Exploring drug-free options for pain relief
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If you have ever suffered from back pain, neck pain, stiffness, freezing and inflammation of various body parts and joints, you know the grind. Pop a pill, try some rest, ice, compression, elevation, pop another pill maybe and then grit your teeth and hope the pain goes away soon.

If the pain is serious and recurs all the time, you may find yourself visiting your doctor constantly.

According to The American Pain Society, an estimated 50 million Americans live with chronic pain caused by disease, disorder or accident. Of these, the most common types of pain include arthritis, lower back, bone/joint pain, muscle pain and fibromyalgia.

An additional 25 million people suffer acute pain resulting from surgery or accident. Yet experts acknowledge that pain is widely undertreated in the United States.

While mainstream medicine can help no doubt, drug-free options for pain relief are fast growing in popularity.

Here is a sampling of what is available in Southern Illinois:

Holistic medicine

Followers of holistic medicine recognize the interconnectedness of the mind, body and spirit. They believe less medication equals less side effects and are interested in exploring what non-believers are apt to label "new-age nonsense."

Linda Hostalek, a doctor of osteopathy and owner of Holistic Healing Arts in Herrin and Pomona has earned quite a reputation and following for her alternative techniques when it comes to treating pain.

Having battled fibromyalgia in medical school and survived cancer, she is a walking advertisement for what she believes in: Good things in, bad things out and finding a balance.

Hostalek explains that this entails eating good foods, supplementing your diet and doing things that make you happy; getting rid of the bad stuff by having a good detoxification, getting out of a toxic relationship, toxic job, anything that is not good for your mental well being and happiness; and finally trying to live life in balance.

Easier said than done, she is the first to admit.

Believing that all disease is multi-factorial, Hostalek employs a combination of cranial osteopathy, bio-energetic-electrical balancing, Reiki, nutrition, myofascial release, deep tissue work, Tachyon and Peruvian Shamanism to treat her patients.

"Cranial osteopathy is a gentle yet extremely effective approach to release stresses and tensions throughout the body, including the head," Hostalek says.

Trained to look at the structure of the body and uncover where disruptive patterns lie, cranial osteopaths like Hostalek believe an accumulation of stress and strain in the body disrupts the cranial rhythm, which in turn manifest as aches and pains in one place.

"The first place to start is figuring out what the problem is," Hostalek says. "Once you diagnose what and where the problem lies, it is important to balance the fascia, which is the connective tissue in the body; see where the blockages lie and unblock the energy fields."

According to Hostalek, every single cell that we have has an energy field and often we carry elements in our energy fields that can make us toxic.

"A combination of healthy lifestyle, vitamins and daily stretching helps to move the energy where the fascia live," Hostalek says. "The more empowered you are energetically, the more you can help heal yourself."

When asked how she deals with non-believers, Hostalek says people will believe whatever they want to believe. But she does admit it helps to have an open mind when you visit a practitioner that works with energy fields.

Chinese acupuncture

After an acupuncture session, a grateful patient once told Dr. Ying Li, "You keep me walking, working and saving money!"

A trained Chinese physician licensed and certified to practice oriental medicine and acupuncture in the United States, Li has a busy practice in Carbondale and Metropolis, with as many as 60 percent of her clients coming to her for pain relief.

"Chinese medical theory believes that a person's state of health is always changing, subtly moving in one direction or another," Li says.

Qi (pronounced "chee") or life energy flows through numerous specific pathways called meridians, which connect to particular organs and glands, bringing nourishment to every cell, organ, gland, tissue and muscle in the body.

When Qi is obstructed in one part of the body, the blockage affects the flow of life energy to other parts of the body resulting in illness, pain and disease.

In order to correct the imbalances, acupuncture, a 5,000-year-old Chinese technique, uses hair-thin needles to stimulate certain points along the channels, called the meridians. Treatments are cumulative

"In China, you have to be a medical doctor first, before you can become an acupuncturist," Li says. "It is a medical skill and can effectively treat a variety of pain."

Li says you should give acupuncture a shot, if you are exploring conservative options for pain relief. In many cases it has helped people avoid or postpone surgery.

In addition to using acupuncture, Li also employs cupping techniques, magnetic electric needles, moxa therapies and herbal patches for pain relief.

Chiropractic

Dr. Stephen Barrett, a chiropractor at Barrett Spinal Health and Wellness Center in Carbondale, strides into the room, a package of energy, intelligence and charm.

