Star Tribune features Northwestern’s work to help chronic pain sufferers find relief

Liala Helal | July 27, 2015

The article highlighted how chiropractic, acupuncture and massage treatments are more cost-effective and accessible treatments than traditional medical care for those in poverty who suffer from chronic pain.

The most common reason people seek medical care is pain. Pain impacts more Americans than diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer combined. The Institute for Medicine estimates that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

Getting treatment for chronic pain presents its own issues. Accessibility to treatment varies across all cultural and socioeconomic circles - some people struggle more than others to get access. With limited financial resources, more cost-effective treatments than traditional medical providers are available through chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and nutrition.

Northwestern Health Sciences University held a Chronic Pain Symposium on July 25 to address the pressing issue of chronic pain, the disparity in gaining access to quality pain care, and how methods such as chiropractic, acupuncture and massage can help those who suffer from chronic pain.

The Star Tribune covered the symposium and published an article highlighting Northwestern’s work in treating chronic pain and making treatments accessible to people of all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The article, “Poverty limits therapies for patients with chronic pain,” sheds light on the need to continue to spread the message that acupuncture, nutrition, chiropractic care and massage therapy are effective options compared with expensive pain medications or surgery. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Chronic pain plays no favorites — it crosses all cultural and socioeconomic circles — but the same is not true for getting that pain treated, educators gathered at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington said Saturday.

Researchers and practitioners in such fields as acupuncture, nutrition, chiropractic care and massage therapy want to spread the message to needy Minnesotans that there are alternatives to expensive pain medications or surgery.

Alejandra Estrin Dashe, director of Northwestern’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion said providers don’t often offer conservative treatments, especially to medically disadvantaged populations with income limitations or language and cultural considerations.

"Patients in chronic pain face all sorts of barriers to getting the best care," Dashe said. Lacking the money to seek treatment, some choose to live with their discomfort. "Or they work so much that they just don’t take care of themselves," she said. "Others may not even be aware of their options. For instance, someone with pain from shingles doesn’t know they might be given just one acupuncture treatment and, bam! — it’s gone."

Cultural factors influence how a person expresses pain and how they seek help, Dashe said. "Roles and statuses the person has within their own culture intersect with age, race, sexuality and education," creating conflicts that get in the way of getting care.

Barbara Gosse, a licensed acupuncturist and family practitioner (at the Northwestern Health Clinic Bloomington), has used acupuncture to treat patients with all kinds of acute and chronic pain. But the efficiencies of alternative care struck close to home when she recently needed treatment for bone injuries brought on by XLH, a metabolic bone disorder that leaves her vulnerable to breaks.

"I had two major bone surgeries. With one, I followed the track of traditional care and ended up wretchedly sick in bed for a week from the medications," she said. "With the second one, I had acupuncture prior to the surgery and while I was in the hospital, instead of any pain or anti-nausea medications," she said. "I was up and moving in 48 hours. It was a tremendous difference."

Other specialists said relief can be as close as the kitchen or neighborhood park, in the form of nutritional therapies and simple exercise to help combat inflammation, a root cause of much chronic pain.

"Foods can be both inflammation reducing and inducing," said Dr. Joseph Sweere, a Minneapolis-based chiropractic and health educator (at Northwestern Health Sciences Univeristy) "Just moving to a more balanced, less acidic diet with more fruits and vegetables can work wonders."

It also helps to get moving. "Exercise produces endorphins, which are natural pain relievers," he said. "The key is to get people activated."

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