Sunday, March 20, 2022

Pain Management Without Pain Meds: A Holistic Approach To Caring For Your Pain

By Kara Jackman 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. These are suggestions to run by your medical team to reduce the use of opiates and opioid medications. 

Pain meds are a necessary evil that we must all endure as a craniofacial patient. The surgeries are very complex and painful which means opiates and opioids are taken to keep us comfortable. Opiates and opioids come with oodles of side effects, including constipation, cognitive distortion, drowsiness, dizziness, and lack of energy and motivation. Long term or frequent use of these medications could lead to chemical dependence or a substance use disorder.

What if I told you there are ways to reduce the length of time you are taking these medications? Or that there are ways to optimize your body’s ability to recover with over the counter pain medication and a few tricks I’ll outline below? Well, there are. Through nutrition, hot and cold therapy, breathework, and movement you may be able to speed up your surgical recovery time. I know your thinking “I can’t do this, I’m in too much pain. This is not for me. My pain levels are between 8-10.” Yes, I understand, but give me a chance. I’m not saying stop the pain meds prescribed, but rather find ways to reduce your use through these tips and tricks. 


A strong body begins with proper nutrition. Believe it not, what you eat is far more important than how much you work out. An anti-inflammatory diet filled with healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil), green veggies, and lean antibiotic-free protein will reduce inflammation throughout the body. An acute inflammatory response that we all know too well is swelling to a traumatized area of the body. Other parts of the body can experience inflammation, like the stomach after you eat, or feet after a long walk. The body responds in the same fashion whether it be the surgery or the meal. A surgery or other medical intervention may result in acute swelling of the impacted area, so why not keep the overall amount of inflammation low before, during, and after the surgery by avoiding inflammatory foods like complex carbohydrates and simple sugars, so the body can efficiently repair itself. …And you can get off the post-surgical couch faster. 

Hot/Cold Therapy and Breathework 

Setting a strong baseline with our food choices is just the beginning. Another important layer is the use of hot and cold therapy. Infrared saunas and ice tub immersion are all the rage in athletic recovery and longevity circles. Few of us have access to a sauna or cryotherapy tank, but you can start small at home with a 30 second (or longer) cold shower, or hot bath to speed recovery. Cold therapy is also extremely helpful in calming the body, kicking the body into a relaxed mode, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Combining both heat and cold exposure results in improved pain tolerance, a speedy recovery, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system keeping you cool as a cucumber. During the pos-operative period, the calmer you remain the faster you will be back on your feet. Combining this with breathwork, like box breathing, will improve your ability to recover faster and reduce anxiety you may experience during the entire surgical process.


The doctors always want you eating, drinking, and walking before you are discharged from the hospital. Demonstrating that you have some mobility before you go home helps the medical professionals know that you have agency and ability to thrive at home. Movement also helps with pain because it reduces inflammatory response at the cellular level. A study from the University of San Diego shows that just 20 minutes of exercise can have profound reduction of inflammation and pain, too. Don’t worry, I don’t need you doing jumping jacks or run a marathon. I only hope you can get up, go to the bathroom, and maybe take a short walk down the hall. 20 mins, remember? You may need some mental fortitude to make this happen, but I can say from personal experience that your first walk will lead to your final steps out of the hospital. During your recovery at home, ensure that you keep moving with chair yoga, light stretching, or a modified tai chi routine. Much like the suggestions above, movement yields both physical and mental health benefits, too. An angry, anxious mind will not heal. Recent research shows that movement could decrease healing time by 25%, and any associated adverse emotional reactions through all those feel good hormones that are released. 

In summary, treating the whole body is mission critical to get you out of bed and back to life. We all know that once you arrive home the real healing begins. Adding these suggestions to your doctor's orders may result in less need for narcotic or opioid pain medications. I encourage you to layer these holistic solutions depending on the severity of your pain. Pick one from each section and check in with how you feel. 

  • Is the nature of your pain better? (duller, less acute, etc.)

  • Has your pain intensity reduced? (scale from 1-10) 

  • Are you able to think about other things, focus, and experience some calm and contentment? 

The goal may be to see some improvement, not find yourself completely pain free. Improving the moment with these strategies may improve the speed of your recovery. 

Please also review our overview titled “Pain Management in Children” written by Dr. Earl Gage of Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for the doctor’s perspective. 


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Call For Stories and Experiences with AI and Facial Recognition Software

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