Ah pain. One of the many things that connects every human because we all share it. There are lots of types of pain, and each can be as infuriating as the next! Whether it’s aches, strains, or ghost pains, everyone wishes their pain away.
No one likes it, but pain can save our lives in the right situations. When pain sticks around longer than normal, it signals that there’s something wrong. In the case of cancer, it is this unrelenting type of pain that often brings people in to see their doctors, only to find out they have cancer.
Cancer related pain is one of the most common, chronic side effects that people with cancer suffer from. It can be very debilitating, and can be very hard to treat. Let’s take a look at what causes cancer related pain.
Cancer Induced Bone Pain
Some researchers estimate that cancer induced bone pain (CIBP) is the most common cause of pain in cancer patients. Leukemias, breast, prostate and lung cancers are the types of cancers that are most often associated with bony metastases. The most common sites of bony metastases are vertebrae, femurs, ribs, skull and the pelvis. Bone pain can be quite severe, and adequate pain control is strongly linked to patient survival.
Standard ways this pain is managed is by prescribing pain medications, or in some cases, palliative radiotherapy is recommended. CIBP responds quite favourably to acupuncture, and studies show that pain control is more adequate when prescription pain medication is used in conjunction with acupuncture.
Aromatase Inhibitor Joint & Muscle Pain
Aromatase inhibitors are used for the treatment of hormone sensitive breast cancers, and are sometimes prescribed in ovarian and endometrial cancers. One of the most common side effects of this class of drugs is joint and muscle pain, and may affect up to 60% of women. The most sites of pain are fingers and wrists, knees, lower back, and feet. Many women also report sensations of tightness and stiffness of the joints.
The causes of this joint and muscle pain are largely unknown, but some theories are related to estrogen deprivation. Estrogen is likely involved in the suppression of pain, and therefore when drugs are used to suppress estrogen further, pain may develop. There has been a number of positive clinical trials that have studied acupuncture for the treatment of aromatase inhibitor joint and muscle pain, and from my own experience in clinical practice, I have largely observed the vast majority of women who have reported great reductions in pain with regular acupuncture treatment.
Neuropathic (Nerve) Pain
Neuropathic pain, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is most commonly caused by chemotherapy classes of drugs called taxanes, platins, and vinca alkaloids. It is also commonly caused by drugs used to treat multiple myeloma. Symptoms include burning, numbness, tingling, shooting pains, extreme sensitivity to hot or cold, and muscle cramps. Peripheral neuropathy is an extremely debilitating side effect, and is often inadequately discussed prior to treatment. Those living with neuropathy are often prescribed opioid medication, gabapentin, pregabalin or antidepressants to try to alleviate their pain. Acupuncture is also moderately effective for treating peripheral neuropathy, and it seems that numbness and tingling respond quite well to acupuncture.
How is Pain Treated?
Conventional medicine approaches to pain typically include pharmaceutical drugs that mask the pain. These drugs include anti-inflammatories, painkillers, muscle relaxants, and opiates.
For some people, no matter how high of a dose of medication they take, their pain won’t go away. This is because the cause of the pain is not being treated, but only the symptom of pain.
Naturopathic medicine uses a whole-person approach that involves looking at all the possible causes of your pain. Naturopathic doctors look at the underlying cause of your pain and help treat the cause and manage your pain simultaneously. Naturopathic medicine has several modalities that can be used to help treat your pain:
- Herbal Medicine – herbs like devil’s claw and turmeric are proven to work as well as prescription anti-inflammatories
- Supplementation – nutrients like magnesium, B12, and glutamine can help with nerve pain, and both can help reduce inflammation and speed tissue repair
- IV Therapy – IV therapies can deliver nutrients that act as anti-inflammatories right to where they’re needed, such as intravenous vitamin C or mistletoe
- Acupuncture – acupuncture works with your nervous and immune systems to reduce pain, and is extremely effective tool for all types of cancer related pain.
- Diet & Nutrition – sometimes inflammatory foods contribute to pain in the whole body
We all share in pain so we want to help treat it naturopathically! Book an appointment today to see if I can help!