CRPS Pain Management: Holistic Remedies
If you are someone who suffers from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), then this article is for you. CRPS pain management can be difficult and overwhelming. If you’re interested in holistic options for CRPS pain management, keep reading.
Initial Diagnosis: CRPS Pain Management
You may know that CRPS often results from another injury. Meaning, you have an injury to some part of the body and from that injury CRPS is later diagnosed.
For me, I fell off of my bike. I shattered my elbow on the pavement and required elbow surgery. After a month of occupational therapy (OT), I still wasn’t getting better. During the OT appointments, I experienced increased pain and decreased mobility.
At my one-month follow up appointment with the surgeon, he felt concerned by my limited range of motion. The surgeon asked me a bunch of questions, about my elbow, and had a hunch that I developed CRPS in my elbow. So, he sent me to an interventional pain specialist doctor to assess for CRPS.
Again, with the interventional pain specialist doctor, I was asked about pain, sensitivity, temperature, skin coloring, hair on my arm, and other questions to assess for CRPS. The pain doctor confirmed the surgeon’s suspicions and diagnosed me with CRPS in my elbow.
CRPS Pain Management: Conventional Treatments
After the diagnosis, I was in shock. A chronic condition! Pain forever!! What was I going to do?
The interventional pain specialist started me with a few treatments for CRPS pain management. First, I was told I was going to have to start taking a prescription medication called Neurontin. The doctor started me on the very lowest dose of Neurontin and told me that he would slowly increase the medication dosage over time. this was to ensure that I didn’t have any adverse reactions or overly intense side effects from the drug.
Another component of my CRPS pain management regimen consisted of weekly nerve block injections. Since I wasn’t getting much mobility in my elbow at the OT sessions, the pain doctor felt that numbing my nerves would help me get increased movement. So, the pain doctor scheduled seven nerve blocks and, after each nerve block, I was to go to OT in order to see if my arm would move farther.
Finally, with respect to “conventional” CRPS pain management, my pain doctor assured me that I could take over the counter pain medications (such as Motrin or Tylenol) with the Neurontin. He also encouraged me to use ice packs or heating pads as needed.
Holistic Therapies to Complement CRPS Pain Management
As a board-certified holistic nurse, I knew that holistic care could also support CRPS pain management. Holistic practices are wonderful for whole person wellbeing and full spectrum healing. Holistic remedies aren’t meant to be used instead of conventional care, rather they’re complementary to what’s already happening.
Holistic therapies are often used to reduce stress, decrease pain, improve energy and support wellbeing. So, since I was being treated for CRPS with conventional therapies (aka Western Medicine), I thought that adding holistic cares to my CRPS pain management would be a wonderful idea.
Meditation, Breath Work, and Mantra
As an avid practitioner of meditation, I knew that I could use components of meditation practice during my CRPS pain management treatment.
I had to go to the hospital for weekly nerve block injections. Seven of them were scheduled. And I was terrified. The injection was going to be given in my arm pit area… a very tender area of the body. Before the injections I tended to experience a lot of anxiety. I tried to stay calm, but it was difficult.
So, as I laid on the procedure table with my arm painfully outstretched above my shoulder, I turned to meditation, breath work and mantra. There was one mantra, in particular, that I recited to myself over and over again.
I would breathe deep, into my belly area. My right hand (the arm that wasn’t getting the nerve block) was placed on my belly. I would lie, with my eyes closed tight, breathing deep in order to get that right hand to raise and drop. As I breathed deep into my belly, I would repeat the following:
“May I be happy. May I feel healthy. May I be at peace. May I live free, free from suffering.”
To be clear, I wasn’t literally sitting on a meditation cushion, meditating during the procedure. Yet, I was applying meditation practices while receiving CRPS pain management treatments. So, you can see… I was blending conventional care with holistic practices.
Qigong, Yoga, and Gentle Movements
Once my OT therapist heard of the CRPS diagnosis, she went on a hunt for CRPS pain management exercises that I could do on my own. She found a series of four full-body stretches and recommended that I try them out.
I did the stretches that my OT therapist found for a while. And then… then, I found my own way of stretching, exercising, and moving my body that would help with CRPS pain management.
During my elbow recovery, I was re-introduced to qigong. Qigong is a gentle practice that involves flow, not force. So, you don’t have to put any pressure on the elbow. You don’t hold yourself up by the arm or lean on it or anything. Qigong is fluid movement which is designed at activating and channeling energy for healing.
I was thrilled. Qigong didn’t hurt my arm. And, for the first time in weeks, I finally felt close to normal. I was able to go through a 10-minute qigong set without any issue.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, qigong really isn’t for me.” And that’s fine.
If qigong isn’t for you, there are lots of other holistic movement modalities that can support CRPS pain management. In addition to qigong, I started practicing yoga daily. I also made a commitment to get up and walk outside in nature (no matter the weather) for at least ten minutes a day. Even though the walking wasn’t necessarily targeted towards elbow recovery itself, walking still was a healthy way to get up and move my body with as little pain as possible.
Sure, sometimes the movement practices did hurt my arm. However, I needed to get my arm up and moving if I wanted to fully use it again. So, balancing a bit of effort with lots of ease was the best CRPS pain management I could find.
The weekly nerve block injections continued on. In fact, after the first round of seven, my interventional pain specialist doctor recommended another round of seven blocks.
This time around, they were in my neck! Sheesh!! You better believe I was breathing and reciting mantra during those nerve blocks. I also started to practice self-reiki during those stressful procedures.
Anyway, both my pain doctor and OT therapist thought it would be a good idea for me to add in weekly acupuncture sessions. So, as a good patient, I found an acupuncturist near me and started to go weekly for more CRPS pain management.
My acupuncturist was amazing. He practiced traditional Chinese medicine. And each week he “zinged” me with those needles! Bing, my acupuncturist, told me that the “zing” was a good thing. It was a sign that the energy was moving and my body was healing.
At this point, I’d do anything for CRPS pain management.
Although I felt exhausted after my weekly acupuncture sessions, I could feel that they were helping. My mood was lifted. I slept great during the night. And, there was a bit less pain week by week.
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About the Author: Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, HNB-BC, RYT (200) is a board-certified holistic nurse, registered yoga instructor, and reiki master.
Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is a certified coach and avid meditator.
Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull. She enjoys gardening, jigsaw puzzles, farming, music, and hiking.