Category: Neuroscience

chronic back pain

Ten Ways to Treat Chronic Pain Without Opioids

Alternative Treatment Methods For Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is defined as any prolonged pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. It affects more than 100 million Americans and 1.5 billion people worldwide.

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) those who suffer from persistent pain spend $600 billion annually on medical treatments and missed employment.

Presently the main treatment for chronic pain is opioid and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. With such staggering high numbers of people who suffer with pain and the main mode of treatment as opioids, there is no wonder America has an opioids epidemic.

Origins of Chronic Pain

Pain originates from injuries, inflammation, or nerve disorders (neuropathies and neuralgias). Emotional stress, trauma, and PTSD can also cause chronic pain. Recent research shows the direct correlation between the mind and body. Simply put, unresolved emotional issues further contribute to severe somatic symptoms.

During stressful times our muscles tighten.   And with prolonged periods of emotional distress, tight muscles weaken, become fatigued, and inefficient.

Effects of Chronic Pain

The continuation of intense pain affects us not only physically but also psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Agony is accompanied by feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.

Constant discomfort is complemented with a desire to be alone. Lingering pain also affects our faith. One might begin to ask, “Why would such a loving God cause so much pain and suffering?”

Relief Can Be Achieved

Chronic pain doesn’t have to be ingrained. There is a life possible without pain ruling your world.

Here is  ten approaches to begin a path of diminished aches and pains without medication; most importantly no opioids.

1. Thought Watching

Pain affects us psychologically. Pain hurts. We want it to go away instantly. That’s a normal reaction unless you’re a masochist.

It is natural for our minds to judge and ruminate about the pain. We dislike it, we think of it as not our friend, and nor do we want it to hang around.

This thought response although normal is counter-productive because most often, pain tells us something is wrong. It says, “pay attention.”

If we ignore the pain, it usually worsens over time. It also contributes to increased anxiety, stress, and depression.

The solution is thought watching or mindful awareness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. It’s getting curious as if you are seeing/feeling something for the first time. You take on a childlike attitude.

Curiosity teaches us to explore without having an agenda. It sounds counter-intuitive but let go of the goal trying to reduce the pain.

Attune to your pain just as you are experiencing it, right now. Explore what it’s like. Is it tingly, sharp, dull, or mobile? Ask yourself, “What am I noticing right now?” Experiencing your pain as it is in the now provides a more accurate assessment of your pain.

The process of curious focus replaces the old thought record of, “I’m in constant pain.” “This will never go away.” “There is no relief in sight.” And on and on, that begins the spiral deep into the rabbit hole of depression.

2. Adopt a Worldview

Pain affects us socially. Depression sets in and with despair it is common to isolate. Isolation causes a sense of loneliness and that we are the only ones suffering.

You are not alone. Billions of people suffer daily with painful episodes. Having a sense of universality fosters compassion. You are not in this alone. There are others just like you who also suffer.

Visualize the suffering of another. Let it touch your heart. Breathe with it and evoke a sense of compassion. As you feel compassion for others who are suffering, offer yourself that same compassion.

Send loving kindness messages to those suffering and to yourself. “May my pain and sorrow be eased.” “May the pain and sorrow of others be eased.” Visualize the release and relief. Imagine what that would look like and feel like.

The mind is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage. Your happiness and suffering depend on your imagination, your thoughts, and your actions. Take charge and remind yourself about the possibility of a spacious heart, of love, and of freedom from pain.

3. Diet

Our diet plays a large role in our over-all health. Sugary fares, fried foods and processed/boxed diets yield heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation leading to chronic pain.

Maintain a healthy diet consisting of a variety of bright and colorful vegetables. Choose organic, free-range eggs and organic lean proteins. Consume healthy fats found in avocados, olive oil, wild-caught fatty fish, and nuts. Eat 5 or 6 small meals every 3 hours or so.

Reduce or eliminate all processed foods, added sugars, and grains from the diet. Integrate natural probiotics into the diet to optimize gut flora and reduce inflammation. Good food choices include kimchee, kombucha, and sauerkraut.

4. Moderate Exercise

Exercise is good for the mind and the body. Physical stimulation lowers cortisol levels and releases endorphins, the feel good hormones.

Exercise also pumps oxygenated blood to all your parts including those in pain. The increased blood flow sends nutrients and oxygen for healing and soothing.

Get outside and get moving. You don’t have to move quickly. A slow, moderate walk 20 minutes a day and working up to an hour can help mend your mind and your body.

Yoga is another form of exercise that stretches tight muscles, teaches breathing techniques to ease your tension, and a sense of community. Go get your “Aummmm” in.

5. Social Support

Joining a group gets your mind away from your pain. With the support of others, you know you are not alone; others care, and can offer kindness and compassion.

Getting out of your head to help others eases agony also. Volunteer for a charity you support. Join a sewing, knitting, or quilting group. Take an art class. Join a walking group. Join a women or men’s support group. These are just some ideas. Brainstorm your own and break free from your same routine, isolation, and discomfort.

6. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of purposely being in the moment from one moment to the next. It is the process of allowing body and mind to come to “be” in the present regardless of what is on our mind or how our body feels without trying to change anything.

A 2015 study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found after just four days of consistent mindfulness meditation practice physical pain reduced by 27 percent and emotional pain lowered by 44 percent compared to the placebo group. Such significant findings make for promising treatment for chronic pain.

