Holistic, Patient Centered Care Gaining Acceptance for Pain Management

Newswise — PITTSBURGH, May 18, 2017 -- Treating the whole person and not just the pain has been a mantra of the American Pain Society (APS) for decades.  In his keynote address at the organization’s annual scientific meeting, holistic medicine expert David Katz, MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University, called for clinicians to stop relying exclusively on pain medications and adopt patient-centered, holistic approaches for treating chronic pain patients.

“There are lots of choices for managing pain but many worthwhile options are neglected,” said Katz.  “Pain is almost always part of a bigger health picture, and just focusing on pain can lead to medication abuse.  The first priority should be helping patients get healthier because truly healthy people are less prone to pain.”

Katz urged APS attendees to follow an integrated treatment approach in which medical, social, psychological and lifestyle factors are addressed in developing pain management treatment plans. Often, a complex array problems must be addressed for successful pain management and, if ignored, they inevitably worsen and the net effect is a downward spiral into permanent disability and depression.

How should clinicians deal with myriad lifestyle variables when adopting a patient-centered approach for treating chronic pain?  Katz advised that the best first step can vary by patient, so clinicians should determine which lifestyle factors are most relevant and devise a treatment sequence tailored for each patient.  Often, treating sleep deprivation is the most appropriate first step. 

“Pain causes sleep difficulties. People who don’t get enough sleep have less energy, are less active physically, and usually gain weight, which can exacerbate pain,” said Katz. “Also, poor sleep can cause or compound depression and social isolation, which can lower pain thresholds.”

Katz explained that with successful interventions to improve sleep, patients may feel less pain, have more energy, and adopt a more hopeful outlook.  “For example, a little exercise further improves energy and sleep.  Physical activity becomes less problematic and increases incrementally.  As a result, weight loss and improved social engagement occur.  One step at a time, the patient begins to achieve improved vitality and ultimately better pain management.”

According to Katz, patient centered care is becoming more widely adopted as many physicians are relying less on pharmacotherapy and choosing more holistic treatment approaches.  “Holistic practitioners look beyond the pain condition and examine the body, mind and spirit, which can lead to significant lifestyle changes to improve overall vitality and lower dependence on pain medications.”

About the American Pain Society

Based in Chicago, the American Pain Society (APS) is a multidisciplinary community that brings together a diverse group of scientists, clinicians and other professionals to increase the knowledge of pain and transform public policy and clinical practice to reduce pain-related suffering.  APS is the professional home for investigators involved in all aspects of pain research including basic, translational, clinical and health services research to obtain the support and inspiration they need to flourish professionally.  APS strongly advocates expansion of high quality pain research to help advance science to achieve effective and responsible pain relief.  For more information on APS, visit www.americanpainsociety.org.