worse. Caffeine can cause heart palpitations and “the jitters” even in people without an anxiety disorder. But when you combine it with an already-existing anxiety disorder, you are pouring gas onto an open flame.

2. Embrace Meditation

You’ve seen the research, I’m sure. Meditation is all the rage these days! I know you don’t want to be a follower, but there is a reason so many swear by this ancient practice.

Meditation is practice for your parasympathetic nervous system.

My para-what?

Your parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” system. It’s the system that works opposite that “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system we talked about in #1. The parasympathetic nervous system is your natural ability to calm down. In our stressful lives, it has become really difficult to take a step back and simply be calm. This is why we need to “build the muscle” of our parasympathetic nervous system… quite literally, as meditation, over time, physically restructures your brain.

Think of your brain like a record. The needle rests within the record’s already-created grooves and plays us sound as a result. Your brain is like that record, and your neural pathways are the grooves. Your brain is constantly restructuring itself based on your experiences, and when you do something over and over again, the “groove” of that pathway becomes “deeper” or more defined, and as a result it is easier for your brain to “play the track” so to speak.

When you meditate daily, this is what you are doing. You are practicing calm so that when you need to make yourself calm, you already have those neural structures in place to help your efforts. Meditation is nature’s chill pill.

So how do you meditate?

Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. That’s your job when you’re meditating. Just breathe. Watch your breathing. Notice your breathing. Are you breathing in? Good. Are you breathing out? Perfect, you’re doing it! (I get the image of Dory in Finding Nemo: “just keep breathing, just keep breathing.”)

While you’re trying to pay attention to your breath, everything else on your mind will try to get in the way. Do you hear all of that chatter? Interesting, isn’t it? Our minds are so full of chatter. Develop a curiosity for your mind chatter. What is that chatter saying? If something comes up while you are meditating, listen to what it is, let it go, and go back to watching your breath.

Just do the best you can. Let go of your attachment to a clear mind during meditation. It could take a lifetime of practice to get there. Instead, just know that by sitting your butt down for 10 minutes a day, you are doing your “calm reps”… like lifting weights at a gym. That is your goal. To breathe, calmly, for 10 minutes. You can do it!

3. Regular Acupuncture

I’m an acupuncturist, so you must have known this was coming! I have seen firsthand, time and time again, that acupuncture works wonders for anxiety sufferers. So commonly after a treatment — of any ailment — patients will get up from the table saying, “ah, that was so relaxing!”

Acupuncture helps anxiety for a few reasons.

First off, when you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, your body is most certainly out of balance! Acupuncture works to use your body’s own healing mechanisms to heal. Your body is amazing, and it wants to heal. When I place acupuncture needles during an acupuncture treatment, I am working with your body’s specific pattern of disharmony to guide it back toward a balanced state.

Second, remember all that I said above about meditation? Acupuncture helps to build up this parasympathetic “muscle” as well, allowing you to access a relaxed state more easily on your own outside of the treatment room. This is one reason why anxiety relief is often a common “side effect” of being treated (for any ailment) with acupuncture. By generally inducing a relaxation response, we are helping your body create a “muscle memory” for relaxation. Nice side effect, huh?

If you are suffering from anxiety, and are looking for an acupuncturist in Spokane, Washington… look no further! Schedule your first appointment today by calling 509-535-4055, or by visiting my appointment scheduler here: Appointments.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions:

Lilac City Acupuncture PLLC
104 S Freya St STE 208
Yellow Flag Building
Spokane, WA 99202

This article was written by Shauna Douglass, EAMP, L.Ac. in Spokane, WA.