7. Music

Pleasant, romantic music with harmony and chords has shown tremendous results in reducing pain. Listening to pleasing music triggers the brain’s reward system, releases dopamine and natural opioids, the body’s personal ‘morphine’.

While listening to enjoyable music alleviates your pain, it also boosts your mood, lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and stress, and relieves muscle tension.

Music therapy is even part of the Chicago Chronic Pain Care Center regime to teach patients how to manage their pain.

8. Massage

Massage therapy is another method to alleviate pain and muscles spasms, and decrease anxiety and increase REM sleep, deep sleep. Massage stimulates your brain to secrete serotonin, the body’s natural way to ease pain and lift your mood. Massage also produces endorphins, the body’s natural opioid to relieve pain and enhance pleasure.

9. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine practice of inserting thin needles on various points on the body to manipulate the flow of energy.

Robust research concludes the efficacy of acupuncture. Findings from studies have found acupuncture helps to release opioids and other peptides in the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that improves immune function, regulates metabolism, and controls eating and drinking habits.

10. Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF)

Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields is the transfer of electromagnetic pulses to the body. The energy exchange penetrates every cell, organ, tissue, and bone. Cellular health and function improves, pain reduces, inflammation returns to normal and energy increases. PEMF has also shown effective for depression and fractured bones.

Different people will have varying results according to their bodily needs. There are many different stimulators and very few doctors knowledgeable of the device. The FDA has approved some PEMF and others can be purchased for home use. You may need to experiment with frequency, strength, wavelength, and the type of stimulator.


This is an exhaustive list of alternative means to alleviate pain. It is impossible to try them all at once.  Pick a few items at a time and find a combination that works for you.

Possibilities are endless, results abound. Keep an open mind, listen to your body, and take small risks.  Try to maintain a diet rich in colorful vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins.  Reduce stress with meditation/yoga, moderate exercise, social support, and an attitude of loving kindness and compassion. Experiment with alternative medicine modalities and find the best regime for your daily maintenance.




couple in love

Neuroscience Demystifies the Neuro-chemical Changes of the Brain in Love

Have you ever drifted into a dreamy thought of someone you recently met? You can’t explain why, but they just pop into your head. You feel a surge of joy, a slight queasiness in your stomach, and your face lights up with each playful thought of your new mate. A rush of neurochemicals stimulates this euphoric behavior.

Is this stage of love fleeting or can long-term committed relationships uphold blissful adoration?

The Stages of Modern Relationships

Whether you identify yourself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual, there are various stages to each relationship. According to research, during the initial meeting, it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you want to move to dating and/or sex and not always in that particular order. During this lustful stage, testosterone and estrogen drive your behavior.

As your attraction deepens and you decide to become sexually exclusive or not, your stress response stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters; adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin.

Throughout this stage, your stress response is activated. Blood levels increase with adrenaline and cortisol, hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. The secretion of adrenaline and cortisol provide that rush of energy, increase in heart rate, sweaty palms, and dry mouth when you suddenly think of or startlingly bump into your new attraction.


The neurotransmitter, dopamine is increased with ‘love struck’ mates. Dopamine stimulates an intense rush of pleasure, triggering desire and reward. A brain on cocaine has the same effect.

“couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship” ~ Helen Fisher


Serotonin plays a key role in this early stage of love. Low levels of serotonin explain those constant thoughts of your lover. According to Dr. Marazziti from the University of Pisa, blood samples of couples that claimed to be madly in love for less than six months were comparable to the blood samples of patients who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Furthermore, newly love-struck couples often idealize their partner, magnify their assets and overlook flaws.

“It’s very common to think they have a relationship that is closer and more special than anyone else’s.” ~ Ellen Berscheid


Next, a couple decides upon exclusivity, engagement, living together or marrying. The attachment of the twosome instigates the powerful hormone, oxytocin.

Oxytocin is released during childbirth and creates the bond between a mother and her child. The chemical is also secreted by both of the sexes during cuddling, hugging, and sex.

Oxytocin is important because couples that exhibit high doses of oxytocin have a strong bond and attachment that can withstand the ups and downs of life. For the release of oxytocin, it takes between 19 and 23 seconds. Thus to ensure your couplehood survives the test of time; hug, cuddle and have sex regularly.


Finally, vasopressin sets the stage for long-term committed couples. The hormone is released after sex and like oxytocin creates stable bonding with your partner. Vasopressin also creates the actions of devotion and protection.

The stages of a relationship change as do the release of chemicals in the brain. The surge of dopamine in the initial lustful state creates a rush of pleasure that stimulates, even more, desire and reward. Adrenaline causes the physical reaction of sweaty palms, racing heart, and dry-mouth.

Serotonin creates those compulsive, idealizing thoughts of your partner and oxytocin makes for strong bonds. Finally, vasopressin deepens the connection and generates long-lasting love.

Therefore it is possible to love and to be in love with your partner ‘til death to us part.’ Give your loved one a 30-second hug every day to ensure your love lasts.

If your bond is broken, your trust has been shattered, or your connection is lost, couples counseling can help to mend those bonds, build trust again, and create a lasting connection. Call (424) 258-5416 or email and let’s start your pathway of change.

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