"Pain is a sign that something is wrong," Barrett says. "If we take spinal pain, for example, I'm looking for any places in the spine where the nerves have been interfered with. Sometimes a subluxation could be the primary cause. Other times it could be poor posture that causes the muscles to become dysfunctional."

Chiropractors like Barrett believe a (vertical) subluxation occurs when one or more of the bones of your spine (vertebrae) move out of position and create pressure on, or irritate spinal nerves.

Because the nervous system controls and coordinates all the functions of the body, a subluxation causes nerve interference wherever it occurs and this in turn prevents the affected organs from functioning normally.

"Injuries, accidents, trauma, bad posture, can all contribute to a subluxation," Barrett says. "And chiropractic is strictly about the detection and correction of subluxations."

To correct this, chiropractors "adjust" the spine by applying pressure to the bone and "unlocking" it from its improper position. The theory is that the bone will then be free to align itself correctly and irritation to the nerves will also be reduced / eliminated.

You come to a point in your life when you realize you don't want to take pharmaceutical drugs for the rest of your life," Barrett says. "You want to get rid of the problem and what's causing it, instead of covering up the symptoms. And that's why more and more people are choosing chiropractic care as a first option, not a last resort."

Psych-K

For three years now, Yolanda Comiskey has worked in Carbondale as a Psych-K (psychological kinesiology) facilitator and offers private sessions and workshops to those wanting to reprogram their conscious and unconscious habits.

Skeptic or not, you tend to let your guard down a bit when faced with her positive energy and open, approachable demeanor. She seems perfectly believable when she says she comes from a family of healers.

"Psych-K is all about belief," Comiskey says. "These beliefs, usually subconscious, are often the result of lifelong 'programming,' and represent a powerful influence on human behavior. When you change your beliefs you can change the outcome."

Psych-K then is a powerful tool which helps you identify and transform beliefs that 'sabotage' you into beliefs that 'support' you, in any area of your life. It helps you gently rewrite the software of your sub-conscious mind and change your life.

Establishing communication with the subconscious mind through the muscle system, Comiskey uses energy work to address a variety of issues, including pain.

She says pain can be a limitation in the mind which is reflected in the body. For example, a client with neck pain realized her body was speaking volumes when faced with the simple question, "Who is it that is causing pain in the neck?"

Many of her clients use Psych-K as an adjunct to regular medical care. "The mind is a powerful thing," Comsikey says. "If you listen closely, your body may be trying to tell you something. And Psych-K can help you get to the root of it."

Herbs and supplements

Vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry today when it comes to maintaining good health and alleviating pain.

Cheryl Couch is owner of The Natural Choice, a health food and vitamin store in Carterville. "Right now cherry juice is a popular natural choice to alleviate pain from arthritis, joint aches and body pain," she says.

Stocking a special kind of cherry juice concentrate made from Montmorency tart cherries of Michigan, Couch says the cherries have anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to being a rich source of antioxidants.

Other popular products include Curamin, an all-natural dietary supplement made from curcumin, which is a derivative of turmeric; MSM, a natural source of sulphur, that helps relieve pain; and Flexcin, a joint-health supplement containing a patented anti-inflammatory ingredient, Cetyl Myristoleate.

Note to readers

It's important to talk to your doctor about any alternative and complementary options you may be exploring, including ingesting herbal supplements and vitamins as these may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that understanding a treatment's risks, potential benefits, and scientific evidence is critical to your health and safety.

Experts advise patients not to stop pain medications without consulting their doctor, noting that further analysis of the data is needed and acceptable health risks must be evaluated individually.

Quick glossary

* Bio-energetic electrical balancing: Supporters of bioenergetics believe the body "records" negative emotional reactions and stores them in the form of muscle tension, stiffness, poor posture, and low energy levels. To release these trapped emotions and return the body and mind to a balanced, healthy, peaceful state, patients must first release muscle tension and correct physical imbalances, using a combination of psychotherapy, gentle body movements, massage, deep breathing, and exercises that help patients "release" their emotional memories.

* Tachyon: A non-invasive treatment utilizing specialized Tachyonized(tm) tools and techniques designed to re-connect an individual to the "Energetic Continuum."

* Cupping : An ancient Chinese practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup.

* Moxa therapy: An oriental medicine therapy utilizing moxa, or mugwort herb to warm regions and acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi.

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