By on June 7, 2016

Treat your body better with supplements and acupuncture instead of pain pills.

160608NatMedicine_origJACKSON HOLE, WY – The reality of widespread opioid-based pain medication addiction (and often the subsequent heroin addiction among addicts who lose access to pills) has been extensively covered in US media for the past several months.

The statistics are shocking: According to the Center for Disease Control, 78 people a day die from an opioid overdose in the United States. As recently as 2014, one third of adults in Utah had a prescription for an opioid pain medication. As a society, we have to find a better way. Of course preventing chronic diseases that cause pain is the best choice, but until that day comes, we have to treat people in pain with healthier methods.

I just listened to a lecture by Robert Bonakdar, MD, and past president of the American Academy of Pain Management. He noted that present care is “fragmented and reactionary,” meaning there are often many practitioners involved in the treatment of a single patient’s pain, many of whom were taught to bring down the pain immediately using analgesics. In addition, communication amongst the practitioners is often poor. It has led to an epidemic resulting in more drug overdose deaths in 2014 than in any other year. This is a large problem but people can’t live in pain. We need to look for solutions.

Alternatives to mainstream medical pain relief are available and need to be front line therapy.

Acupuncture has been used by Eastern practitioners for more than 2,000 years and was approved by the FDA for pain in 1996. It is an effective treatment method for a variety of conditions, particularly chronic back pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, sciatica and post surgical pain. I have been treating patients with acupuncture for 20 years and have seen amazing results. Acupuncture decreases inflammation and improves the function of the nervous and musculoskeletal system. First-time patients are often leery of the needles, but in the hands of the right therapist, acupuncture is not painful.

Studies have shown that incorporating therapeutic massage into your pain program can provide long lasting relief. Massage increases endorphins and decreases stress hormones. It’s our good fortune in Jackson to have massage therapists that focus on a variety of massage methods; everything from traditional Thai massage, to Swedish, lymphatic drainage, structural integration, ortho-bionomy, reflexology, cranial sacral and many more.

Most Americans needs to incorporate movement into their life to decrease pain, but in Jackson people move. I’ve had to change my intake question from “Do you have any musculoskeletal pain?” to “Do you have any muscular skeletal pain that is not self-induced?” Otherwise, I would hear about residual pain after climbing the Grand, running the Teton Crest Trail, doing too many mountain bike laps on Ferrins, etc. The type of movement-based therapies that have been most studied are hatha yoga, tai chi and qigong, which are helpful for, among other things, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, pain caused by cancer and other diseases. The mindfulness basis of these movement therapies is also extremely beneficial.

Nutrition plays an essential role in pain management. First and foremost, I advise my patients to quit the junk food. Check the ingredients label—if you can’t read it don’t eat it. Then as Dr. Bonakdar said, look into the body by first replacing deficiencies. A vitamin D deficiency can cause chronic pain, deficiencies in Vitamin B6 are associated with carpel tunnel syndrome and magnesium deficiency can affect back pain & migraines. (Often, the first signs of magnesium deficiency include leg cramps, foot pain, or muscle twitches). The second part is supporting the body’s optimal response. CoenzymeQ 10 and carnitine are very effective for fibromyalgia, as is alpha lipoic acid for neuropathy.

Due to their fewer side effects, herbal medicines are always a good choice. Turmeric, containing curcumin, works similarly to some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. White willow bark contains salicin from which aspirin was derived. Bromelain, found in pineapple, is one of many enzymes that can help relieve pain systemically by breaking down proteins at the site of inflammation. It can also be used for after surgery or injury to speed healing. A naturopathic physician can help analyze your condition and recommend herbal medicine treatments.

Pain is often your body telling you to slow down. Similarly, inflammation is a protective reaction. As with everything in life, balance is the key. People are not going to stop experiencing pain, but they can start considering treatment options that are non-addictive. PJH

A 16-year Jackson resident, Monique Lai, ND, is an alternative health expert with a family practice where she works with patients to restore their health. She obtained her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1996. Monique enjoys working with a variety of health challenges, particularly autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, digestive disorders, menopause and diabetes. For more info visit

About Dr. Monique Lai

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