Pain is a localized or diffuse sensation ranging from discomfort to agony. It is caused by stimulating special nerve endings known as pain fibres. Trauma or disease irritates these nerves either directly or through the release of chemicals, which include arachidonic acid or substance P. There are four stages in pain recognition. Mild stimulation or the presence of only small amounts of these chemicals may create an itch or irritation, but as the stimulation increases pain occurs. This process is known as Initiation.
Next comes Transmission. The ends of these fibres send off chemical impulses along the peripheral nerve into the central nervous system in the spinal column. On the way the chemical messages pass through junctions known as synapses between nerves. Some of these connections are equivalent to checkpoints. A certain amount of chemical messenger has to be accrued before the next nerve will transmit. These junctions are known as pain gates. Once these pain gates are overcome, transmission terminates at the pain centres in the brain.
The third stage is Recognition. The pain centres are connected to the consciousness and send in pulses to create an appropriate response. The fourth and final stage of pain is Response. Initial response is by reflex and further response is conscious.
Once the pain centre has been stimulated, impulses are sent out, generally causing constriction of the muscles in the area, thereby creating reflex recoil. This moves the part away from any external cause. The next response is a conscious one. Movements such as shaking or gripping may be of benefit by changing the level of compression on the affected nerve endings. Whilst this almost instantaneous action is taking place, the brain is releasing endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, which begin the process of pain relief by acting on the pain centres, pain gates and nerve transmission.
Pain relief is achieved by decreasing sensitivity at a local level through pain-relieving compounds from specific white blood cells and nerve fibres.
The peripheral nerves and central nervous system are affected by pain-relieving chemicals.
It is important to understand that pain is not an enemy. The orthodox world has studied and engineered antipain compounds, which are of course the best-selling and most profitable of drugs. Indeed, pain relief is perhaps one of the major things that doctors can achieve for the patient. The holistic view, however, is to establish the cause of the pain and deal with that to achieve a longer lasting effect. The drug companies might prefer us to take regular painkillers for a splinter we may find in our hand, whereas a sensible physician would remove the splinter.
A recent study and publication by a pain control specialist has shown that the use of orthodox pain-suppressing drugs may actually enhance and increase the duration of pain. The hypothesis is that artificial painkilling drugs suppress the body’s own painkilling response. The more drugs that are taken, the more the suppression. Chronic pain treated with drugs may relieve after an initial painful six-week withdrawal period and the individual be left with a reduced need of painkillers.
The body creates pain for three reasons:
Pain as a warning. If we stick our hand near a fire, pain receptors tell us to stop. If we drink coffee and create dyspepsia through acidity, it is the body telling us not to drink coffee. Interestingly, pain is often absent in serious disease processes such as cancer, diabetes or AIDS until it is too late.
Pain as a repair process. Pain initiates reflex responses. Not only does this move a body part away from the noxious stimulus but it also creates a reflex within blood vessels. A stimulated pain nerve will send an impulse to the spinal column and a reflex reaction will return an impulse to the surrounding vessels. These will dilate, allowing more blood into the area carrying more oxygen, white blood cells and nutrients for repair. Pain is associated with inflammation and inflammation is this increased blood flow which causes heat, swelling and redness. Inflammation and pain are actually healing processes and should not be inhibited unless they are interfering with the healing, which may occur if the response is too great. Pain without purpose. There are conditions where pain is no longer of use from the point of view of warning, nor does it need to continue because the repair process is already underway. Serious injuries and the late stages of a disease process do not benefit from pain. In these late diseases or injuries the consciousness of pain is incorrect. Referred pain, one that is sensed in an area that is not injured, falls into this category. The pain in a ‘phantom’ limb is an example. More commonly we may feel pain down our leg from a trapped nerve in the back, which is a referred pain acting as both a warning and a repair process but is in fact in the wrong place.
It is important not to treat pain as a problem but as a symptom. Even the orthodox world tends to avoid suppressing pain until the cause is established. Pain relief should be aimed at decreasing the sensitivity of local, peripheral or central nerve receptors, but also anything that increases sensitivity. Animal fats all sensitize the nervous system.
Always establish the cause of pain. Seek medical advice and diagnostic techniques if uncertain.
Examine the cause and discern whether the reason is a warning or a repair. Heed the warning and encourage the repair before initiating pain-relieving treatment.
Be wary of the side effects of orthodox painkillers. However, mild orthodox pain relief from aspirin, paracetemol or acetominophen can be considered if the side effects are not contraindicated.
Acute pain may be treated with naturopathic medication but do not assume that these are necessarily free from side effects or safe. The following compounds can be used with safety topically but ingestion is best prescribed,by a herbalist because the quality and quantity of any active ingredient within a herbal extract can never be certain: clove and thyme can be very useful on open wounds, especially gum and tooth pain, wintergreen, willow and meadowsweet all contain salicylic acid but there is no benefit to using this rather than the proprietary form and, for the reason mentioned above, no quantities are given here.
Homeopathic remedies are numerous but do not act in the same way as an orthodox or herbal painkiller. A dose of a remedy will not have an instant effect but will increase the painkilling response and help to diminish the consciousness if the pain is of no use. Homeopathic remedies encourage healing, so if a pain is warning or repairing, a remedy may actually worsen the discomfort initially. Referral to your preferred homeopathic manual will aid selection. Arnica 6 can be taken for any pain every lOmin until an accurate homeopathic selection is made.
Consider structural correction through osteopathy, chiropractic or Shiatsu if the pain is due to a structural defect. Cranial, spinal, pelvic and joint malalignment is a common cause of nerve entrapment.
Cranial osteopathy may be very beneficial, especially if the pain is persistent.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is the passing of a mild electrical impulse through the nerves, which can stimulate the pain-relieving chemicals.
Acupuncture may be instantly relieving and curative, as may acupressure. Specific points may be illustrated by a practitioner of acupuncture or Shiatsu and acupuncture or acupressure books.
Long-term pain may be alleviated by taking the following compounds in divided doses throughout the day at the following amounts per foot of height: eicosapentaenoic acid and D,L-phenylalanine and vitamin B± .
Capsicum and chamomile may be beneficial for long-term pain.
Pain is subjective and therefore techniques such as hypnotherapy, relaxation and biofeedback will benefit.