Treating Pain Often Involves a Variety of Different Approaches

"You have six or seven different disciplines treating the same illness in different ways with different potions and notions," he said. "And what does the patient do? They sort of get the treatment for the door they walk into ... it's the only field of medicine like that."

It is important for facilities like his to address patients' many needs, he said, and they ought to be able to provide help through one of the varied methods of treatment.

Alternative Approaches

Sometimes when traditional treatments continue to fail, patients are referred to centers that combine conventional medicine with naturopathic methods.

One such place is the Integrative Medicine Center in Derby, Conn., which in addition to traditional services offers things like energy healing, homeopathy and massage. Founded in 2000 by Dr. David L. Katz, an internist and preventative medicine specialist who is on the faculty at Yale University, the center often helps patients who have been to other pain specialists and also refers patients who need high-tech treatments to other facilities.

Katz said he created the center based on the belief that traditional medicine does not always offer answers to patients with chronic pain, though he has "no particular fascination" with natural treatments.

"I'm a card-carrying member of the evidence-based science club," he said, but added that he couldn't help but notice that medical treatments don't always help patients.

"It doesn't really require that you're a believer," he said. "It requires you're open to trying something."

That something could mean Chinese medicine, meditation or yoga. When Rumble began visiting the Integrative Medicine Center, they changed his diet, which resolved other stomach problems, and used acupuncture to try to wean him off of the morphine. It provided some relief, but he found the most help from a homeopathic remedy.

"As a person who's been trained and educated in traditional medicine, homeopathy fascinates me," he said. "I was skeptical but I was willing to give it a try."

The remedy worked like nothing else had. "I've been pain-free probably two or three years now," Rumble said.

And that, of course, is the ultimate goal, though results can be more elusive. "It's not always that clean or that dramatic, but I think that's a very clear argument for the holistic approach," Katz said. "We don't really understand all the different mechanisms of pain. There are times people are in pain and we can't figure out why."

At the same time, he said, it's important to recognize the help that things such as massage can provide. "Why do we rub a boo-boo?" Katz said. "Doesn't that seem an odd thing to do? You bang your head, you'd think you shouldn't rub it, but you do and it feels better. You stimulate the sensory nerve … send a message to spinal cord."

Positive Outlook Can Be Key

If pain were simple to treat, there would be no need for the myriad approaches offered by specialists and clinics. Its complexity is precisely why there is no one-size-fits-all answer and also why mental health is important to recovery.

"The same chemicals in the brain associated with pain are associated with depression," Warfield said. "If you're in pain a long time, you deplete these chemicals. If you're depressed … you feel pain."

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