Chronic pain and inflammation are issues that many people suffer from and one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. Conventional treatment relies on pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories, either steroid (such as prednisone) or non-steroid (NSAID’s such as naproxen) medications. Without addressing the underlying cause of chronic pain and inflammation, these medications can be required long term, may have a decreasing benefit over time and can have significant side effects on the digestive tract. From a naturopathic medical perspective, there are several major root causes of chronic pain and inflammation evaluate and treat.
Before looking at metabolic or nutritional causes of chronic pain, a structural assessment should be performed by an experienced healthcare practitioner. Structural imbalances or misalignment can be caused by many issues including physical trauma, sports injuries or repetitive strain. There are various different techniques to correct structural imbalances including naturopathic, chiropractic, massage or physiotherapy.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Recent research has shown a clear link between a deficiency of vitamin D in the body and the presence of chronic, non-traumatic musculoskeletal pain. As our body only makes significant amounts of vitamin D through our skin’s exposure to sunlight (without sunscreen), this is especially a concern in the lower mainland due to our low annual availability of sunlight. Blood testing for vitamin D levels and appropriate supplementation is important for those experiencing chronic pain.
The hormone cortisol produced by our adrenal glands helps us respond to the demands on our body during times of prolonged stress. Cortisol is also our body’s main anti-inflammatory hormone. Therefore when cortisol levels become deficient after one experiences long-term elevated stress levels, the result can be chronic pain and inflammation. Salivary cortisol testing by naturopathic physicians is an excellent way to assess one’s adrenal status.
Low Thyroid Function
Our thyroid gland produces hormones that control our body’s rate of metabolism. Low thyroid function (or hypothyroidism) is a common condition in women and can be a major trigger of chronic pain. A complete panel of thyroid hormone levels is best for assessing low thyroid function, as the standard blood test (TSH) can miss many cases.
Food Sensitivities and Environmental Toxicity
Adverse reactions to specific foods are very common and can trigger inflammatory responses that begin in the digestive tract. Assessing food sensitivities can be done by various methods, including blood testing, Vega testing and elimination/reintroduction diets. In addition, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins can lead to chronic pain and inflammation. Customized detoxification protocols prescribed by a naturopathic doctor can help reverse this process.
As there can be a combination of underlying issues that trigger chronic pain and inflammation, a thorough naturopathic evaluation can be an excellent option to help identify the main root causes and establish a successful treatment plan.
Vazquez, A. The Clinical Importance of Vitamin D Alt Ther. Sept 2004 Vol. 10, No. 5.
Wilson, J. Adrenal Fatigue Smart Publications, Petaluma, CA, USA 2001.
Shames, R. Thyroid Power Harper Collins, NY, USA 2002.